What is Matcha Madness? There are two answers to the question.
1. In case you haven’t opened your web browser, turned on your TV, or checked your Instagram account yet this year, let us tell you: matcha is everywhere. CBS News, the Huffington Post, and the Kitchn have all acknowledged this fine powder, made from green tea leaves, as one of the trendiest ingredients of 2015; Yahoo Health pointed out the many new matcha-infused products on the market, from soda to marshmallows; and, as if to officially cross the “t” in trend, Starbucks now sells iced matcha.
In sum: The universe is mad for matcha.
2. Because of “matcha madness,” today Yahoo Food kicks off Matcha Madness, a series in which we share matcha-based recipes through the end of March. There will be matcha cookies, matcha yogurt pops, and matcha lattes, among other green-tinted delicacies. So keep an eye on Yahoo Food this month if you’re as mad for matcha as we, and the rest of the universe, are.
Before we get into the matcha mousse cakes and matcha mint juleps, though, let’s talk about the original matcha drink.
Matcha is derived from shade-cultivated gyokuro leaves, Yahoo Food learned from Kenichi Kano, Ippodo Tea’s international director. (Based in Kyoto, Japan, Ippodo has been producing tea for almost 300 years and is the best source for quality matcha.) This means it has relatively high caffeine content, but because it also contains theanine, it has a sort of slow burn of that caffeine; this means matcha’s energizing effects are gentler and more gradual than coffee’s. Also, because matcha is the powder made from tea leaves and not the liquid drunk from steeped tea leaves that are then discarded, the drink retains more of those leaves’ health benefits. In the case of green tea, those benefits are many.
Here are some other things we learned from Kano and Ippodo’s New York-based tea consultant, Riichiro Kat.
* There are 10 grades of matcha, the highest being ceremonial grade. The higher the grade, the less bitter and more umami the flavor.
* For the freshest cup, you should use matcha within six months of being harvested. Once you’ve opened the pouch of powder, use it within two to three weeks. Store it at room temperature in an airtight container. (If you can’t bear to throw it away after that—matcha’s not cheap!—Kano said that many Japanese people put matcha in their shoe boxes to absorb odor.)
* Sift your matcha powder before mixing in water to prevent clumping. You should use 1 teaspoon of powder for 2 ounces of water.
* The water you use should be close to 176 degrees; otherwise your drink will be bitter. Don’t have a thermometer? Pour boiling water into a room-temperature vessel. Then pour it into another vessel with your matcha powder. It’s the right temperature now.
* Whisk vigorously. If you move too slowly, the powder won’t dissolve into the water correctly, and you’ll end up with a grainy mouthfeel. Kano suggests investing in a real bamboo matcha whisk; nothing else gets the job done quite right.
* Once the mixture is smooth, drink it immediately—and quickly! Otherwise, the powder will settle at the bottom of the cup again.
Happy Matcha Madness to all.