Are you on the Matcha train yet? I hope so because Matcha green tea is the highest quality powdered green tea available. It is derived from the same plant that all true teas come from: camellia sinensis. The leaves can be made into green tea which is unfermented. For oolong tea, the leaves are partially fermented, and for black tea, the leaves are fully fermented. Matcha is a true green tea, but its growth style, harvest, and production differ from other varieties of green tea and other tea.
The Camellia sinensisis has varietals, and as it turns out, some of those varietals produce better matcha than others. Just for reference, a varietal tea is one that was made from a single variety of Camellia sinensisis. As you would expect, the highest grade of matcha comes from one of the three Japanese varietals. These three varietals have been grown in Japan for over 900 years!
The highest quality matcha is harvested by hand annually. This usually takes place around May. About six weeks before harvest, the tea fields are surrounded by scaffolding and are covered from the top. The idea is to slowly and gradually decrease the amount of sunlight, and limit photosynthesis. So by shielding the fields, the amount of light shining on the plants is limited. As a matter of fact, the highest grade matcha is grown in near dark conditions by the time harvest comes around.
So why is this done? The decreased light causes the tea leaves to pump out increasing amounts of both chlorophyll and amino acids. This increased amino acid content serves to concentrate glutamates, which give the matcha its intense umami flavor profile. Great matcha is sweet and delectable. You will not detect any bitterness due to the high amino acid content.
Once the leaves are picked and dried, they are deveined and ground into a very fine powder. So if you ever wondered why hand milled matcha cost so much, this delicate process explains it. Is it worth it? Absolutely! There are so many health benefits surrounding this beautiful, green elixir. It is high in antioxidants. As a matter of fact, it has 5 times as much antioxidants as any other food! So about those antioxidants, they are not all are created equal. Green tea contains a specific set of organic compounds known as catechins. Among antioxidants, catechins are the most potent and beneficial. One specific catechin called epigallocatechin gallate makes up 60% of the catechins in matcha green tea. Out of all the antioxidants, epigallocatechin gallate is the most widely recognized for its cancer fighting properties. Scientists have found that matcha contains over 100 times more than any other tea on the market! Some of you may be curious about the caffeine content. Yes, matcha contains caffeine. It contains more caffeine than your traditional bagged green tea, but still about half the caffeine in a cup of black coffee. The caffeine in Matcha actually can help to boost your metabolism by as much as 40%, while helping to regulate blood sugar levels. So in moderation, it’s all good.
Matcha also induces relaxation, boosts memory, helps with concentration, increases energy levels, aids in weight loss, detoxifies the body, strengthens the immune system, and improves cholesterol levels. I could go on and on about this amazing, bold green powder! But for now, let me introduce you to one of my favorite ways to bake with it. These shortbread cookies are so festive and delicious. But don’t just reserve them for the holidays. They can be enjoyed all year long. I prefer to use cashew flour, but almond flour works as well. It is a very simple recipe, but the cookie itself is anything but boring. Enjoy these over the holidays with a cup of hot cocoa, or even a cup of matcha tea!
2 cups cashew flour
1/4 cup arrowroot or tapioca starch
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbs high quality matcha tea powder (I use Mizuba)
1/2 cup unsalted grass-fed butter, softened (palm shortening for vegan)
1/3 cup cashew butter, softened
1/2 cup maple syrup
1. Cream the butter (or palm shortening) with the cashew butter. Continue using your hand mixer to blend in the maple syrup.
2. In a separate bowl, sift together the cashew flour, tapioca (or arrowroot), coconut flour, matcha, and salt.
3. Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Place the dough in the refrigerator for about one hour. You can also store the dough in your refrigerator a couple days in advance if needed.
4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
5. Sprinkle some tapioca or arrowroot on your working surface. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Use cookie cutters of your choice. This recipe will bake approximately 2 dozen cookies but that mostly depends on the size of your cookie cutters.
6. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes and allow to cool. Store them at room temperature in an airtight container for approximately one week, or refrigerator for longer storage.