Do you know matcha? If you do, skip ahead to tomorrow’s post, because this is newbieville.
I didn’t know matcha until a few years ago, when my friend Karen Reagan (frequent commenter sphitz) introduced me to it at the late Blue Willow Tea Room. It’s powdered Japanese green tea, she explained, usually eaten with a small sweet.
This is not the same as instant tea, which is brewed tea that has been freeze-dried or crystallized or something, and tastes terrible. This is high quality whole tea leaves, finely ground, and you whisk up with hot water until it’s bubbly. The flavor is quite different from brewed tea, even Japanese green tea: it’s sweet, smooth, and the greenest tea you’ll ever see. High-quality matcha is so green it looks fake.
Some people will be put off matcha by the required supplies. Others will be drawn to it for the same reason. Here’s a partial list of matcha gear:
- a special kind of bowl to whisk it in and drink it out of
- a special bamboo whisk
- a bamboo scoop for getting the matcha out of the can
- a stand to put the whisk on when you’re not using it
- a water cooler
- a strainer
I have the bowl and the whisk. To give you an idea of just how cheap I am: because matcha is at the center of the Japanese tea ceremony, handmade drinking bowls can go for well over $1000 each, and more typical ones tend to go for at least $30. I bought mine for $1.50 at Daiso. They also carry matcha whisks for $4, although they run out a lot. I realize Daiso is inconveniently located for most of America, which puts most of America in a tough spot, because getting started with matcha is not cheap.
So I’ve been experimenting (i.e., drinking extra matcha) for the last few days to see which of the gear is actually required and how to get started with good matcha at the lowest price.
First, if you haven’t tried matcha and I’ve moved you to give it a whirl, look for a tea cafe in your area that serves it; something like Muzi in Vancouver, Tea Zone in Portland, or Remedy Teas in Seattle. The easiest way to look for such a place is at TeaMap.com. Some of its data is out of date, so call for matcha availability.
Now, if you’re ready to make it at home…
The place where you absolutely don’t want to skimp is the matcha powder itself. Cheap matcha is olive-drab false economy. It’s best left for making ice cream, latte drinks, and Blenz Coffee’s Malibu Matcha. (I’m generally not a fan of sweetened matcha, but I have to admit Remedy’s matcha lemonade is great, and they use good matcha in it.)
The minimum you can get away with spending on matcha is about $10 for 30g, and $15 will get you a much better matcha. After that, you get into connoisseur territory, which is a territory populated by guys who use their extended pinkies to pick your pockets. Thirty grams is about 24 servings, depending on what you consider a serving. I typically use 1/2 teaspoon of matcha for 3.5 ounces of water.
Where to buy? If you have a trustworthy Japanese grocery, go there first. Otherwise, mail order directly from Japan. (Details below.)
Now, as for the rest of the goods:
The whisk: Yes, absolutely necessary. I tried making matcha with a regular whisk, a fork, and an electric hand blender. None of them produced good foam on top. You want smooth foam with small bubbles, like espresso crema.
The bamboo scoop: Nope. I just use a regular measuring spoon.
The strainer: Yes, clumps of undissolved matcha powder are really gross, worse than lumpy gravy, and a strainer helps to prevent them. But you don’t need a special matcha strainer; any fine-mesh strainer will work. I use the same little one I use for straining lemon juice. Even a large strainer would work, especially if you use the next tip.
The bowl: It’s fun to whisk up matcha in a handsome bowl and then drink it from the same vessel, but it’s far from required. I’ll bet you have a one-quart Pyrex measuring cup, right? Perfect. Whisk it up in there and pour it into a teacup or cappuccino cup. I did so this morning and it worked great.
The water cooler: This is not like an office water cooler, just a bowl with a spout. You pour the water from your kettle into the cooler, let it cool, then pour it into your matcha bowl. You want your water at about 175°F for making matcha. I found it extremely easy to learn to tell when my teakettle has reached approximately the right temp. Don’t bother with a water cooler.
The stand: Okay, I threw in a stand with my last matcha order, but before that I’d just rinse the whisk and stick it back in the plastic container it came in.
Now, the damage.
Order from O-Cha.com. Everything they carry is good. Get the Kiri no Mori matcha ($16) and the cheapest whisk ($13). Shipping from Japan to the US will cost $6.25 and takes about four days. I don’t understand why stuff gets to me faster from Japan than from Amazon.com.
Anyway, that’s a total of $35.15 for 24 servings, or about $1.50 per serving. Next time, of course, you won’t need a new whisk, and the shipping will be less, and you will save a couple bucks by redeeming bonus points.
Do not order the $60 matcha. I’m sure it’s great. That’s the problem.