It’s really green,” I think to myself. I am sitting in my friend’s kitchen. She’s brewed me a cup of matcha tea, the brew all health freaks are currently drinking, comprising powdered green tea leaves. “It is 10 times better than regular-brewed green tea,” she claims.
I sniff it, and it smells just like green tea. I’m still in awe of the colour, a dull green shade that reminds me of crayons. I take a sip and it tastes like a mix of green tea and wheatgrass. A few sips in, there’s a faint aftertaste of metal, a bit like spinach.
Admittedly, matcha is an acquired taste. But it’s the culinary world’s hot new ingredient because of its apparent health benefits. As part of the process to lock in the chlorophyll, the tea plant is sheltered from the sun for 20 days before plucking. During this shaded growth, the plant produces more theanine (an amino acid exclusive to teas) and caffeine, which lend the drink its health benefits. The leaves are then ground, steamed and dried into a powder form.
Cyrus Dastoor, founder of Good Tea Organics (the company stocks first harvest matcha tea imported from Kyoto, Japan), says its health benefits have been reported widely and range from detoxification to weight loss (as per the top health website, draxe.com, by Dr John Axe). No wonder actor Gwyneth Paltrow swears by it.
“Matcha tea has caffeine worth half a cup of black coffee. One cup is equal to 10 cups of green tea, in terms of health benefits. Historically, monks consumed it before meditation and samurais drank it before war,” says Dastoor.
For those new to it, matcha is grown in Japan and China, and is now used in sweet and savoury dishes such as crêpes and soups.
What’s the fuss?
As it complements both sweet and savoury dishes, matcha tea has become a common ingredient used in ice-creams, tea cakes, crêpes and even macaroons in Mumbai. In each, the overwhelming grassy taste dominates everything else.
And it’s not just the gourmet food stores that are stocking it — individual suppliers are also ensuring easy availability.
Matcha pairs beautifully with sweeter ingredients such as coconut or white chocolate. “But you have to balance it with equally strong flavours such as citrus or dates. Starting next month, I am going to introduce a buckwheat crêpe with matcha, coconut milk, black pepper and lemon zest,” says chef Vicky Ratnani of The Korner House.
There’s even a matcha ice-cream that is popular. Myx, a tapas bar in Juhu, adds a twist of molecular gastronomy by making it with condensed milk and liquid nitrogen.
Mitesh Rangras, owner of Lemon Leaf, is confident that Indian palates are ready for advanced matcha delicacies. “I plan to introduce a steamed and fried mantou bun with a matcha cream cheese next month,” he says.
Dastoor makes a case for including matcha in your home kitchen as well. “There is no wrong way of consuming it. Put it in your smoothie, add it to water, or even oats,” he suggests.