Tea Tasting: Three New Blends from Naoki Matcha

NB: These three teas were sent free of charge in exchange for my honest opinion. Please see my contact and collaboration information if you are interested in collaborating.

It’s not a secret that Naoki Matcha is one of my favorite matcha companies and recently, they contacted me to be part of the tasters for their new blends coming out. They sent me 20g of each blend from three different regions of Japan and while they were content with private feedback, I thought I would share my notes here.

The packaging is a sleek black resealable bag with the Naoki Matcha branding. I love the gold-on-black color scheme. The powder itself is very creamy-textured, almost like a really high-end eyeshadow. There wasn’t a whole lot of variation in the colors among the three of them, but all three are vibrantly green. And they were all a little complicated to sift because that creamy texture tended to stick in the sifter, but a little tap with my scoop freed it.

I tasted all three of these whisked traditionally with a bamboo whisk. I used the same white glazed clay chawan for all three and kept parameters consistent. All three were made with 2g of matcha powder, sifted, and whisked with 60ml of water that was at 85C.

Uji Harmony

This is the most subtle of the three. The aroma of the dry powder is green and nutty, like cooked chicory. It has a smooth mouthfeel that I described as like velvet and thick cream. The flavor is mellow, with little discernible bitterness initially, but a soft bitterness on the back of the tongue. The froth is thick and dense, like a flat white. The overall flavor experience is like a leafy green vegetable cooked in a peppery olive oil, with a vegetal umami flavor. The body energy of this matcha was very warm and stimulating.

Wazuka Hilltop

This powder immediately reminded me of the “classic” matcha baked good aroma. When you think of something being green-tea flavored, this is what it smells like. The foam was a slightly brighter green and looked very glossy upon being whisked. The flavor is much brighter, with a tart or fruity astringency on the initial flavor. This has a milder umami flavor and a lighter mouthfeel that dissipates without coating the mouth. There is some bitterness on the aftertaste, but it is tempered by the astringent brightness. I tasted a lingering tartness at the back of my tongue.

Nishio Bloom

This one has a savory aroma and a creamy texture. I taste it almost entirely in the back of my mouth, with flavors of asparagus in butter. The bitterness perfectly matches the bitterness of very fresh asparagus (which I’ve recently had the opportunity to taste, as I grow it myself). It looked gritty in the bowl, like I didn’t whisk it enough but I didn’t detect any feeling of grit in the mouth. The asparagus flavor fills the mouth and lingers in the aftertaste, with a creamy, mouth-coating texture. This one had a chill body energy.

I haven’t tried any of these blends in lattes, but I might experiment with that soon. For now, each of them has their own unique qualities that I turn to for different mornings. Uji Harmony is more inspirational, while Nishio Bloom is a more low-key morning. And all three have made their way into my matcha practice, if not for good (these might be limited edition), at least for as long as they last.

Tea Together Tuesday: Glitter and Matcha

IMG_0022

Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share your favorite tea for making a tea latte. Now, I don’t make a lot of tea lattes, but when I do, it’s usually matcha or hojicha. But I thought I would take this prompt in a different direction.

Several weeks ago I had a dream that I got a tea care package from the lovely Jann herself and in it was a matcha latte mix that was flavored with rose and had glitter in it! I woke up determined to recreate this idea of a glitter rose matcha latte.

Now, first I had to source the glitter. I found Brew Glitter online and was pleased to see that I could order a sample of a few different colors, since I didn’t know what I would like best, and I’m not planning on making a gallon of matcha latte. I got white, clear, rose gold, red, and green, and they shipped very quickly. I’ve decided to accent the green of the matcha with rose gold glitter. Though the photo shows that the glitter doesn’t show up well in pictures, in real life, it’s quite pretty. I mixed a pinch of glitter with the matcha before whisking and then sprinkled a little more on top of the frothed milk before pouring it into the matcha.

Rose is one of my favorite flavors, too, and I love the subtle, Turkish-delight flavor that rosewater gives this, as opposed to infusing rosebuds. A little goes a long way, but definitely add it to your taste, and I find a dash of sugar helps it come out.

Rose Gold Matcha Latte

2/3 cup of whole milk, heated and frothed

1/2 tsp. matcha (I used Naoki Matcha Superior Ceremonial Blend)

1 tsp. rosewater (or to taste)

1 tsp. sugar (or to taste)

Rose gold beverage glitter

Whisk up the matcha with a pinch of glitter and an ounce of water and add to the bottom of your cup. Add the sugar and rosewater to the hot milk and froth. Add a pinch of glitter to the top of the froth and pour into the matcha.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

Tea Review: Naoki Matcha Silver Yame Ceremonial Blend

Several weeks ago, one of my favorite tea bloggers posted a review of a matcha from Yame in Fukuoka prefecture. Now, given that I am currently in the process of planning a trip to Fukuoka, I was intrigued, and decided to buy some for myself. You may remember in this Sunday’s historical tea video, I featured this matcha while discussing a well-traveled woman who figured into the history of Japan’s tea culture, and mentioned that I would have to do a more in-depth review later. So here is that review.

Naoki Matcha 4

First of all, I purchased the Silver Yame Ceremonial Blend Matcha from Naoki’s own site, though they also sell on Amazon if you absolutely must have your matcha in two days. But my experience on Naoki’s website was pleasant enough not to feel the need to patronize Amazon. I paid $22.99 for 40g, which is actually a bit less than it’s currently listed for on their site (there was apparently a website glitch when I ordered, but they honored the price). It’s currently listed at $24.99 for 40g, which is about $0.62 per gram, and pretty solidly mid-pack for price among the high-quality matchas I drink. They also offer free shipping. I placed my order on a Sunday, it shipped on the Tuesday, and I received it Friday, so less than a week’s turnaround was quite the treat for someone used to waiting for shipping from halfway around the world.

For the video, I decided to pre-sift a few teaspoons of matcha into a clean, reused tin from Ippodo (if you happen to recognize the logo in the picture), instead of sifting it directly into the bowl like I often do. The matcha sifted easily because it’s a nice, soft, fine powder. It whisks well with no residual clumps, even after I’d stored the pre-sifted powder in the fridge for a day or two. I did have a little trouble getting a good froth the first two times I whisked it, but I later got the hang of it. Perhaps I’m just out of practice.

Tasting this matcha for the first time was a revelation. It was sweet, creamy, and mild. It reminded me of the time I ordered a rye and soda and was convinced they’d given me Sprite because the soda added such a pronounced sweetness to the rye. The first sip of this was just so smooth. And then the sweetness and richness develops into an umami aftertaste as you finish your three sips. I’m loathe to overuse the word buttery (Tracy), but, yes, the description “buttery” would apply here. This would be a very nice starter matcha for someone who wants to taste the good stuff and doesn’t want to be hit with really complicated flavors. It’s also really nice for the summer when I’m just too darn hot to have a serious conversation with my tea.

So, once again, Oolong Owl has steered me right. I suppose the dual morals of this story are that you should try Naoki Silver Yame matcha (and that I will likely want to try others of their offerings), and that you should follow Oolong Owl’s blog and allow her to enable you with wild abandon.

NB: I purchased this product with my own money and was given no incentive to feature or review it.

Meditations on Matcha and Father’s Day

NB: Those of you who don’t know, my father died in late 2012, so this is not an entirely happy post, especially since we had a rather tumultuous relationship before that.

It was Father’s Day yesterday in the States, and a friend’s post on Instagram got me reminiscing about how my father indirectly introduced me to matcha. The following story may shock and horrify you, particularly if you’re something of a tea purist, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot from this time in my life, and I’ve tried to bring it to my current understanding of tea.

Since I was a teenager, I had a somewhat strained relationship with my father, which fractured entirely when he divorced my mother. In college, I made the decision to stop speaking to him entirely, a decision that led to seven years of estrangement. Eventually, we reconnected and started rebuilding a tenuous sort of relationship. A couple of years later, I would lose him, so I suppose it was fortunate that we were able to mostly reconcile before his death.

When my father was diagnosed with cancer in late 2011, he embarked on a rather aggressive treatment regimen, and my stepmother, likely in an attempt to bring some sense of control to a terrifying time, threw herself into researching complementary therapies. She particularly looked into diet and supplements that could support an anti-cancer lifestyle. This led to the purchase of a great deal of “health food” and various forms of green tea, including a tin of matcha powder. Now, my father decided he liked the matcha-dusted green tea bags they got, which he dubbed his “macho tea,” but no one much liked the plain matcha powder because it was such a strong green tea flavor.

At the time, I was living with them because I had separated from my first husband, and as both a green-tea-drinker and one who hated waste, I started drinking the matcha. Of course, I also started baking with the spelt flour and flaxseeds and cooking with some of the healthier food (I was going through a pseudo-vegan phase at that point), and at one point I had a rather large master list of the vegan muffin recipes I had developed.

In the spring of 2012, my father finished his treatment and was deemed cancer-free, but in fall of 2012, it returned, more aggressively, and it was likely not going to go as well this time. So even though I had since moved out of their house and into a shared house in the same neighborhood, I spent much of my time at my stepmother’s house. By December 2012, it was obvious that it was the end, possibly any day, so I spent my days sitting next to his bed while he slept whenever anyone else from his large family wasn’t there to be with him. I would occasionally sing to him, and occasionally read a book while he slept, but I always had my mug of tea.

As a raw newcomer to the world of matcha, my preferred cuppa was a large mug with a teaspoon of matcha in the bottom, filled with hot water from the insta-hot water tap and stirred with a spoon. No sifting, whisking, or controlled water temperature. No fancy teaware, or even particularly good matcha. Just a mug filled with a somewhat-sludgy, swamp-water concoction that tasted like green tea, kept me feeling alert but calm throughout trying days, and could be refilled occasionally as the powder settled out.

It’s not a sophisticated way to drink matcha, and that’s okay. I came to tea slowly, in increments, starting with a love of tea parties with bagged Twinings, and then on to loose leaf from Teavana, so beginning with matcha by unceremoniously dumping a spoonful of low-ish quality powder in a large mug seems almost fitting. And no matter how intricate my own personal tea rituals may become, sometimes I like to remember their humble beginnings.

So to commemorate this Father’s Day, I made myself a spoonful of matcha in a mug and sipped it slowly while I remember the lessons of tea my father probably never knew he’d taught me.

The Tea Primer: Bonus Levels (Matcha and Masala Chai)

Hello, again! While I ended the main tea primer with Level Three’s superficial introduction to gong fu brewing, I thought I’d return with two “bonus level” techniques. While I’m not a tea expert by any means, I have had first-hand teaching in two specific traditional preparations of tea: Japanese matcha and Indian masala chai. So I thought I’d share a little bit about how I incorporate these techniques into my own tea practices when I want something a little different than just leaves steeped in water.

Matcha:

Matcha is a type of ground green tea powder that is used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. The most authentic forms of matcha are made from tencha tea leaves that have been shaded for at least a few weeks to force the tea to concentrate some of its chemical constituents to produce a brighter green color and a richer umami flavor. It is made from a variety of green tea known as tencha. For more about traditional matcha production, I really like this overview from Ippodo.

Because the processing leads to high concentrations of certain chemical constituents, matcha has gained a reputation as a health superfood in recent years. Unfortunately, that means that there is a lot of subpar matcha on the market being sold as a supplement. Matcha is also used in baking, lattes, and other recipes, which mutes subtle flavors, so typically “culinary grade” matcha is used for these purposes. While good culinary grade matcha is absolutely drinkable on its own, it does not compare to the experience of a really nice bowl of matcha, prepared traditionally.

Personally, my favorite matcha comes from Ippodo. Since their products ship from Japan, the international shipping can be a bit steep, but if you buy a few different things, the value is still pretty good for the quality you’re getting. I tend to mention which specific matcha I’m drinking on my Instagram profile, usually for Matcha Monday. And I will use a good-quality matcha in a latte, mostly because I tend not to add much sweetener, so as to let the flavor of the matcha come through.

But matcha is primarily known for being the tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony. I’m fortunate enough to live in a city where there is an active society for the preservation and teaching of the Japanese tea ceremony. I visited the Washington DC Chado Urasenke Tankokai last year and chronicled my experience of a private demonstration and lesson in the Japanese tea ceremony, and I thought I’d share how this experience has informed my preparation of matcha.

When I make a bowl of matcha at home, I don’t follow the whole tea ceremony. Obviously, the ceremony is an inherently social, service-oriented practice, so making a bowl of matcha for myself is not the same. But I do observe some of the procedures.

First, I make sure to set out all my tools carefully before I begin. I heat my water, usually to 180 F because it will cool upon being poured out into another vessel. My first step is to pour some water into my chawan (or matcha bowl) and whisk it with my chasen (matcha whisk) a few times to moisten the whisk. Then, I empty the water from my bowl and wipe it with a cloth I use only for preparing and cleaning up after matcha. The next step is to measure out my matcha. Because I only sift matcha as needed, I place my sifter over my chawan and measure out two scoops of matcha with my chashaku (matcha scoop) and use the chashaku to gently push the matcha through the sifter. I remove the sifter and measure out two ounces of hot water in a separate cup. This, I pour over the matcha in the chawan and whisk. I whisk with a back-and-forth motion for about 15-30 seconds, until a nice froth has appeared. Then, I make a few slow circles to help break up larger bubbles.

Now it is time to savor my matcha. I like to sit in silence and enjoy my matcha, focusing on it entirely. It is a small amount, so it doesn’t take a long time, but I do roll it around in my mouth and appreciate the complex flavors. Some matchas are quite umami, or savory, in flavor, while others have varying degrees of floral, tart, or vegetal flavors.

Once I’ve finished my bowl of matcha, I clean up. This comes from my past Zen practice and the koan “Wash Your Bowl”. I take my empty matcha bowl back to the kettle, pour in some hot water, swish the whisk around in it to wash off the matcha, and then put it on the whisk stand to dry with the tines facing down so that water doesn’t run into the handle and mold. The stand also helps to keep the shape of the whisk. I empty out the chawan and wipe it with my cloth. I also wipe off the chashaku and sifter, after tapping off excess powder. Then, everything goes back into the tea cabinet. I never leave my matcha tools out, even though I’m rather bad about leaving out my other tea tools.

In this way, making a bowl of matcha becomes a meditative activity as well as a morning beverage. I don’t know if it is the theanine in matcha that makes my mornings feel brighter and calmer, or if this small meditation puts me in a good frame of mind, but my mornings that start with matcha are almost always calmer and more productive.

If you’re interested in learning more about traditional matcha, I highly recommend looking for a Chado society near you. And I give a list of matcha tools that I use on a regular basis in the information box below this video (which also shows my matcha preparation).

Masala Chai:

When I was fresh out of graduate school and freshly divorced, I moved around a lot, often living in shared houses. In one of these houses, I lived with an Indian woman and her husband. Every morning, one of them would wake up early and make masala chai. Masala chai means “mixed-spice tea” (fun fact: “chai” just means “tea,” so the Western habit of referring to spiced tea as just “chai” is somewhat like the habit of calling a caffe latte a “latte,” which in Italy just refers to plain milk) and is a blend of black tea with various spices. According to my housemate, it is made and served at all hours of the day and her family is always up for tea.

Traditionally, masala chai is often made by boiling spices and tea in milk, but my method involves preparing the tea with only water, since my housemate was lactose intolerant and would let everyone choose their own form of milk or milk substitute. So this is her method, which I quite enjoy.

First, she would put a cinnamon stick, some cardamom pods, some black peppercorns, and maybe a couple cloves or allspice berries (I prefer allspice because cloves can easily overwhelm the other spices) in a mortar and pestle and hit them a few times just to crack the pepper, break up the cinnamon, and open the cardamom pods. These would go into a small saucepan, along with a few slices of fresh ginger. This would be covered with water and brought to a boil, and then simmered for at least fifteen minutes (sometimes it would simmer for longer, as the did other things to get ready for the day). Then, she would turn off the heat and add a couple spoonfuls of loose-leaf black tea. She used loose-leaf Tetley that her family would send her from India, but I generally recreate this with a loose-leaf Assam tea. This would steep for about five minutes, and then get strained into mugs. Each person can add milk and sweetener as desired. She liked almond milk and stevia, while I usually used whole milk and honey. A very traditional way to sweeten it would be to add jaggery, which is an Indian unrefined sugar, but as it comes in lumps, it generally has to be boiled with the spices to fully dissolve.

The nice thing about masala chai is that it doesn’t require much in the way of fancy ingredients. I can get all the spices I use in the grocery store, and it generally works out well with any strong black tea. Inexpensive “English breakfast” tea blends often use strong Indian teas, so if you can’t find Assam, any English breakfast tea should work. While the tools may seem daunting, I have made this tea by smashing my spices on a cutting board with a heavy jar (it remains my favorite use for coconut oil), rather than using a mortar and pestle, and if you have a tea infuser mug, you can use the infuser to strain the tea if you don’t have a small strainer.

I will say that I’m not a fan of pre-blended loose-leaf masala chai. If I had to choose one, I would probably go with Rishi’s, because they use the most cardamom, which is my favorite, but I find that with pre-blended masala chai, you don’t get enough spice flavor before the tea is oversteeped and unpleasant. They’re nice in a pinch, but if I’m going to indulge, I do it properly by boiling the spices separately.

So those are my two “bonus levels” of tea. Perhaps in the future, I’ll expand this primer, so let me know in the comments if there are more tea topics you’d like me to cover!

NB: I have not been provided any incentive to mention any of the shops or products mentioned in this post.

Matcha Week! Matcha Pancakes

This week, I’m celebrating Matcha Week to highlight all the ways I use matcha besides in my morning bowl of traditional thin matcha. I’m promoting my Volition Beauty campaign for a matcha-infused dual-targeted hair mask, which has just over a month longer to get all the votes it needs to go into production. Help me out by voting here, and maybe share my campaign with your friends and followers to help make this product a reality.

To close off the week, I thought I’d share a matcha food recipe. I wanted to make a matcha bundt cake, but my previous tests with the recipe were unsatisfactory and I ran out of time. So I present to you: Matcha Pancakes!

This was a spur-of-the-moment idea when Mr. Tweed and I decided to make pancakes for our Sunday breakfast. I decided to add a little extra sugar and some matcha powder to our pancake batter, which made for a delightfully green batter and a pleasantly subtle matcha flavor in the resultant pancakes. It was a fun change to the standard breakfast pancake, and I’d definitely do it again sometime. Although, be warned, that with a full tablespoon of matcha in a relatively small batch of pancakes, so there is a non-negligible amount of caffeine in a stack.

Matcha Pancakes:

Dry ingredients:

1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
1 Tbsp. culinary matcha
2 Tbsp. sugar

Wet ingredients:

2 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups buttermilk

Directions:

Sift together the dry ingredients and whisk together the wet ingredients. Add the wet to the dry and mix. Cook over medium heat in a buttered pan. Makes about 10-12 pancakes.

One final note: As you can probably tell by my erratic posting schedule, I’ve had some things going on that distract from this blog. One is a project that will be announced tomorrow, but the other is a bit more personal. While I don’t know how much I’ll feel like sharing in the future, know that I am physically fine and will return to blogging regularly as soon as I can. Thanks to all my readers for making this a positive part of my life. I should still be on Instagram, if you feel like checking in (at the very least, I tend to respond to messages, even if I’m not posting).

 

Tea Review: Koyo Teas Sencha and Matcha

NB: This review is of products sent to me free of charge in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own. For more information about my policies regarding review samples, click here.

A couple months ago, Anil at Koyo Tea Company contacted me to see if I would be interested in trying some of their teas. We went back and forth, discussing the teas. Anil was lovely to chat with over email, and I especially liked the clean design of their website, so I decided to give it a try. Then, one lovely September day, I was surprised with a package. Inside was a packet of sencha, a packets of matcha, and two small, single-use samples of other teas.

Koyo Tea Company sources its teas from small cooperative farms in Kyoto, such that they can try to find the best price for the teas they offer. Additionally, the source teas that are from a lesser-known cultivar that is supposed to have less bitterness. They’ve found this little niche, offering a few teas from this particular area and cultivar without the huge overhead of a large-scale tea export company, which I found interesting.

I’ve teased a little on Instagram, as I’ve tried the teas, but I thought I’d share my full thoughts about the teas in this review. I’m going to focus on the sencha and matcha, as I haven’t found the right time to try the other samples, but if the quality is comparable to the others, I expect them to be good.

Sencha: This looks like a standard sencha tea, with small, delicate leaves and an intense Japanese green tea scent to them. It is listed on the website at $12 for 1 oz., which is neither very expensive nor worryingly cheap. I brewed it with 175F water in a glass teapot for a minute, and was able to get two resteepings, steeped for one and two minutes respectively, after the first. The brewed tea is a pale yellow-green color that reminds me of some pinot grigio wines. The flavor is delicate and floral, with a hint of grassiness and almost no bitterness. The floral qualities come out even more strongly as I resteep. I found this to be a particularly enjoyable sencha and might consider buying more for myself, once I’ve worked my way through my current tea stash.

Matcha: The Koyo teas matcha at first seems like a very standard ceremonial-grade matcha. It’s listed on their website for $25 for 25g, which is right on par with other matchas I’ve bought. The powder is fine and whisks up without clumping. The color is not quite the brilliant emerald green of the Matchaeologist or O-Cha matchas I’ve tried, but the flavor is lovely. It is a very vegetal matcha, with a thick mouthfeel and body and a flavor reminiscent of boiled spinach, with a pronounced umami quality, but almost no bitterness. While I prefer more floral and acidic matchas, I did not find this difficult to drink and will enjoy finishing my batch. I would probably not repurchase this for myself, but I would recommend it for people who like matchas with that thick, vegetal quality.

So I definitely noticed the lack of bitterness in this cultivar, as Anil told me. Interestingly enough, I didn’t bother looking back at my old emails with Anil before I went ahead and brewed the teas, so I had actually forgotten that I might want to see if that was true. I found working with Anil to be enjoyable and the teas lovely, so if you’re interested in trying some excellent examples of classic Japanese green teas, you might want to check out Koyo Tea Company.

One final note: if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that beauty and tea are my two passions. If you’re interested in see how I’ve gotten those two passions to combine, check out my Volition Beauty campaign by clicking here. I would appreciate your support by voting for my campaign. Voting isn’t an obligation to buy the product if it is launched, but it does get you a discount if you do decide to buy it. Thanks.

Outing: Handmade Wagashi at the Matsukawaya DC Pop-Up Shop

I posted a few teasers on Instagram this weekend, but I thought I’d share a full recap from my weekend outing to the pop-up shop of the wagashi artisans at Matsukawaya DC at Union Market. This was a relatively spur-of-the-moment outing, as I was about to head downtown to my Saturday morning barre class when I turned to Mr. Tweed and asked if he’d be willing to meet me downtown after my class so we could go to the market for lunch and to see the confectionery.

The stand itself was somewhat unassuming among the delightful chaos of Union Market, but the stunning artistry of the sweets still caught the eye. They had a display of shaped namagashi and displays of wrapped sweets, along with samples of mochi, monaka, and other sweets. They were even making fresh strawberry mochi, which was absolutely sublime. I’d never had mochi this fresh and it was amazing. It absolutely melted in the mouth. After gathering our lunch, I stopped back at the stand and spent a while agonizing over the selections. I settled on one namagashi and a gei monaka to take home for later with my tea. The lovely young lady working at the stall included a couple other sweets as service, and the nice man who was folding origami presented me with a pink crane. With my treasures in hand, we made our way home.

I think here is a good place to pause and talk a bit about wagashi. The word “wagashi” comes from the word for sweets — originally referring to fruits and nuts, but eventually including sugared sweets — with a prefix indicating they are a Japanese art. They are made with sugar, yes, but also such typically-Japanese ingredients as sweet rice flour, red bean paste, and kanten or agar. The variety called namagashi are served with the traditional Japanese tea ceremony as a complement to the bitterness of the tea. As I was told during my tea demonstration, the sweets are served and the ceremony is timed such that the sweetness is still on your tongue when you first sip the bowl of matcha. So wagashi are not only best eaten with a nice cup of green tea, but indeed they are inextricably culturally linked to tea. So it was no surprise that this pop-up shop was hosted by one of my favorite local tea houses, Teaism.

Upon returning home, I immediately started heating my kettle and gathering my matcha supplies. I decided to use my O-Cha organic ceremonial grade matcha for the occasion, whisked up in my new bowl purchased recently from a local artist. As the water heated, I opened my bag of sweets and pulled out the beautiful chrysanthemum namagashi in its little display box. As I opened it and separated it from the protective film underneath, I was struck by how delicate the sweet was. I placed it on a small saucer and made my tea. I took both to a quiet, sunny corner of our living room and sat to enjoy my little treat.

The sweet itself was quite soft, with a flavor that surprised me, given that I thought the most care would be taken with the appearance. But of course, wagashi are meant to appeal to all five senses. While the sound of this tender sweet was silence and its visual appeal apparent, I was delighted by the other three sense as well. It was a soft and smooth texture, yielding but not mushy. As someone who takes issue with a lot of textures, I found it amazing. As I bit into it, I smelled the rice and sweetness scent and tasted the complex flavors that married into this delicious sweet. It had a smooth sweet bean paste filling. And the small size meant that I enjoyed every bite, rather than becoming overloaded as I often do with a Western pastry. Despite being against tradition, I did pause and sip some matcha in between bites of sweet, but I found they blended so well together. And when the moment was over, I was able to bask in the peace and pleasure of it.

Later on, I broke into the gei monaka, a sweet made from red bean jelly sandwiched between two crisp rice crackers. I had had one of these before on my last visit to Teaism, and I knew I enjoyed it. I still haven’t tried the service sweets I was given, but I look forward to them as well. All in all, this was a lovely outing, and I encourage everyone in the DC area to take a trip out to Union Market before the 30th of September when the pop-up shop goes away.

A final note: Please remember my campaign for a matcha-infused, dual-targeted masking system at Volition Beauty. Go here to vote.

Tea Review: Rishi Tea Matcha Travel Packs

The other day one of my Instagram friends posted a story about trying a matcha-to-go packet and being generally underwhelmed. Well, that got me thinking about the things I like or don’t like in a matcha, given that I typically spend too much and drink it traditionally (or else make a latte). I’m not really a matcha-to-go person. But then I noticed that my grocery store had boxes of Rishi Tea’s matcha travel packs and thought I’d give them a try.

DSCN0669

Now, fair warning, these are not cheap. They’re actually about the same price as the regular Teahouse Matcha that Rishi also sells at the grocery store, which is also not listed as ceremonial grade. On their website, Rishi also sells sencha travel packs, which have powdered sencha tea for mixing into a water bottle, for a lower price. But either way, the Matcha Travel Packs are listed for $19 for a box of 12 packets, or about $1.05/g or $1.60 per serving. The packets are 1.5 g each, which I think might be a bit more than I usually use to make a standard bowl of matcha. That said, my grocery store loves to list things below MSRP, so I got the box for $18, or about $1/g and $1.50 per serving. For comparison, my current favorite ceremonial-grade matcha from Matchaeologist is Meiko and is sold at $14 for 20g, or about $0.70/g and just over $1 for a 1.5-g serving. So you’re paying for convenience, but probably not quality.

Anyway, the official instructions for this powder say to mix one 1.5-g packet into a 16-oz. bottle of water, which already didn’t fill me with hope that this would be a quality, tasty matcha. I mean, if the flavor is going to come through when mixed in roughly five or six times more water than I would normally use, what is going to be there when tasted at a more concentrated level? But I pressed on.

My first test was to try brewing it traditionally. I mean, it’s matcha, right? It should be able to be judged like any matcha I drink. So I sifted a packet into my matcha bowl. I will say, the powder was a pleasingly bright color and fine consistency. I poured in 2 oz. of hot water and whisked it up. I got a respectable amount of froth with minimal elbow grease, and then sat to enjoy it. It had a pleasant vegetal aroma while whisking. The taste is certainly not subtle, but I got notes of green leafy vegetables, umami, a smooth mouthfeel, and a balanced amount of bitterness. The reason I’m pretty sure it’s a larger amount of matcha than I typically use is because I felt a serious buzz, too. But all in all, not an unenjoyable experience. Which, y’know, for $1/g, I would certainly hope would be true.

Next, I tried it in a matcha latte. I tried in both my cold almond milk, pre-workout, protein, sweetened matcha latte and in a standard, unsweetened hot matcha latte with cow’s milk. In both formats, I really appreciated how much the flavor of the matcha came through. Especially in the almond milk latte, I need to add maple syrup to sweeten it up (because I use unsweetened almond milk) and I found that the Rishi matcha came through more strongly than my standard latte matchas. And it blended easily without and special equipment. For the cold latte, I literally tossed everything into a jar and shook it together without pre-mixing at all.

Finally, I wanted to try the matcha the way it was intended: added to a 16-oz. bottle of water and shaken together. I filled my favorite glass water bottle with water, sipped a little off the top to make room, and then added a packet of matcha. I capped it and shook. It immediately blended into a brilliant green liquid, somewhat reminiscent of kale juice. Tasting it, the matcha flavor was even more complex in this format. The extra dilution allowed some of the subtler flavors to come through, including a floral sweetness that I found quite pleasant. It was refreshing and energizing without being overly bitter and without any grittiness, even down to the last swallow. Some of the powder would settle as the bottle sat, but a quick shake or swirl got everything suspended again and I never felt like I had a mouthful of powder or sludge.

So, I would say that, all in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this matcha. I really wasn’t expecting much from a matcha that I poured out of a packet, but I have to say, this is a decent little matcha. It’s probably not the best price you could hope for, but I’m impressed with Rishi’s balance of quality and accessibility. They tend to sell their teas in local stores, so it’s not necessary to order online. And the convenience of a packet should appeal to some. I probably won’t buy this again too often, but I will definitely use what I have for travel.

NB: I purchased this product with my own money and was not given any incentive to review it. All opinions are my own.

Tea Review: Matchaeologist Meiko Matcha

NB: I purchased this product without any review discount, and while I am a Matchaeologist affiliate, all links in this review are non-affiliate links. If you would like to support this blog by buying through my affiliate link, click here.

Those of you who follow me on Instagram have probably noticed that I’ve become very enamoured of the matcha latte as of late. When I decided to try to cut down on my sugar intake in June, that meant finding a recipe for an unsweetened matcha latte that still gave me the satisfaction of the sweet version. Of course, it also meant that I couldn’t get by with low-quality matcha powder and rely on the sugar to cover off flavors. So I went back to Matchaeologist to try more of their matchas. I’d previously reviewed the Matsu matcha, which is like their some what “standard” ceremonial grade matcha. But at $24 for 20g, it would be an expensive latte matcha. So I went back and purchased their Meiko ceremonial-grade matcha and Midori culinary-grade matcha.

I found the Meiko matcha delightful in an unsweetened matcha latte made with local goat’s milk, but found that when I tried to make a non-dairy matcha latte, I still needed the sweetener to cover the odd flavor of the non-dairy milk, so I opted for the less expensive Midori. But, still having some of the Meiko around, and not wanting to waste, I decided to try it straight for a bowl of thin matcha. It is, after all, still a ceremonial-grade matcha.

The matcha is the same intense green color and smooth texture of other Matchaeologist matchas. I do sift it, though I doubt I need to. It whisks up into a beautiful, stable foam in my ceramic matcha bowl. I used two chashaku scoops to about 2 fl. oz. of hot water to make my morning bowl.

The flavor and aroma are markedly different from the Matsu. While Matsu smells of vegetables and the sea, Meiko is subtler, more delicate, and lighter. Meiko still has the smoothness of Matsu, but without the thick mouthfeel. And the flavors are more floral than vegetal. I actually find it an absolutely lovely morning bowl of matcha, and for $14 for 20g, I will absolutely be buying this again.

Stay tuned because I will soon be reviewing the Midori culinary grade matcha, and sharing my recipes for perfect matcha lattes.