Matcha (抹茶) is a powdered tea that’s produced by grinding the dried leaves of camellia sinensis, the same species of shrub that’s used to make most traditional teas in the world, including black tea, white tea, and green tea. Although the process of powdering dried tea leaves has existed for over a thousand years, the journey of developing matcha began around 800 years ago when a Buddhist monk brought the basic process to Japan.
While it may sound as simple as grinding green tea in a spice grinder, matcha production is significantly more complicated starting with how the leaves are grown. The last few weeks before harvest, the tea plants are shaded to reduce the amount of >catechin, while increasing the quantity of amino acids, such as theanine in the leaves. This reduces the astringency of the tea while increasing its umami.
These leaves are then hand-picked. The best grades of matcha use the small leaves at the tips of each branch, as they’re the most flavorful, and the tender leaves can be ground down to the micron level, ensuring the tea is smooth.
Once harvested, the leaves are steamed to retain their vibrant color, before being slowly dried to preserve their flavor and nutrients. This partially processed tea is called aracha (荒茶), or “rough tea”.
In the next step, the stems and veins are removed, leaving only the most tender parts of each leaf. The leaves are then slowly ground on a stone mill. This slow pace prevents friction generated heat from altering the taste of the tea.
Matcha is an excellent source of antioxidants such as catechin and manganese, as well as vitamin A, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, vitamin C, and vitamin E. These are all compounds you’d get in a cup of green tea, but you get as much as ten times the amount of nutrients since you are consuming the powdered leaves directly.
The traditional method of preparation involves using a small bamboo whisk to disperse the matcha in hot water. Lately, people have figured out matcha also makes excellent lattes and that it can be added to smoothies to boost their nutritional content.
My personal favorite is to add it to a white hot chocolate to make matcha hot chocolate. If you’re looking for a healthy beverage, this isn’t it. But if you’re looking for an easy drinkable dessert, this Matcha Hot Chocolate is like a Matcha Latte cranked to 11.
The white chocolate gives this comforting drink a robust creamy flavor that makes it taste like you’ve added sweetened condensed milk. I used Valrhona Ivoire 35% feves, but any high-quality white chocolate will do. If your chocolate comes in bars, be sure to chop it up into relatively small pieces so that it melts in the hot milk.
As for the ratio of milk to white chocolate, the recipe below produces a creamy, sweet drink, but it’s not so thick that you feel like you need to chase it with water. If you prefer something lighter (or more unctuous), feel free to play with the ratio of chocolate to milk. You can always incorporate more of one or the other to get it just right.
The same goes for the matcha. I’ve added enough to give it a pleasant mint-green color and grassy matcha flavor. The subtle bitterness is balanced by the sweet richness of the white chocolate. If you prefer a more potent kick, just increase the amount of matcha.
One last thing on the matcha, and tea in general. I always prefer to buy organic when it comes to tea because you’re consuming anything that was sprayed on the leaves along with the beverage.
Kiss Me Organics imports a USDA Organic matcha that’s grown and processed in Shizuoka, Japan. They were kind enough to send me a sample of their ceremonial grade Organic Matcha, which is what I used to make this hot chocolate. It’s mild and easy to drink, and the simple virtue of being organic makes it a winner in my book.
While I’m plugging things I like, if you’re wondering about the glass, it’s a Bodum Pavina. I love these not only for the modern look but because the double-walled construction makes them great at insulating whatever you put in it, whether it’s a cold beer or hot green tea. That means that your hand AND your drink stay in their Goldilocks zone.
- Add the white chocolate, matcha, and milk to a microwave-safe container.
- Microwave until the milk is steaming, but not boiling.
- Use a whisk or hand blender to emulsify the white chocolate, milk, and matcha incorporating air into the mixture as you whisk. If you're using a hand blender, you can tip the blender to the side just a bit to get it to add more air.
- Pour the matcha hot chocolate into your favorite insulated glass and enjoy!