Matcha has become as common a staple as coffee on menus in certain parts of Wisconsin. “A traditional serving of matcha powder is about the equivalent of a rounded teaspoon, and has the same amount of caffeine as a shot of espresso. Unlike [with] coffee, though, most people don’t feel jittery or agitated” drinking matcha, says Erin Ulrich, owner of Telsaan Tea at 108 E. Main St. in Mount Horeb. “Usually I feel alert, refreshed and calm.”
Matcha, made from a high grade green tea that is ground to a powder, has risen in popularity in part because wellness influencers have hyped the potential health benefits of this tea that’s been widely consumed in China and Japan for centuries. Not every perk attributed to this product on social media is factual, but its proponents are onto something. “It can be different for everyone, but I always feel grounded with calm and focused energy,” says Rachel Verbrick, co-owner of The Teasider at 823 E. Johnson St. in Madison. “I like to enjoy it in the morning to start our day, or as an afternoon boost if I need it.”
The Teasider carries a range of matcha varieties. “Some are sourced directly from farms we have relationships with,” says Verbrick. “Others come from larger producers.” She divides the two main types of matcha into ceremonial grade and ingredient/cooking grade. “Ceremonial grade matcha should be prepared only with water. Ingredient/cooking grade matcha is what we use in baking, lattes and other specialty beverages like matcha lemonade.”
Telsaan Tea uses single-origin tea from Uji, Japan, says Ulrich. “It’s pretty smooth and has lots of complex vegetal flavors like collard greens, asparagus and artichoke. It’s a really good balance of price and quality.” It’s normal for matcha to settle to the bottom of your container, she adds, “but a high quality matcha will never feel grainy. When you drink it, the texture will be smooth.”
Telsaan also sells an organic ingredient-grade matcha that could be used in smoothies or baking, “but you probably wouldn’t be happy drinking it by itself. Compared to our Uji matcha, it’s a little bit grainy and bitter. The matcha from Uji is so much smoother, almost subtly sweet.”
Ulrich advises not to use boiling water if making matcha at home. “Even a mild, minimally astringent matcha will get bitter if made this way. The vibrant green color will fade, plus all the flavors will be less lively.” Water should be no higher than 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
She also suggests whisking the matcha really well, and if you don’t have a bamboo whisk (called a chasen) or a milk frothing wand, shake it well in a water-tight container.
Verbrick says that if you’re making lattes or a smoothie, use the whisk or a blender, cocktail shaker, or “any one of the latte making gadgets out there.”
A nicely made chawan (tea bowl) can “make a big difference in the overall experience,” Verbrick says. But it’s “high quality matcha and filtered water” that are the most important elements for great matcha at home.
How can one tell if a matcha is “high” quality? Verbrick suggests paying close attention to color — it should be vibrant green.
Another test she suggests is to take a small amount on the tip of your finger and draw it onto a piece of white paper. The longer the color line, generally the finer the matcha is.
The best matchas offer balanced flavor notes that range from sweet and grassy to umami and vegetal. There should be a vibrancy to the prepared tea and it should not taste stale or overly bitter.
Finally price is a good indicator too, both Ulrich and Verbrick affirm. The production of high quality matcha requires specific growing conditions. To get from leaf to finished product utilizes a lot of skill and labor. With matcha, you definitely get what you pay for, thus be wary of a very cheap matcha. There is also a significant difference between “powdered green tea” that might come from China and matcha that’s cultivated in Japan.
“That doesn’t mean that you have to buy the most expensive one out there,” says Ulrich, “but you can reasonably expect a good matcha to be at least $10 an ounce.”
Matcha and matcha-based drinks like matcha hot chocolate or matcha mint lemonade are currently available at a variety of cafes around Dane County. If you’re not madly hooked on matcha yet, it may just be only a matter of time.