Once upon a time, there was just one kind of matcha, the bright green powder made from whole-leaf green tea. Back in 1191, a Buddhist monk named Eisai is said to have brought green tea seeds back home to Japan after a trip to China. He taught his fellow monks how to mix matcha powder with hot water and froth it with a bamboo brush. Eventually, the powder made its way to the West, where it gained popularity not just as a drink, but as a colorful add-in to many dishes.
These days, restaurants offer diners not just green matcha, but a rainbow of colorful, better-for-you powders. Stir multicolored matcha into smoothies, smoothie bowls or baked goods to add a vibrant burst of health-halo goodness. Or experiment by adding matcha to savory dishes like soups, ramen or eggs. Matcha increasingly is finding star billing in beverage programs, both in cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks. No matter how it’s used, matcha is Insta-bait of the highest order. Diners, even the bleary-eyed morning-after brunch crowd, love to snap and post their electrically hued dishes all over social media.
Here’s a quick rundown of your rainbow of options. Green matcha is a powder made from tea leaves (Camellia sinensis). It’s gained superfood status due to its powerful concentration of antioxidants. Blue matcha is not a tea at all. It’s made from the dried flowers of the butterfly pea plant, with a vibrant hue that’s right on-trend with dishes themed around mermaids, oceans and bright blue skies. The matcha family is adding hues at a rapid clip, including pink matcha, made from finely ground rose blossoms, and red matcha, made from powdered hibiscus flowers.
Chef, meet matcha
Western chefs are using matcha as an ingredient in a number of inventive ways. In London, Izakaya-style restaurant Shack-fuyu serves soft-serve matcha ice cream with French toast made of kanako (roasted soybean flour). Also in London, Tombo (Japanese for dragonfly) bills itself as the city’s first authentic matcha bar, serving not just classic tea drinks, but also matcha lattes, cakes and sundaes. Closer to home, the Alfred Tea Room in Los Angeles serves a matcha-white chocolate dipped croissant, and Miami’s Yoko Matcha food truck adds a Miami-Latin twist with dishes like matcha con leche, matcha-infused cereal bowls and mini matcha Bundt cakes.
Since matcha is already finely powdered, it’s easy to mix with finishing salts and compound butters, such as the karaage (Japanese fried chicken) served at San Francisco’s Nomica. Chicken cubes, dusted with matcha salt, are served with a side of Hitachino beer waffles, maple syrup and matcha butter.