Hara Hachibu, Umami, and Matcha (Plus a Recipe for Matcha Truffles)


matcha truffles

 

Human beings crave the sense of being satiated. It’s a delightful feeling to be “full” in the best possible sense of the term. For many of us (including greedy-monster me), we keep eating AFTER reaching that optimum place where it feels just right to be perfectly full and not excessively full. How to hit that sweet spot of just-right full, and avoid going over?

 

There’s a wonderful expression in Japanese that captures one way to think about this: “hara hachibu” literally means “stomach 80%,” but, more accurately, it means “you should stop eating when you’re 80% full.”

 

How do you know when you’re 80% full? By mindfully checking in every time you put something in your mouth. And you keep up the mindfulness throughout the meal or snack. You basically keep a “how full am I?” mindfulness meter running throughout the meal.

 

This is impossible if we wolf down our food. Some deep-DNA autopilot takes over with the message, “don’t stop! get your maximum calories while you can!” and it tastes great and you just keep going. You don’t stop and ask yourself, “how full am I?” and assign a percentage, you just don’t.

 

In the beginning I might suggest just two mindful interventions, one at 50% full, and the other at 80% full. After some conscious practice, you can begin to notice subtler percentages like 10% full and 25% full.

 

But 80% is the main one. The same deep-DNA / limbic system / reptilian brain doesn’t want you to stop at 80%, it’s going to insist you keep going. But food in an 80%-full stomach continues to expand, and if you simply put the chopsticks down when you think you’re at 80, five minutes later you’re likely to feel 100% full.

 

You can always eat more if you’ve misjudged, and still feel peckish at what you thought was 80%. But stopping when you think you’ve hit 80 is a wonderful practice, as is the mindful practice of assigning a percentage fullness AS you eat.

 

And no, it doesn’t ruin the pure animal pleasure of eating great food. In fact it adds to it, because turning on the mindfulness “how full am I?” meter has a wonderful side effect: everything tastes better, and you notice more flavors and textures. You notice everything in great detail. It’s like taking a food-pleasure bath.

 

So where does matcha come in?

Matcha has a very special satiety property. It’s one of matcha’s more interesting and pleasurable aspects (one of many).

 

Because the tea is so rich in amino acids, it absolutely pops with umami, that brothy, meaty, mushroomy, oceany flavor that’s packed with glutamates. When you drink a cup or bowl of matcha, you feel sated and happy. You’re not jonesing for anything, you’re just …. sated. You rarely feel and kind of between-meals jones to snack or to mindllessly eat something.

 

This is in stark contrast to coffee, for me at least — i NEED to have nibbles of coffee-friendly foods when I drink coffee. So for anyone looking to cut overall calories, there are many worse ways than a daily, or twice a day, matcha practice.

And on that note, and speaking of tempting nibbles, try these matcha truffles sometime. They’re easy to make and disappear rather quickly wherever they make their appearance.

MATCHA TRUFFLES

These little gems take only a few minutes of prep time, then some cooling down time in the fridge, then a few more minutes to shape the chocolate into balls. They make beautiful gifts for friends, wrapped up in a pretty box. Makes about 50 truffles.

 

  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely
  • 8 ounces heavy cream
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • ½ cup or so Dutch cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon matcha
  • pinch of fleur-de-sel, Malden, or other fine sea salt

 

1) Using a large sturdy knife, chop the chocolate finely and place it in a large mixing bowl.

2) Bring cream to a simmer over gentle heat, add the maple syrup and brown sugar, and stir until dissolved, about one to two minutes.

3) Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate, mix thoroughly until smooth, and pour/scrape into a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat (silpat), and smooth it out with a rubber spatula. Cool in the refrigerator for about an hour.

4) On a cleaning cutting board or other large surface, spread several tablespoons of cocoa out.

5) Using a spoon, scoop out about a heaping teaspoon of the cooled chocolate, roll it around in the cocoa with your fingers, and make a chocolate ball, using the palms of your cocoa-dusted hands. Repeat until all the chocolate is used – you should wind up with about 50(ish) truffles. Smaller tends to be better than larger.

6) Line them up on a tray or plate, and, using a fine sieve, dust them generously with the matcha. Roll around some more in the matcha, and dust them again. Top with a very light sprinkling of good salt (Malden-type salt works well here).

The Breakaway Guide to Purchasing Matcha

matcha hands bowl four hands 5

 

Confused about which matcha to try? You’re not alone.

 

The first step is to figure out why you’re interested in matcha. It basically boils down to two reasons for most people: health benefits, and incredible taste.

 

If you’re looking for health benefits only, and exquisite taste isn’t your primary concern, then the culinary matcha is far and away the best bang for the buck. It’s very good as cold-brew, and it’s fantastic in smoothies and as an ingredient in all desserts. It even makes a good latte, since the fat and (often) sugar in lattes essentially mask the minor flavor flaws of the tea (and when I say flavor flaws, I’m being picky; it tastes great, but doesn’t deliver the natural sweetness, umami blast, and long stunning finish of the hyperpremium blends). You of course COULD use one of the hyperpremium sipping matcha in milk-based sweetened matcha drinks, and it would certainly be very, very good, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll get 10x the enjoyment as you would the culinary, since fat and sugar coat the palate and render your ability to detect flaws in the matcha inert — it will just taste like a milky sugary matcha, and that’s ok if you like it that way!

 

If you care about the health benefits AND are after more sophisticated flavor profiles, then you should try one of the hyperpremium sipping blends, which have even more health benefits than the culinary matcha (and are especially loaded with l-theanine) in addition to increasingly levels of epicurean nirvana, The scale of tastiness and overall desirability– and by that I mean the five pillars of great matcha:

 

  • electric color
  • maximum umami
  • lack of bitterness and plethora of natural sweetness
  • good/balanced acid structure, and
  • extra-long, beautiful finish

goes up with each Blend, although rarity is a factor too.

 

Truly great matcha is such a labor-intensive process; it requires tea plants that are a minimum of 50 years old, it’s completely unscaleable, and it needs serious knowhow from obsessive farmers who tend to be at the helm of farms that go back 20+ generations of family farmers working the same plot of land.

 

 * * *

 

There’s a big jump in quality from culinary to Blend 94, which is lovely to sip on its own, nothing added. And the quality scale continues upward, with another large leap in quality from the 94 to the 97; they’re almost totally different matcha with different flavor profiles, each comes from a specific terroir in Uji, just outside of Kyoto. I’ve served the entire line up, blind, to lots of Japanese matcha connoisseurs, and almost everyone likes the 94 best. It’s the one they’re most used to drinking, with faint twinges of bitterness and a real sass to it. This quality of matcha is most common in the tea schools that teach proper ceremonial matcha etiquette. It has the most bitterness of the four sipping matcha.

 

The 97 is a rare matcha that lacks even faint whiffs of bitterness — its natural sweetness stuns most people the first time they try it. It is a tremendous value priced at just $1.75 per serving, considering its rarity and sweetness. How much is a serving of Italian truffle? How about fois gras? How much is a glass of decent wine? How much is a glass of BAD wine? $1.75 for this level of epicurean experience is unheard of. What can one buy for $1.75? Gum? A candy bar?

 

Fanatical matcha connoisseurs tend to go for Blends 100 and 99. They’re grateful for the health benefits, but they’re primarily driven by taste and epicurean experiences.

 

With the 99, things go ethereal. Same farmer/producer of the 97, a youngish man who’s into experimenting with his wonderful crops. The 99 is his “reserve” matcha, and this is the one I want for my final sip of matcha — hell, final sip of anything. Exceedingly rare matcha for a mere $2.25/serving.

 

The Blend 100 is the rarest of all, so refined that it feels almost lighter than air. I might argue that it has less character than the 99, but it has such finesse that all matcha connoisseurs should try it at least once just as a glimpse into the heights matcha can soar on an elegance scale. Quantities are small, and much of the annual allotment is already spoken for from our chefly friends.

 

Curious connoisseurs should try them all, and figure out which one offers the most special delight. And regular drinkers should take advantage of the discounts offered with the larger quantities.

 

As always, we aim for stellar customer service — we specialize in unusual requests!

 

The Many Joys of Cold-Brew Matcha

matcha energy drink600

 

 

Cold-brew matcha. Really?

 

Really. We’ll talk about the pleasures of drinking icy-cold matcha in a second, but first: what do I mean by cold brew?

 

Cold-brew matcha simply means matcha prepared with cold water; as with cold-brew coffee, the water for making cold-brew matcha is never heated; we use icy cold water to start. But unlike cold-brew coffee, cold-brew matcha doesn’t require any lengthy or complicated extraction technique. We simply add matcha to a water-bottle, large water-dispensing unit, or even five-gallon pony keg, add cold water, and shake the hell out of it. That’s enough to temporarily suspend the matcha particles in the cold water long enough to actually drink it. As with warm shots of matcha, It never fully dissolves, it simply suspends in water. If you leave it alone for a few hours, the undissolved matcha will eventually settle on the bottom of the vessel.

 

One can play with proportions of matcha to water but I’ve found that 1g of matcha to 8 ounces of cold water is just about right. If you like it thicker, use slightly more matcha.

 

Here’s the exact procedure:

 

1) Scoop 2g matcha (about a teaspoon) into an empty 16-ounce water bottle,

2) Add 2 or 3 ounces very cold water, shake vigorously.

3) Add another 13 or 14 ounces cold water (for a total of 16 ounces), shake. You’re done!

You can also use a Vitamix or other powerful blender to prepare cold-brew matcha, especially if you like it slushy-cold. Simply add a small quantity of ice and use the 1g matcha to 8 ounces water formula, and blend thoroughly.

 

Note that cold-brew matcha isn’t “iced matcha” — iced matcha is typically matcha prepared with hot water, and then ice is added.

 

There’s nothing quite like cold-brew matcha on a hot day; it seems to go directly to the brain’s key satiation spots as it hits all the right notes. for thirst quenching. It also looks amazingly tantalizing in a tall glass!

 

The cool thing about cold-brew: you can brew any grade of matcha, and they all taste great. Drinking Blends 97, 99, and 100 in this form is an ethereal experience like no other. The 94 makes a beautiful cold-brew matcha; its ever-so-slight bitterness when prepared hot isn’t detectable at cold temperatures. Even the culinary matcha makes a fine cold-brew drink, to my utter amazement and delight.

 

We’re currently working on some new and innovate ways to dispense cold-brew matcha; stay tuned!

 

 

 

“Culinary” Matcha, Anyone?

By now, most people with even a marginal interest in food and food trends have heard of matcha.This is a good thing, and its overall popularity continues to climb.

The confusing issue is that many people consider matcha to be in essence a kind of exotic spice, to be used as an ingredient for cooking and desserts (think green tea ice cream, matcha tiramisu, matcha macaroons, matcha truffles, and all manner of smoothies and blended drinks). I love how creative many chefs are becoming with it, and its color and health benefits seem to make everyone happy. 

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