I’ve never understood why people ask, “Are you a cat person or a dog person?” Why the dichotomy? Isn’t it possible to love both? Of course it is; I have a special thing for both.
It’s the same with matcha and coffee. People seem amazed when I tell them that I still drink coffee, as if one must be consumed at the exclusion of the other. I like both!
Yes, the role of caffeine is a lot gentler with matcha, matcha doesn’t make you jittery, and matcha doesn’t create a cortisol/adrenaline spike. There are dozens of other comparisons that leave matcha the clear “winner” when it comes to health reasons for drinking either one.
But man does great coffee taste good sometimes, when done right and when you’re in the right mood. Then again, so does great matcha! You see?
I have drastically reduced my coffee consumption over the years, and will likely continue to do so. Assuming it’s from a quality roaster, I can’t even really tell much difference between regular and decaf these days, so I’m just as happy to drink decaf for all the epicurean fun and no hypercaffeinated downside.
If you love both matcha AND coffee, welcome to the club!
When we drink matcha, we’re actually drinking a plant. Not the extract of a plant, mind you: the actual plant itself.The leaves of this gorgeous plant are plucked by hand, then steamed to preserve their brilliant color, then dried, then finely ground using specially designed grooved granite wheels. We then simply combine this ground tea (the characters for matcha, literally mean “ground tea”) with hot water, whisk it up a bit, and drink it. We thus ingest the actual leaves, the actual tea.
For most of us, it’s common sense that tea is made with boiling water. Plonk tea bag in cup, add boiling water, steep, toss bag, drink.
How do we break free of fixed ideas like these? The brain has many ingenious ways of dealing with complexity, and a prominent one is to categorize information into easily memorable chunks. Tea equals boiling water.
But sometimes the rule is wildly off, and employing it gives highly undesired results. Matcha is one of the cases.
I recently had the opportunity to have a cup of matcha with the fascinating and inspiring Tynan, a young entrepreneur who’s obsessed with living a fulfilling and adventure-packed life. We hung out in his remarkable RV — parked behind a gas station in SF — which he has customized to an almost unimaginable degree. He managed to install some beautiful tatami mats, mainly because he likes to prepare and serve tea so much (tatami of course also makes a terrific flooriing for a futon). He’s also written several books, including one called The Tiniest Mansion: How To Live in Luxury on the Side of the Road in an RV. We talked for a few hours, and here is the tiniest slice of it.
I grew up with Red Rose tea bags, a blend of black and orange pekoe teas My mother liked to make a cup in the evenings, after dinner, and I felt sophisticated whenever I joined her for a cup. She bought the 100-bag box at our local grocery store, and couldn’t have (wouldn’t have) paid more than five dollars for it (and this was 1970s dollars). Pennies per bag was my frame.
I recently had matcha in SF with the inimitable Leo Babauta. This guy, despite having created an army of fans who love his musings on productivity, happiness, minimalism, frugality, vegetarianism/veganism, health and fitness, setting goals, and many other topics has clearly digested the concept of humility. He has a long list of impressive achievements, yet he’s one of the humbler and most self-effacing people I’ve met in a long time. Check out what he has to say below about “best practices” concerning concentration, focus, and flow. And by all means check out his delightful blog at Zen Habits.
Even the most cursory inquiry into the literature on matcha will bring up a reference to the basic two traditional Japanese styles of matcha preparation: usucha (“thin tea,” literally translated) and koicha (“thick tea”). We’ll first describe the traditional meanings of these, then serve up a blending of the two.
I recently had what can only be described as a transcendent matcha experience: I drank the equivalent of about 12 servings of matcha, but did so in just three stunningly beautiful bowlfuls as I sipped a viscous, almost pudding-like manna that summarily blew out some neuronal pleasure circuits and launched me into alpha wave heaven .
I recently had the pleasure of spending an afternoon at the home of musician, radio host, and deadhead extraordinaire David Gans and his lovely wife Rita. They were curious about matcha, so I brought some along and taught David how to make a cup, breakaway style. Great merriment ensued, David got out his iphone camera so that he could remember how to make it! And voila, a couple of hardcore matcha fans were born.
Matcha is a special kind of green tea from Japan, mainly used in formal ceremonies. In the minds of most Japanese, matcha is linked to the tea ceremony.
Matcha neither looks like nor tastes like other kinds of tea. It looks like electric green cocoa, and has the mouthfeel of a well-made espresso. It tastes like baby green vegetables that might have been cooked by Ferran Adria or someone else into molecular gastronomy : perhaps blended microgreens, straight-up chlorophyll, young bamboo, and raw sugar.
We like to serve it in small cups, like espresso. When matcha is removed from its Japanese context, there is no need to replicate exact Japanese conditions of teamaking. One needn't wear a kimono, it need not be served on tatami mats, and one certainly doesn't have to study matcha for years on end to enjoy it. You could make it anywhere: at the breakfast table, at the office, at the yoga studio, on a hike (really!), or even in your car, especially if you've had a glass of wine or two.
Great matcha has many distinguishing features, but the top four are probably 1) Form of tea leaves. Unlike all other teas, including green teas, matcha is finely ground; 2) No steeping. Matcha isn't steeped, it's "eaten." You simply pour hot water over the powder, froth it (either with a special handheld bamboo whisk or an electric milk frother), and drink the thick tea; 3) Off-the-charts health properties. Matcha is full of naturally occurring antioxidants and amino acids; roughly 20 times those of regular green tea; and 4)It's A LOT like really good wine. Terroir (conditions in which it's grown) is massively important, it should have a balanced acid structure, a very long finish, and be full of umami. It should also froth up to a very fine crema, similar to espresso.