Going Green: Matcha powder offers the boost of coffee with the health benefits of green tea

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters
RUTLAND BITES

After one wildly relentless winter, I’m eager to see anything green. From the vegetable seedlings I have growing under lights, to the garlic popping up from the straw out in the raised beds, to the scallions I continue to regrow on the windowsill. Even the grass in the backyard is a welcome sight, despite how much I consider it a waste of resources. I’d have an entirely edible landscape if I could, but that’s a topic for another day.

Maybe it was the need for green during these past few months, that years after it started popping up on trendy café menus, I’ve finally taken an interest in matcha. It seems that there are good reasons to give this specialty green tea a try. Despite the recent fad, matcha has existed for thousands of years in Japan, where Buddhists and samurai warriors consumed it for its unique benefits.

Matcha is created by finely grinding green tea leaves into a powder. Unlike regular green tea, where you steep leaves in water, with matcha you mix water directly with the powder and consume all of the leaf and all of its benefits. The uses for matcha are certainly not limited to tea alone. Smoothies, pancakes, ice cream, muffins and lattes are a few of the places you’ll find it these days. Basically, you can add it into whatever you please.

Matcha powder is a cheerfully bright shade of green that appears almost unnatural. That’s because before the tea leaves are harvested, they’re shaded up from the sun, which increases their level of chlorophyll, and in doing so, the intensity of the green. Matcha will turn whatever you put it in an equally attractive shade of green, making a persuasive case to replace green artificial food dye.

What I find most compelling about matcha, however, are the benefits it provides to the body. It may sound contradictory, but matcha has the ability to increase your alertness while also helping to keep you calm. It sounds somewhat implausible, yet the science behind it makes sense.

Matcha powder contains more caffeine than regular green tea, yet half as much as a cup of brewed coffee. That’s still considered a moderate level. But unlike coffee, matcha contains the amino acid L-Theanine, which helps to promote relaxation. The combination is said to provide a more sustained level of energy over a period of time without causing the abrupt jolt of coffee. That’s in addition to its high levels of antioxidants, since you are consuming the whole leaf.

Basically, us coffee addicts might see some benefit to replacing a cup of coffee now and then with a cup of matcha tea or incorporating the powder into cooking and baking. With a grassy, slightly bitter, flavor, it has some similar elements to the taste of coffee beans, though without the depth obtained from roasting. People describe a kind of seaweed-like element to it. Yet, I think it’s mild, and as long as it’s used in moderation, won’t overwhelm.

A standard serving size, such as when you make an eight-ounce cup of tea, starts at just half a teaspoon. You can go up to one teaspoon per cup, but if new to matcha, half is a good place to start. To make a cup of tea, whisk the powder with two ounces of hot water. When well combined, fill the remainder of the cup with hot water, milk and sweetener, if you like. If you’d rather have more of a latte, use hot milk instead of water.

When buying matcha, look for a bright green color. If it appears dark, it may be an indication that it’s not fresh. Matcha is pricey, but since you can make a cup of tea with just half a teaspoon, a small amount should get you relatively far. Make sure to store it in an airtight container to keep it fresh.

There are countless uses for matcha, but why not combine two trendy foods and kill two birds with one stone? I like the idea of the sustained energy matcha can offer, but admit that I’m not sure I’m ready to give up my morning coffee just yet. Flavoring chia pudding with matcha, however, makes for a decent breakfast while still giving you the positive benefits in the morning when you need them most.

If you’re new to chia pudding as well, it’s simple to prepare and is probably most similar to tapioca pudding in texture, except that the pearls are the size of seeds. You just stir together chia seeds in milk, flavor, and let sit overnight. In the morning the seeds will have plumped up and created a pudding.

Matcha chia pudding

serves 2

2 cups milk 1 tablespoon maple syrup 1 teaspoon sifted matcha powder 1/8 teaspoon salt 6 tablespoons chia seeds fresh fruit and granola, for topping

In a bowl, whisk together the milk, maple syrup, matcha and salt. When blended, stir in the chia seeds. Stir every few minutes for about 15 minutes. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for at least a couple of hours or overnight. To serve, top with fruit, granola or toasted coconut, to your liking.

Steve Peters

Steve Peters is a cook, gardener and baker living in Rutland.

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