The Secrets of a MatchaMaker
THE SECRETS OF A MATCHAMAKER
how Japan's traditional green tea became a food & Beverage phenomenon
Everyone has their personal preferences for food and drink, but some items become common enough staples in people’s routines that there are entire stores devoted to catering to one craving.
It’s why we have Starbucks on every corner, Jamba Juices in every strip mall, and fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King duking it out around the world. But why has matcha — the Japanese green tea traditionally grown in the shade, harvested, steamed, and then air-dried before being pulverized into a superfine emerald green powder — become such a phenomenon in recent years?
Rise of matcha among millennials
One possible reason for matcha’s rise in popularity, especially with the younger Millennial demographic, is that it’s healthy, especially when compared to high fructose corn syrup-laden sodas, controversial energy drinks, and even other teas.
Health benefits galore
It contains higher amounts of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals than other teas. Unlike most green or black teas, matcha is traditionally paired with warm --not boiling-- water and blended until it’s dissolved. The whole drink is then consumed, rather than there being any leftover powder used for re-steeping or discarded.
Matcha green tea powder is also “virtually free of contamination with heavy metals (lead, arsenic, and cadmium) and pesticides,” according to one study. Japan is known for its stringent agricultural laws, and while there is no legal definition for “ceremonial” or “culinary” grade powder, its bright color, distinct flavor, and health benefits set it apart from other teas.
Versatility leads to popularity
Another reason why matcha is continuing to show up in every coffee shop and grocery store is its versatility. Like coffee, consumers can blend matcha green tea powder into a variety of other beverages, from lattes to cocktails, as well as snack bars, ice cream, and even pasta dishes.
Kraft Heinz has also introduced a matcha-flavored biscuit in its Chinese markets, pairing the biscuits with characters like “Mat Chakra,” a personified matcha biscuit whose matcha filling makes him “too Zen for his own good.” Nestle’s Kit-Kat candy bar comes in many more flavor varieties in Japan than you’ll ever see in Western countries, including strawberry, citrus, pear, hot chili, and of course, matcha green tea. There are three matcha-flavored varieties with varying levels of sweetness and bitterness; of those, only one is typically imported to Western countries (unsurprisingly, it’s the less bitter variation).
Cooking with matcha
A recent spate of cookbooks devoted to using matcha for drinks and meals throughout the day is yet another testament to the green powder’s flexibility. Food blogger and registered dietitian Miryam Quinn Doblas may have been one of the first on the matcha bandwagon with The Healthy Matcha Cookbook back in 2015 (Skyhorse Press), while Gretha Scholtz penned Matcha: A Cookbook a year later (teNeues, 2016). Then came Matcha: A Lifestyle Guide by Jessica Flint and Anna Kavaliunas (Dovetail Press, 2017) a combination cookbook and matcha retrospective that pairs with a matcha whisk and shaker available from the publisher’s website.
Matcha as art and experience
Cookbooks tend to feature artfully-staged photos with bright colors; matcha makes that easy and even more appealing to the Instagram-happy Millennial demographic with its brilliant green hue.
Trendsetting companies like Cha Cha Matcha and MatchaBar produce lattes and other ready-to-drink beverages that highlight matcha’s natural color and tout its benefits, rather than hide the product behind busy labels or calligraphy-laden aluminum.
Cha Cha Matcha
Matcha companies are also going the brick-and-mortar route; Cha Cha Matcha has locations throughout New York City that contrast the vibrant green of matcha with a peppy pink hue and invite people to snapshot their snacks and beverages.
“The store is kind of a combination of Beverly Hills hotel, Miami meets New York,” says Cha Cha Matcha co-founder Matthew Morton. “We want to create an experience that doesn’t have a specific theme, but sort of transports you to a paradise, rather than being in the hustle bustle of New York City.” Decked with real greenery, fern-patterned cushions, and grass walls, Cha Cha Matcha stands out in the concrete jungle of the modern metropolis.
MatchaBar has products in stores like Whole Foods and similar natural food outlets, but it also has three locations: two in New York City, and one in Los Angeles; each of the stores pairs matcha green with a bright white for a clean contrast and a “fresh” vibe. MatchaBar co-founder Graham Fortgang described the cafés as akin to a “huggable billboard,” where the brand can not only test new products directly with consumers, but also see who is coming into their stores, what products interest them most, and how they react to those products. The company features different, social-media inspired labels for each of its bottled drinks and works with a variety of comedians, writers, and artists to generate new messages every three months.
Both Cha Cha Matcha and MatchaBar feature hot matcha green tea, but also blended beverages that could give Starbucks a run for its money. Cha Cha Matcha’s Divine Drink is an ombré chilled latte with matcha, beetroot, ginger, turmeric, blue algae, and spirulina while MatchaBar’s bottled matcha beverages come in original matcha, mint, honey, and apple ginger flavors.
Matcha N’ More
Matcha N’ More, another New York City café, adds glam to the healthy powder by offering ice cream desserts topped with edible gold leaf, in addition to matcha teas, pastries, and other beverages.
Health and wellness is a lifestyle movement
Matcha’s popularity has only continued to rise over the past five years, and it’s a trend that doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. The Millennial demographic doesn’t see health and wellness as a sterile, private experience. Instead, how to get and stay healthy is a vibrant, social, and exciting adventure worth sharing with others.
Lifestyle bloggers and influencers
Popular lifestyle bloggers like Lee from America partner with brands for events like Lee’s “Matcha Morning” workshops where matcha is an integral part of a daily ritual, going beyond a simple cup of tea in the morning. By also sharing free recipes on her blog, Lee helps readers cultivate a matcha habit which they will share in turn.
It’s not enough for companies to cater to the desire for people to integrate health and wellness into their everyday life. They must also make the process social, and perhaps harken back to matcha’s origin and introduce ritual into what might otherwise be a “fix it and forget it” attitude toward food and beverage.
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