13 January, 2010

Going green, Japanese style.

Photo from Zenmatchatea.
For hundreds of years the Japanese royal family, the cream of the elite and of course Zen Buddhist monks have taken part in the highly ritualized tea ceremony, or Way of Tea, which involves the consumption of the very finely powdered form of green tea called matcha.

I just wanted to bake a cake with it.

I'm not the only fan. Today, from the Starbucks Matcha Frappucino to the Jamba Juice Matcha Energy Shot Orange Juice, from Pierre Herme's elaborately constructed matcha cakes and chocolates to matcha and tiramisu-flavored Kit Kat bars, from energy bars to cereals, matcha has hit Main street in many parts of the world. Based on the cooking magazines I rifle through, sites I visit and friends I talk to, my informal perception is that the French are a good deal more charmed by matcha flavor possibilities than are Americans, who seem to focus on the very significant health and dieting benefits. Once again, I kind of find myself in the French camp.
Image from Zenmatchatea.
Matcha is made from the same Camellia sinensis plant as regular green teas, but is ten to fifteen times more potent than normal steeped green tea (and boasts 70 times the antioxydant power of orange juice). Basically, instead of consuming an infusion of the leaves, you are actually consuming a refined version of the leaves themselves.The difference between regular green tea and matcha lies primarily in the growth and harvest of the plant. Matcha is harvested from shade-grown plants, as is the expensive gyokuro, or "jade dew". Because they are sheltered from the sun, these plants have both boosted chlorophyll content and amino acids that sweeten the the leaves. Only the youngest, most tender leaves and bud from the top of the plant are picked by hand, deveined, de-stemmed, shade-dried and stone-ground to the fineness of talc. According to Wikipedia, it can take up to an hour to grind 30 grams of matcha...Good quality matcha has an intense flavor and a marked sweetness you cannot find in any other sort of green tea, powdered or not. Chefs and home cooks continue to discover that matcha pairs quite beautifully with any kind of chocolate, including white, vanilla, cinnamon and other Chai spices including ginger, and cream-based drinks/dishes (such as tiramisu, panna cotta, and crème brûlée). I decided to go with a recipe for Marbled Chocolate and Matcha Bundt Cake, from Bakerella's kitchen. Except that I unfortunately don't have a Bundt pan (yet), so I used a silicone pan, hence the decorative top. Verdict? Rich, intriguing and delicious, so check out her recipe (linked above) if you're intrigued.There are some other recipes I really want to try, specifically one for chocolate and matcha truffles. But then again, maybe I should go Japanese Zen and lose weight American style by drinking a cup a day. Hmm.I'll toss a coin and let you know how it turns out.


  1. I am intrigued. I have to admit that reading this was the first time I'd heard of matcha, but I like green tea and I can imagine how well it goes with chocolate. Might have to try one or two of those recipes!

    I finally broke down and bought a bundt pan at Ikea because I couldn't find one in any of the French shops!

  2. You know those beautiful little whisks they use in the Japanese tea ceremony, the ones made of bamboo? That's necessary because this tea powder is so fine. For people who don't have one, it is so easy to make a hot or iced latte using matcha: first make a paste using a bit of the liquid and the matcha powder, before blending with the rest. That way there are no lumps. You can order matcha from better tea sources online, like www.cha-yuan.com.

    Are the Ikea pans nice and heavy like the Nordicware? Gotta go there, wonder if the soldes are still going on there...

  3. Tammy, the french and the japanese have always respected each other a lot when it comes to cuisine, art, china... Some of the best french pastry chefs are japanese. I personally love everything japanese. I wish I could speak the language; I pick up few words here and there particularly when I go to hawaii. My in-laws have lots of Japanese friends on the islands, so maybe one day...

  4. Check out the January 10 of one of my favorite blog

  5. How wonderful to hear that you share my appreciation and your love of matcha. In deed, there is a love affair between Japanese & French. I love everything French ;-) For me Matcha reminds me of the ritual of tea ceremony which I used to learn. The most important thing in participating tea ceremony is the doing, the process, from entering the room to leaving and saluting everyone, while following the strict rules of discipline. And tasting this wonderful matcha with a bit of bitterness softened by the sweetness of Wagashi (the confectionary) is of course a pleasure for everyone. For me it was a comfort as a young lady during this strict discipline. And still now here in Holland, whenever I use Matcha for a drink/dessert, i feel this comfort and warmth of tatami in a Japanese room....a oasis in my day!

  6. I think there is a tremendous amount of culinary synergy between Japanese and French, and the number of Japanese chefs cooking truly French cuisine in France only continues to grow. I was reading an article in Le Monde food magazine (I think it was that) featuring several Japanese chefs in top French restaurants. I sometimes feel I am following the Japanese (visitors) as I make my way (alright, eat my way) through the better pastry shops of France.

    Under the strict discipline of the Japanese resides an abiding respect for the ingredients themselves, and the process-- perhaps as one sees in the tea ceremony. French foodies really respond to that rigor and passion.

    Plus, Japanese food is often really, really good. Okay, I will stop writing because I'm hungry and there's no unagidon in my near future...Oyasumi (good night), and thanks for your interesting observations!


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