The Versatility of Matcha Goes Beyond the Latte
The centuries-old tea remains a superfood ingredient for everything from, yes, lattes to butter and cake.
From its roots in 10th century China to its current ubiquity in trendy U.S. coffee shops, matcha has had quite the culinary journey. You’d be hard pressed to find another ingredient that has undergone matcha’s level of repeated culinary revamp. It’s like a cat with nine lives: just when you think it’s dead, it’s resurrected with new, innovative uses.
Some might turn their nose up at the westernized matcha craze, which has resulted in the creation of everything from adaptogenic health brews to matcha-infused cookies, cakes, cocktails, and even beer. It’s certainly nothing that Myoan Eisai, the Buddhist monk who is largely credited with bringing the earliest iterations of matcha with him from China back to Kyoto, Japan, could have ever imagined.
Eisai had been studying Buddhism in China during the Song Dynasty, as the method of consuming roasted and pulverized green tea gained popularity. When Eisai returned to Japan, he brought with him the beginnings of matcha as we know it today.
Once it was popularized in Japan, monks would consume the bright green powder as a part of their meditation practice. It helped to bring them a calm sense of alertness, thanks to what we now know is caffeine and L-theanine. Those key ingredients are the same reason why we drink matcha today in place of a jitter-inducing morning coffee. Well, that and it’s delicious.
“Matcha can be used in a very versatile way, since it adds a tad of umami, bitterness and vegetal notes to any recipe,” says Carolin Willner, founder of Ceremony Matcha. “It creates a more interesting flavor profile to otherwise mainly sweet dishes.”
Besides its uniquely grassy and nutty flavor, matcha is also known for its ability to turn nearly anything it touches into a glowing shade of green, or a muted pastel jade if mixed with something creamier. As a result, matcha has been integrated into nearly any food product on the market you can think of—adding flavor, color and health benefits to a slew of recipes.
“The health benefits of matcha are incredible,” says Hannah Habes, co-founder of Matchaful. “Plus, its flavor profile combines well with other ingredients, and it’s easy to incorporate into recipes because it’s a powder. You have the obvious use cases, like sweets, but at Matchaful we’re interested in using matcha as a functional wellness ingredient. There’s nothing else like it, and we view it as a superfood.”
This versatility constantly keeps new matcha products on shelves and menus, as brands and restaurants search for the latest and greatest ways to market the tea alongside their products. At Matchaful, Habes has taken a cue from savory snacks she’s seen in Japanese markets, integrating matcha into a new summer snack release: 5-Seed Crisps, which also contain whole vegetables, like spinach, cucumber, and celery.
“The umami flavor of matcha pairs well with the other savory vegetables. It’s important to use a high quality matcha that’s smooth and flavorful like our Single Origin Hikari Ceremonial Grade, which is in our Grain-Free Matcha Granola and 5-Seed Crisps. Premium matcha will lend a better flavor profile than what’s used in confectionery sweets.”
Now that public awareness of matcha is so much greater than it was, say, a decade ago, aficionados have created a demand for not only a higher quality product, but a more diverse selection of pure matcha offerings.
Take small retailers like Brooklyn’s Kettl. The tea company is among those whose mission is to bring more awareness about matcha quality and culture to western consumers.
Exploring each of Kettl’s matcha offerings is an experience akin to ordering a bag of craft coffee beans—unique flavor profiles, region of origin.. Their Soukou matcha sourced from Fukuoka lends a rich, velvety finish with notes of nutty hazelnut, while Hanaka from Yame is more soft and sweet. Aspiring matcha connoisseurs can get on the waitlist for their freshly milled matcha club, which sends you a new matcha to try every month. Order their comprehensive literary guide to the artistry of Japanese tea, written by the founder of Kettl.
As our collective obsession with matcha evolves, so, too, does the matcha drinker. You might be the kind of person who would dig into Kettl’s growing catalog of rare and premium teas, or you might just be looking for something delicious to sip by the pool.
Veritable Gen Z icon Emma Chamberlain is already known for her impressive coffee line, Chamberlain Coffee, which has its own organic matcha tea powder. The latest release by Chamberlain cements matcha as the sippable ingredient of the summer, though—a limited edition canned matcha lemonade in partnership with zero sugar beverage brand, Swoon. The perfect summer morning pick-me-up, one can contains an impressive 70 mg of clean caffeine (about the same as a hefty cup of coffee).
Go the extra mile by pairing your morning beverage with a piece of toast smeared with matcha butter, one of the latest recipes by Willner of Ceremony Matcha.
“Matcha butter is a light, easy and delicious way to incorporate some antioxidants into your morning piece of toast,” says Willner. “The fat in the butter intensifies the matcha flavor.
Start with room temperature butter and sprinkle some matcha powder on top and mash it up until it gets smooth and creamy and no clumps are left. Smear on a piece of bread, sprinkle some honey and add a pinch of salt.”