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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: -2°C
drink it up

You could be drinking matcha tea ALL wrong

Don’t go for the lattes, anyway.

MATCHA TEA IS getting hugely popular.

According to Google Trends, the search term “matcha” started to spike in January 2014 and hit an all-time high this May.

Everyone’s trying out the antioxidant-filled tea that’s been a staple in Japan for centuries.

But, thanks to chains like Starbucks and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, a lot of American matcha drinkers have no clue what real matcha actually tastes like.

A unique taste

shutterstock_258397205 Shutterstock / Food Passionates Shutterstock / Food Passionates / Food Passionates

You see, matcha has a unique balance of vegetal (think seaweed or edamame), bitter, and malty flavors. To appeal to the American palate — which hasn’t acquired a taste for matcha’s bitter, seaweed-y side — many cafés use sugar-laced matcha powder and steamed milk to make the trendy matcha latte, in addition to other treacly concoctions.

And not only are we masking its flavors and jacking it with sugar, we’re also drinking matcha differently than it’s traditionally enjoyed in the East, as I learned one recent afternoon over a bowl (not cup) of the algae-colored tea with Kathy YL Chan, my matcha teacher.

She taught me the basics and then referred me to several tea spots where I could continue my matcha exploration.

Meet Kathy YL Chan, a New Yorker by way of Hawaii who has been drinking matcha for as long as she can remember. She’s a tea writer, importer, and all-around expert.

meet-kathy-yl-chan-a-new-yorker-by-way-of-hawaii-who-has-been-drinking-matcha-for-as-long-as-she-can-remember-shes-a-tea-writer-importer-and-all-around-expert Kathy YL Chan Kathy YL Chan

The first thing she taught me is that matcha should be sipped from a bowl, not a mug or to-go cup.

Drinking matcha is a sensory experience: you cup the bowl with your hands, take it to your lips, and breath in all those luscious matcha fumes as you sip. The bowl acts as a sort of dome over your nose and mouth; you can’t get that from a teacup. Here, Chan sifts the finely milled tea leaf powder into a ceramic bowl.

Matcha cafés may be popping up left and right, but Chan prefers to drink her matcha at home.

She tells me that matcha is an all-day beverage in Asian households: “They drink it in the morning, afternoon, after dinner.”

People also use it during meditation to help focus. “Lots of times when I panic, I’ll make matcha,” she says. It has an adaptogenic quality: if you’re frazzled, it calms you; if you’re feeling sluggish, it energizes you.

shutterstock_216541915 Shutterstock / Abhisit Tabtiang Shutterstock / Abhisit Tabtiang / Abhisit Tabtiang

Lesson number three: “Matcha is a suspension.” If you let it sit for too long, the powder will settle at the bottom. The idea is to drink it quickly and, ideally, at home.

Chan makes matcha simply with hot water and zero sugar. When you mix matcha with steamed milk (regular or non-dairy) “you just get the easy, pleasing part of it.” The full flavor of matcha makes you think more, she says.

You’re forced to think, ‘What am I tasting? This is so different’.

The actual preparation only takes a minute or two — way less time than a cup of coffee.

What you need to make matcha

shutterstock_244202491 Shutterstock / Brent Hofacker Shutterstock / Brent Hofacker / Brent Hofacker

“All you really need is a whisk and a bowl,” says Chan. Traditionally, matcha has two preparations: usucha and koicha. Slightly thicker and creamier than regular tea, usucha is the most common.

Koicha is “thick like paint” and reserved for tea ceremonies. Both usucha and koicha contain only matcha powder and water.

A collector of tea and tea wares, Chan hopes that everyone will try matcha in its simplest form — just tea powder and water — at least once.

“Lots of people don’t like that seaweed flavor and that bitterness; when you add milk or whatever, that takes it away,” she says.

The difference between a matcha latte and a bowl of usucha is like the difference between a caramel macchiato and a beautiful cup of pour-over coffee.

The more you have it, the more you’ll appreciate (and crave) it. A dose in the morning, afternoon, or evening is a happy, healthy ritual to have in your life.

Read: Crisp sandwiches, juicing… what’s the next food trend to hit Ireland?>

Read: This is the ‘new coffee’ that Ireland is becoming obsessed with>

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