By now you’ve likely heard of matcha, or seen perfectly styled shots of the vibrant green tea blowing up your instagram feed. In the event you’ve been doing a digital detox for the past 18 months (good for you!), matcha, in a nutshell, is comprised of shade-grown tea leaves that have been stone-ground into powder that is sifted, and then whisked into a cup of frothy, foamy green tea.
Matcha originated in China centuries ago and was brought to Japan by a Buddhist monk to use as a meditative aid. Thanks to the amino acid, L-theanine, drinking matcha has been shown to create a calming effect that balances and prolongs the alertness provided by the caffeine. Many have referred to this sensation as a ‘calm focus’. Unlike the spike in energy followed by the jittery crash of coffee, matcha has the ability to create a sustained feeling of energy, often for several hours at a time.
Adored by super-foodies in the west, matcha has numerous health benefits, such as a high concentration of antixiodants and ability to boost your energy and metabolism. Translation: relieve stress, spark weight loss and detoxify the body—naturally and without additives.
Sounds good, right? But let’s face it; most of us aren’t Zen masters. It takes years of study and you’re not quite ready for that. So what if you want to try matcha without a heavy investment in the traditional ceremonial tools? At the very least, to see if you like it before you get the gear.
This is a common question from matcha newbies: Do I really need a bamboo matcha whisk to make matcha green tea? In the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, it is not uncommon to use a new chasen for each event (cha=tea, sen=whisk). But if you’re an occasional matcha drinker, or just starting out, you might not be ready to take the plunge and invest in a matcha whisk set. Especially if you don’t even know whether or not you will enjoy drinking matcha yet. Before we can answer the question, we must first understand the crucial role of the bamboo whisk in the preparation of matcha tea.
Matcha is traditionally prepared in one of two ways. The first way is thick, similar to the consistency of a Turkish coffee, or pancake batter. The second preparation is foamy and frothy, more like a cappuccino or skinny latte. In both preparations, the matcha whisk is used to achieve the desired consistency. Matcha whisks are typically hand-carved from a single piece of bamboo, for many of the same reasons it is the material of choice for a cutting board. Bamboo is highly flexible and water resistant so it retains it shape and keeps the bacteria out; it’s gentle so it won’t damage the surface of your tea bowl; and it doesn’t absorb odors and flavors that could alter the taste of the tea. Matcha has a complex flavor profile—slightly vegetal and astringent with a touch of sweetness—so keeping it pure is important to enjoying the umami of the tea.
When you drink a regular cup of tea, you remove the tea leaves once the tea has steeped. With matcha, you consume the entire leaf by adding hot water to the powder. The bamboo matcha whisk is used to aerate the matcha and eliminate the powder clumps so that the tea appears to dissolve in the water. In actuality, the matcha powder is suspended in the water. The key is to drink the matcha relatively quickly because if matcha sits for too long, the powder will start to settle back to the bottom of your bowl and it will taste bitter and feel gritty in your mouth. And nobody needs that.
So, now that you know how the whisk is used to prepare matcha—to aerate and remove lumps—you are ready to improvise with alternative tools you likely already have in your kitchen. In our testing, we found the best results with a balloon whisk, a tea ball strainer and a glass infuser bottle.
For all of the matcha preparations below, we used ½ tsp. of organic, ceremonial grade Japanese matcha powder with 3 ounces water heated to 175° farenheight. Be careful not to overheat the water as that could burn the delicate matcha powder and result in a bitter taste. If you do bring your water to a boil, allow it to cool for about 20 seconds before pouring it into the tea bowl.
The first gadget we tried is a balloon whisk, typically used to mix eggs, whipped cream and a number of other baking ingredients.
Similar to the traditional bamboo matcha whisk, the wire whisk works to add air into the mixture, while removing the clumps by vigorously moving the wire loops back and forth through the liquid, gradually increasing the speed and size of the stroke. When applied to our matcha mixture, this resulted in a tea that was nicely suspended with a light, bubbly foam on top. We found that due to the size of our whisk, that a bowl with high walls was a must. You can always pour the mixture into a smaller sized cup for drinking.
The second utility we tried is one that most tea drinkers will have in their kitchen—the mesh tea ball infuser with a snap handle most commonly used to steep loose leaf tea.
We simply placed our matcha powder into the tea ball, set it into the bowl and poured our water over it. Then, using a similar motion to a traditional whisk, we moved the ball back and forth in the water in an “M” and “W” pattern. This method delivered good matcha suspension but it resulted more in bubbles than a true foam on top.
By far, the best results came from a tea infuser bottle.
Not only does the strainer basket aerate the matcha eliminating powder clumps, it delivers by far the most instagram-worthy foam on top. If you’re a commuter, or traveler, and you regularly drink leaf tea, you likely already own one of these. If you’re not a big tea drinker, you may get similar results from any type of drink bottle that contains an infuser basket. (We haven’t tried it. Your mileage may vary.) Simply pour the water into the bottle, leaving a little bit of room for the resulting foam when finished, add your matcha powder to the infuser basket, place in the bottle and seal the bottle with the lid, then shake the bottle vigorously. Best part? Any matcha that doesn’t properly "dissolve" will be trapped in the strainer so you can simply remove the basket from the bottle before you drink it. And, this method allows you to enjoy matcha to go!
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