Ever since my first time trying matcha (powdered pure green tea) in Tokyo several years ago, I’ve been hooked. I still recall sitting in the middle of a garden watching a presentation of the traditional tea ceremony: such a formalized, elegant, meditative affair.
Once the tea was ready, we were each given a small cup of grassy, slightly bitter, and velvety verdant matcha along with a few sweets to counteract the bitterness. Up until that point, I’d tasted high-quality teas, usually black varieties at English-style tea rooms. Yet, this was something else. Something completely new (at least, to me; after all, matcha’s been around for over 800 years) and different.
After that trip, I started chasing matcha: incorporating lower-grade varieties into sweets (such as the Almond-Scented Green Tea Shortbread with Cardamom Sugar from my first book, Tasting Club), making matcha at home, and obsessively searching for–and trying–any sweets incorporating matcha. The few that come to mind right now: the green tea truffles from Kee’s Chocolates and Dean & Deluca and the matcha sweets from Kyotofu. (If you know of any particularly delicious sweets or snacks incorporating matcha, please let me know!)
My matcha obsession thus established, you won’t be surprised to learn that I was particularly riveted by a press release I received the other day. The release described three different matchas from Breakaway Matcha, based out of California. The owner, Eric Gower, also a cookbook author, tried countless matchas before picking the three he considered the best. Of course, I couldn’t stop myself from ordering the highest-grade variety, as well as a kit for preparing authentic matcha. (My husband was none too pleased: high-grade matcha is very pricey. My defense: I only splurge on food and drink!)
I received the coveted package last night and just prepared a cup of Breakaway Matcha’s Blend 100. The small silver bag contained a small amount of matcha; after all, this powdered tea is very valuable, akin to saffron or gold leaf. The matcha was slightly sticky and an ultra-saturated grassy green (warning: it stubbornly sticks to your fingers).
After taking in its color, I began to prepare it. I heated a creamer with hot water. Then I boiled water and let it sit for a couple of minutes. I placed a small strainer over the creamer and spooned in 1/2 teaspoon of the powdered matcha. I then scraped the powder into the creamer (to prevent clumping). Next, I poured an inch of the almost-boiling water over the strainer and frothed the tea (with my Aerolatte) for about 10 seconds. I poured in a bit more almost-boiling water, frothed it again, then poured the matcha into a cup. Finally, I sat down to taste.
The matcha was the vibrant green color of creamy pea soup. A bit like an espresso, it bore crema–froth–on top. Underneath the bubbles, the tea was thinner and darker, a swampy green. Its scent was subtle: a mix of grassy, nutty, and earthy. Its mouthfeel was velvety, a bit like melted ice cream. Unlike many matchas, there was virtually no bitterness. Instead, what stood out were the matcha’s floral, grassy, nutty notes. The last sip of the concentrated, intense tea was thick and creamy. If only I’d had some wogashi (traditional Japanese sweets, a bit like petit fours) to taste alongside it.
Imagine a much more creamy, velvety, complex, floral version of green teas you’ve tried, and you can begin to get a sense of matcha’s character and allure. (I don’t want to sound like a food snob, but the green tea from your local Japanese restaurant is like water when compared to high-grade matcha.)
Even if you don’t want to splurge for the high-grade drinking matcha, try purchasing lower-grade varieties to make these cookies (from Tasting Club). They’re one of my absolute favorite indulgences and ways to get my matcha fix.
Almond-Scented Green Tea Shortbread with Cardamom Sugar
Makes about 24
These flavorful and complex bright green cookies are not only delicious tea accompaniments–they actually contain tea! If you can’t find matcha, just purchase another type of Japanese green tea, and grind it into a powder with a spice grinder. Technique adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine, March 1997.
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup powdered or confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons matcha (powdered Gyokuro green tea)
1 teaspoon ground cardamom, plus a heaping ½ teaspoon for dusting (divided)
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus 1 tablespoon for greasing baking sheets
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, matcha, cardamom and salt until well combined. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter in another bowl on high speed until light, about 2 minutes. Add the extract and beat until combined. Beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture in four additions on low speed until well combined.
2. Transfer the dough to a flat surface and divide in half, forming each half into a six-inch-long log. Then, form each log into a 2-by-1-by-6-inch rectangle. Cover in plastic and refrigerate for two hours.
3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease two large baking sheets with butter. Remove dough from the refrigerator and cut into ½-inch-thick slices. Place slices on the baking sheets, making sure the cookies are at least 1 inch apart. Transfer to the oven. After 10 minutes, switch the sheets so that the one on the bottom rack is now on the top (and vice versa). Bake until the cookies are lightly golden on the edges, about 25 minutes total. Let cool about five minutes.
4. In a small bowl, mix the 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar with the remaining ½ teaspoon of ground cardamom. One by one, carefully toss each cookie in the mixture, coating both sides in the sugar. Let cool. Enjoy!