If you’ve browsed through a food magazine, food blog or your Instagram feed recently, you may well have seen pots of bright emerald green powder being whisked into lattes, brownies, cupcakes and even guacamole. Despite its vivid appearance, this striking substance is not a form of food colouring beloved by cooks keen to up the camera-friendliness of their food. It’s matcha, a type of tea lauded for its health benefits, refreshing flavour and, as cooks and chefs are finding out, its versatility in the kitchen.
Matcha is, essentially, green tea, but there’s a big difference between this ultra-fine, silky-soft powder and the dark green shavings that fill your standard teabag. Grown mostly in Japan, the green tea leaves used for matcha are kept in the shade, covered to prevent direct sunlight, for three weeks before their harvest, which turns the leaves a darker shade of green due to an increase in chlorophyll levels. Only the finest leaves are chosen, and the stems and veins of the leaves are removed before being stone-ground, resulting in the super-fine powder that is matcha. Its comparatively high cost is due to the laborious and refined nature of this process: it can take up to an hour to grind just thirty grams of matcha. There are different levels of quality: the best matcha is made from the leaves highest up on the tea bush, which are soft and pliable because the plant sends most of its nutrients to the young leaves, giving a finer texture to the resulting matcha. Coarser leaves give a more astringent taste and a darker colour.