Saturday, May 31, 2014

Yes Chef: Mixing it with Matcha!

I'm a bit of a health nut. I really take care of myself through exercise and good eating habits. Hey, you only have one life, and you should treat your body like a temple! So, here is a healthy, easy, and tasty recipe that will take you no time to make in your busy schedule. Smoothies are quick and versatile. They’re a great way to start off your day, or perhaps enjoy after a long workout.

My smoothie includes mixed berries, yogurt, coconut water, and of course Matcha. This is a phenomenal combination loaded with antioxidants, potassium, electrolytes, protein, and a whack of other goodies.

Ingredients

1 ½ cup of frozen blue berries and raspberries
½ cup of yogurt
1 teaspoon of Matcha
½ cup of coconut water

Just take all the ingredients listed, and mix them in a blender. That’s it. Enjoy your glass of goodness! 

Berry good!

I think smoothies are a great way for people to get a daily dose of Matcha. Some people may not enjoy the taste of traditionally prepared Matcha, but they are aware of its health benefits. This allows them to reap the rewards of Matcha without being turned off by the taste. I can detect Matcha in my smoothie, but it’s not very strong.

Matcha’s many moments knows no bounds! It truly is a versatile tea with many uses.

Cooking Tips:

  • I like to freeze fresh berries that way I don’t have to use ice-cubes. However, feel free to use fresh berries and add ice-cubes in your blender.  ½ cup berries and ½ cup ice-cubes.

Options:

  • Use any mixture of berries and maybe even add some fruit: strawberries, blackberries, banana, mango etc…
  • Instead of coconut water, try another liquid such as almond milk or orange juice.
  • If you want to sweeten things up, add honey, stevia, maybe even maple syrup.

The substitutes will all depend on what taste you’re looking for, but all should include a hit of Matcha.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Steeping Beauty: Don’t hate me because I'm beautiful!

Okay, this is not my prettiest moment and things are going to get a little messy now, but all for a good reason! 
 
Since tea has so many health benefits, I not only drink it, but I also use it as part of my daily beauty treatments. I've had many wonderful facials using different types of teas. Matcha, especially makes a great mask since it's already made into a fine powder. All you do is add a little water, much in the same way you'd make it for consuming

Matcha paste.

The only difference is the consistency. To use Matcha as a mask, make it thicker than what you would for drinking. I use 1 tablespoon of Matcha and slowly add water a few drops at a time, until it forms into a paste. Then I paint my face with the paste using a make-up brush. Feel free to apply it with your fingers instead. Allow the mask to set for about 20 minutes. 

Putting my green face on!

Then rinse off with lukewarm water and pat your face dry. That's it! Your face will glow and look refreshed.  The miracles of looking green for a while!


Saturday, May 17, 2014

My Cuppa: The way of the whisk!

On my last post, I mentioned that Matcha is not steeped in order to extract its flavours from the leaves. Instead, you are ingesting the whole leaf which, in some ways can be seen as “eating”. Since you are consuming the entire leaf, you are obtaining enormous health benefits.

Some people are intimidated by Matcha because of all the accessories required to make it. Really, it’s not complicated at all and it’s not necessary to go out and purchase all the fancy tools in order to enjoy this tea. If you want to experience the full treat of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, by all means, go out and purchase all the utensils and vessels needed. I'm going to stick with the basics and even suggest some substitutes you can use that you may already have in your kitchen.

A traditional Matcha set includes the following items:

  • A chawan which is a bowl
  • A chasen which is a bamboo whisk
  • A chashaku which is a bamboo spoon


Traditional Matcha set.

If you want to save yourself some cash, any medium sized bowl or a large cappuccino cup will do. Make sure the bowl or cup is deep enough and that it is at least 4 inches in diameter. You want enough room to whisk. Instead of the chashaku, just use normal measuring spoons. Instead of a chasen, you could use a small whisk, a milk frother, or even a good old-fashioned fork. If you really want to purchase anything for just a little authenticity, I would recommend getting the chasen over all other items. You’ll also need a small sieve to sift your Matcha to remove any lumps.

My items.

Two consistencies of Matcha can be made: one is called usucha which is thin, the other is koicha which is thick. I've enjoyed both, but I think it’s up to the drinker to prepare it to their own liking. I'm going to make mine a little thin.

To prepare Matcha, follow these steps:

  • Bring some water to a full boil. Place some into the bowl, swish it around, and discard it. This is just to make the bowl warm. Dry the bowl thoroughly.
  • Using your sieve, sift ½ teaspoon of Matcha into the bowl. If you want thick tea, use 1 ½ teaspoon.
  • Add about 75 ml of water. For thick tea, use about 45 ml. The temperature of the water should be 70 - 75 °C. You don’t want boiling water or you’ll get bitter tea.

Just add water.

  • Using your whisk of choice, I'm using a chasen, begin to whisk the contents of your bowl rapidly in a zigzag pattern. Bubbles will appear and sometimes foam will be produced. Ensure that all the Matcha is dissolved and not sitting at the bottom. That’s it! How easy was that? No need to add anything else.

Whisk in a zigzag motion.

Matcha is an acquired taste and not everyone will like its consistency.  I've found Matcha to have a sweet but earthy flavour. The aroma is vegetal and earthy. However, just like any other tea, many factors will affect the taste of Matcha: the terroir, manufacturer, water temperature, age of the tea, how it was prepared and so on.

Enjoy your Matcha!

I keep my Matcha powder refrigerated in a dark, air-tight container until ready to use.  This will stay fresh for about a month.  Don't keep it for too long.



Sunday, May 11, 2014

Teaology 101: Matcha Whatcha?

Matcha is a pretty big topic so I'm going to dedicate a few articles to it. I'm going to talk about its origins and how it’s produced first. Matcha is a wonderful tea that has a unique look and feel unlike many other teas. In its dry form, it comes as a bright green powder that feels like baby powder or flour. Matcha literally means "ground tea" and it has many uses:

  • Drink it as a tea
  • Use it as an ingredient in cooking recipes both savory and sweet
  • Dye foods for its brilliant green colour
  • Add it to your daily beauty routine

Though it’s best known as a Japanese tea with a history dating back to the 12th century, Matcha’s origins are actually Chinese going back even further to the 8th century. At that time in China, tea was often picked, steamed, dried, and then formed into bricks for easy storage and transportation. The tea was broken off bit by bit as required, ground into a bowl and then mixed with water ready to be consumed.

Powder Power!

You may remember Eisai, a monk I had mentioned in an earlier post. He is credited with bringing the Chinese methodology of tea preparation along with Zen Buddhism to Japan. Zen is known as Chan in China. The monks in Japan took to Matcha quickly for its health benefits and for keeping them alert during their long periods of meditation. Something Bodhidharma learned after his gruesome idea!

Over time, Matcha’s popularity soared in Japan while it began to wane in China. Enjoyed mainly by the upper class society of Japan, Matcha eventually became the central part of Japanese Tea Ceremonies known as chanoyu. Today, anyone can enjoy Matcha regardless of class and without the need for an elaborate ceremony.

As always, tea production comes from using the leaves of Camellia sinensis. The main tea growing regions in Japan with the ideal conditions for producing Matcha are Uji and Nishio. About 6 weeks prior to harvesting, the tea plants are covered with bamboo or straw mats or even vinyl tarp with the aid of scaffolding. By shading the plants, the amount of sunlight reaching the leaves is reduced. As a result, the chlorophyll content increases turning the leaves much darker green. This also increases the amount of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, providing Matcha with its unique flavour profile.

Matcha is harvested in the Spring usually around May. The two youngest leaves at the tip are delicately hand-picked. Shortly afterwards, the plucked leaves are steamed, stopping oxidation, before going through a long steady process producing different teas along the way. If the leaves are rolled after steaming and before drying, you will get a tea called Gyokuro. If the leaves are spread out evenly and allowed to dry in the shade after steaming, they will begin to crack and break apart into pieces on their own. At this stage, you will get a tea called Tencha. This Tencha is the base for Matcha. Tencha is removed of their stems and veins, and then placed on a stone mill that rotates very slowly and gently. The Tencha is ground into a fine powder making Matcha. It takes more than an hour to grind the Tencha to produce 30 - 40 grams of the powder. Only ground Tencha qualifies as Matcha. The entire process of producing Matcha makes it one of the most expensive teas on the market.

Next time, I’ll prepare a bowl of Matcha for eating! That's right. Matcha is not steeped. You are eating the leaves!