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Matcha: a Zen incarnation of green tea
By Gao Ceng

MATCHA is premium powdered green tea leaf picked in spring and used for both drinking, especially in Japan, and as an ingredient in recipes, especially desserts.

In the craft of making matcha, the bitter tea tannins are softened and the distinctive, initial vegetal taste and aroma of seaweed and bamboo are highlighted.

In drinking matcha, the entire powdered leaf is consumed, not just the liquid tea from an infusion. Matcha is also in integral part of Japanese tea ceremony and Zen rituals.

Drinking matcha tea is less popular in China, where it originated centuries ago, than in Japan, but matcha is a popular ingredient with many Asian pastry chefs because of its appetizing green color and fresh, interesting and sweet taste, as well as the long aftertaste.

Some East Asians are enthusiastic about drinking matcha not only for its taste but also because of its reported origin in Buddhist temples, which imparts, they hope, some inner peace.

Serving matcha can be traced back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279) when the powered green tea was served in temples.

Tea leaves, after dried and steamed, were powdered and whipped together with boiled water in a bowl until it turned dark green with fine foam on the surface. This is integrated into a ritual expressing the Zen spirit of Buddhism, according to Chanyuan Qinggui ("The Rules of Purity for the Zen Monastery"). That book records the details of tea preparation and etiquette.

After the Japanese monk Esai Eisai (1141-1215) took the tea ceremony to Japan, powered tea became very popular, its processing and etiquette very refined. It was named matcha.

Today, matcha drinks tend to be more Western-inspired, such as matcha latte, matcha hot chocolate and matcha milk.

Matcha in pastry kitchen

Besides making matcha beverages, the green powder is also popular in the pastry kitchen where Asian chefs say it enhances sweetness and highlights the flavors of chocolate, cream and cheeses.

"The clean and refreshing green tea balances richer flavors and its mild flavor doesn't overpower other flavors. It's versatile and its natural sweetness works well with various sweet flavors," says chef Jack Wang, sous chef at Grand Hyatt Shanghai.

Generally, the finer the matcha powder, the more intensely sweet it tastes.

"The complementary effect between matcha and cream and cheese is obvious. The refreshing tea adds airy lightness to the cream and helps create layers of flavor, from clean and pure delicate sweetness to rich milky flavor," says Sammi Yang, pastry chef at the Renaissance Shanghai Pudong Hotel.

Western-inspired chefs make matcha into mousse cake, cheesecake, pudding and ice cream.

Traditional Asian pastry chefs considers matcha and sweet red bean paste an ideal match. The tea with slight astringency and tannins balance the rich taste of red beans, creating a more complex flavor, says chef Sammi. "This is a classic example of complementary flavors."

Besides, matcha is popular as the filling of puff pastry and in glutinous rice cakes.

Chef Sammi recommends serve matcha desserts cold, adding that the chilling mouthfeel enhances the refreshing note of green tea.

Hotel pastry chefs have launched matcha desserts for springtime.

Matcha dumpling (36 yuan+15%)

This Chinese steamed dumpling is made from glutinous rice flour and filled with a mixture of matcha powder and red bean taste. Shredded coconut and sweet osmanthus flower are sprinkled on top.

The dessert has a delicate sweet aroma combining floral notes of osmanthus and coconut. The creamy filling is moderately sweet, yet deep with a hint of osmanthus. Matcha adds freshness and length in flavor, balancing the sweet red bean paste.

Chef Wang recommends serving it with a glass of infused Longjing tea. The mild green tea with a sweet aftertaste highlights the floral sweetness of the dessert.

Venue: Club Jin Mao, Grand Hyatt Shanghai

Address: 86/F, 88 Century Ave, Pudong

Tel: 5049-1234 ext 8778

Matcha mousse cake (198 yuan net)

The round cake is grass-green in color, surrounded by golden yellow finger biscuits, creating a color contrast.

The texture is airy and smooth. The mousse cream, when combined with matcha, tastes lighter; it has a mild aftertaste. The crunchy and slightly buttery biscuit adds more texture and layers of flavor.

Venue: Gourmet Shop, Renaissance Shanghai Pudong Hotel

Address: 1/F, 100 Changliu Rd, Pudong

Tel: 3871-4888 ext 6629

Matcha pudding (25 yuan+15%)

Chef Sammi has launched a light green matcha pudding for spring. It has a creamy texture and tastes much lighter than regular egg pudding. It has a milky flavor with a hint of tea freshness and aroma.

Venue: Reizenya Japanese Restaurant, Renaissance Shanghai Pudong Hotel

Address: 1/F, 100 Changliu Rd, Pudong

Tel: 3871-4888 ext 6629

Customer Service: (86-21) 52920164