Time was when a foamy green latte would have seemed unusual unless it was made on St. Patrick’s Day. Today such drinks are a sign that an operation is tapping into matcha—a hot trend in café culture and beyond.
Matcha is turning up in everything from specialty beverages to baked goods, breakfast foods, condiments and seasonings. For the uninitiated, matcha is the ceremonial green tea used in traditional Japanese tea rituals. Carefully cultivated and curated matcha tea leaves are stone-ground to a fine green powder that offers distinctive flavour, appearance and health halo.
“Matcha's appeal has grown not only for its health benefits but for its unique flavour profile,” says British Columbia-based Gordon Food Service Chef Michael Viloria.
Those health benefits, explains Gordon Food Service Corporate Consulting Chef Gerry Ludwig, CEC, reside in matcha’s “significant amount of antioxidants, caffeine and L-theanine, a naturally occurring amino acid. This combination is said to provide a slow release of caffeine for sustained energy and mental clarity.”
Matcha is produced in grades from top ceremonial to inexpensive pre-sweetened blends. Ludwig recommends using “a universal midgrade” that’s affordable and suitable for a wide range of applications.
Experts say there’s a learning curve to preparation. Using a traditional milk steamer to blend superfine matcha powder can be challenging. For best results, blend matcha powder into a paste for streamlined preparation and a smoother finished product. Some operations even dispense matcha paste from a tap system for their menu of specialty beverages. Or prepare a large batch of matcha ahead of time to have ready for service.
Matcha may be steeped in tradition, but it’s versatile enough to update modern beverage menus.
Basic matcha. Whip matcha powder with hot water using a bamboo whisk called a chasen to produce a brilliant-green, slightly creamy, sweet-tasting cuppa with a soft vegetal finish and an almost white-chocolate presence that’s like no other tea.
Specialty beverages. Because purists who prefer traditional matcha make up a small percentage of sales, even at specialty tea shops, barista-style specialty beverages are the real opportunity with matcha. New Brunswick-based Gordon Food Service District Sales Manager Kent MacDonald cites quick-service chains such as Davids Tea, Second Cup and Booster Juice as examples of operations with on-trend matcha preparations. Matcha lattes, cappuccinos and hot chocolates, plus a wide range of juice and yogurt-based smoothies, he notes, are increasing in popularity as customers seek out ways to enjoy this unique tea.
Matcha/juice-blend iced teas. Infuse fresh-squeezed juice—especially watermelon, cucumber, apple and ginger—with prepared matcha for light and refreshing signature iced teas.
Matcha smoothies. Blend matcha powder with chilled or frozen yogurt and/or fresh fruit.
Matcha is more than just a liquid asset; it’s a solid opportunity to add flavour everywhere. Because matcha powder doesn’t require steeping or straining, it can be incorporated into baked goods and even savoury applications.
Breakfast bowls. Mix matcha into Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, berries and granola.
Baked goods. Incorporate matcha into doughnuts, muffins, biscotti, macaroons and other desserts. Matcha pairs especially well with lemon, chocolate and ginger.
Matcha Ice Cream. Blend matcha into custard-based ice cream and process as usual. Add fresh mint to the mix to mute some of matcha’s harsher grassy/vegetal notes.
Savoury seasonings. Add matcha powder to a finishing-salt blend for topping everything from popcorn to seafood, Ludwig advises.
Condiments. Blend matcha with yogurt, mayo, mustard and house dressings
The bottom line? From cups to cupcakes, matcha spells opportunity for operators who master its preparation and use it creatively throughout the menu.
Matcha Monsoon. Matcha blended with vanilla soy milk, vanilla frozen yogurt and ice—Booster Juice, multiple locations throughout Canada.
Matcha soft-serve ice cream, shaved ice, slushies, madelines and matcha cheesecake—Uncle Tetsu’s Japanese Matcha Café, Toronto.
Matcha white-chocolate blondies, matcha shortbread sandwich cookies and matcha-coconut-chocolate-chip cookies— Basho Café, Vancouver.