"powdered green tea with a bitter, chalky and chlorophyll flavour - is the Marmite of the tea world." Olive Magazine
Every now and then I see matcha mentioned, and I wonder what matcha is - something to do with green tea? It's been on my mind vaguely to look into it and today, prompted by an article in the AFR's ridiculously luxury magazine Life and Leisure at the weekend, I did just that.
The first thing I discovered is that it has been hailed, just about every year since around 2015 as the next big thing. Yes since 2015 - and this article was still saying it's the next big thing, well specifically this rather beautiful machine shown below is the next big essential appliance to have in your super luxury kitchen.
It's the invention of one Eijiro Tsukada who has been responsible for design and marketing at the huge Japanese drinks company Suntory. So what does it do?
"The machine grinds fresh leaves into perfectly sized granules, deposits them at the minutely calibrated height and rate into a self-whisking bowl and drizzles in the water at the exact temperature tradition dictates. It even has an empty 'zone' at its centre to evoke the Zens Tate of Kuu in which matcha is best consumed." Leo Lewis - AFR - Life and Leisure
I can't find an Australian supplier, so it's interesting that the AFR should be pushing it. However, Amazon America is advertising it at US$369, though they won't ship it to Australia. So not quite the next big thing here I think.
But all of that is by the by really. Although it does sort of demonstrate what matcha was originally all about - the tea you drink at a Japanese tea ceremony. That tea is made from the top grade of matcha. Matcha is green tea - fresh green leaves from the tea plant, which is grown undercover for the last three or four weeks before harvesting. This intensifies the chlorophyll and increases the caffeine. For the top quality, the leaves are picked and laid out flat to dry. Then they are deveined and destalked, and ground in granite stone mills in small batches as the temperature would increase and spoil it if done in larger batches. This is the ceremonial grade. The premium grade is - for green tea - so I think this must be the leaves. Matcha for cooking - culinary grade - is made from leaves further down the tree and probably isn't deveined or destalked. But it is powdered. So not quite the same as green tea in tea bags, although they always look pretty powdered to me. You seem to be able to buy matcha latte in a bag in the supermarket as well as matcha tea, so I'm not sure how you make it. It's really not for me anyway - although I do like the scent - particularly the one from Roger et Gallet in France, although I will make do with Elizabeth Arden's for everyday use.
What does it taste like? "It has an earthy, bitter flavour, grassy with an undertone of tea and a hit of sweetness." says Olive Magazine, (like my perfume) which is interesting as the vast majority of recipes you will find on the net are for sweet things - and here are just a few: Matcha crepe cake from Olive Magazine; A very posh dessert called Matcha roast chicken with leeks - Food Network; Green tea meringue with tipsy prune ganache from chef Pascal Aussignac on the Great British Chefs website; Matcha-herb scones from the Canadian version of Food Network and (I couldn't resist) Matcha lamingtons from Oratnek Café in Sydney via the Age's Good Food.
I have to say that, in spite of green perhaps being my favourite colour, all of these look somehow rather gruesome to me. Perhaps not the posh one but that's because the green meringues are crumbled and scattered so not as dominant. There are masses and masses of recipes out there for sweet cakes, cookies, smoothies, creams and ice-creams.
However, you can buy some ice-cream ready made - moreover with white chocolate in the mix from the Peter's Connoisseur range. And that green looks a bit prettier. In fact the ice cream recipes mostly looked pretty tempting. If I was going to try matcha I think ice cream would be my first pick.
On the savoury front I did not find so much although I did find that matcha salt might be a thing - just mix sea salt and matcha. And none of my usual suspects on the cooking scene seem to be into it, although Nigel Slater occasionally does mention it. He is becoming a bit of a Japanese food fan I think.
In fact I only have two examples to offer here - both of which are probably here for their fashionable, curiosity value rather than because I think either you or I might one day have a go. Tea-smoked barbecued lamb chops with spicy Korean miso a posh recipe from Scott Hallsworth - one of those Great British Chefs and Farfalle Italiane with matcha green tea, pistachios, raisins and zucchini from Apron and Sneakers. I don't think you will be able to find the striped farfalle for this dish, but ordinary farfalle would do I guess. It's a sort of mix of Sicily and Japan I think.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about all of this is the fact that it's still a hot trend according to cookery writers even though they were saying this back in 2015 - that's six years ago. Is it a trend that never took off? - other than those matcha lattés and matcha teas that you can get in your favourite café - and yes you can now go to your favourite café. Indeed do - they've had a tough time. And by the looks of it matcha tea - on the right is definitely not the same as green tea.