Matcha Week! My Go-To Matcha Lattes

Hello, strangers! It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but I thought I’d make this week Matcha Week, in honor of my continuing campaign over at Volition Beauty. I only have about a month left to get the votes for my dual-targeted matcha hair mask, so I’d love it if my readers would help support me in this. I’ve talked about my hair double-masking practice in the past, and I think it would be so cool if a commercial product could be made aimed at this idea. Please head over to this link to vote for my campaign, and please feel free to share the link at your own online space. I can use all the help I can get!

So to highlight matcha today, I’m going to talk briefly about matcha lattes. While most of my matcha is consumed in bowls of traditional thin matcha, I sometimes just want a little more of a treat. Especially with the weather cooling down, a hot matcha latte is a great alternative to hot chocolate, although I still enjoy an iced matcha latte before I go to the gym sometimes.

For a hot matcha latte, I’ve started using my higher grade matcha because I find that the better quality matcha means that I can use little or no sugar in my latte. I simply mix 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of matcha powder (or 2-3 chashaku scoops) with about an ounce of hot water, and then top it with hot frothed milk. My favorite matcha for this is my Matchaeologist Meiko matcha, which is their lowest-priced ceremonial grade. This is a matcha that is lovely made just with water, but still has enough oomph to cut through the richness of the local whole milk in my latte.

For an iced latte, I could just use the same procedure as above, but use cold milk and pour it over ice. But when I’m going to the gym, I sometimes find that dairy upsets my stomach, so I’ve created a vegan iced matcha latte using high-quality unsweetened almond milk, culinary-grade matcha, and a little bit of maple syrup to make up for the lack of milk sugars. My standard recipe is to put 2-3 scoops of Matchaeologist Midori matcha in the bottom of a mason jar, and then add 2 tsp. of maple syrup and 1 oz. of hot water. I stir this together and then pour in 8 oz. of cold unsweetened almond milk (Three Trees brand is my absolute favorite, but it’s expensive, so I also like New Barn). I then cap the jar and shake it vigorously until everything is mixed together, and then pour it over ice. If I’m having it before the gym, I can add a scoop of collagen protein for an added boost. This is also quite a refreshing post-run drink during the summer.

So that’s today’s offering for Matcha Week. Join me back here on Wednesday and Friday as I share more ways I use matcha besides just mixing it with water in the traditional style!

NB: While the matchas I mentioned in this post were purchased with a discount for review, all opinions are my own. For more information about sponsorship, see this page. Links are not affiliate links.

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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.

An Exciting New Project: Dual Hair Mask with Volition Beauty

I’ve got a rather exciting announcement today. For the last few months, I’ve been working with Volition Beauty to develop an idea for a commercial version of my hair multi-masking technique and yesterday, the voting campaign went live. Meet the Dual-Targeted Matcha Hair Mask.

Now, the way this works is that Volition mocks up the idea and puts it up for a vote. If enough people vote for a product, they develop it into reality. So now begins the process of asking you, my readers, to help me bring this truly into reality.

A bit about the product idea: I’ve written in the past about how I use a double-masking technique to address the different needs of my hair versus my scalp. I brought this idea to Volition and they came up with the additional idea of infusing the ingredients with one of my favorite things: matcha green tea. The scalp mask is targeted at reducing scalp oil, while the other will contain ingredients aimed at nourishing dry length. Of course, the product will be free of sulfates, and will take advantage of both the nourishing and stimulating properties of green tea.

So, please take a look. Voting does not obligate you to buy the product, but if you decide you would like to buy it in the future, voting gives you a little discount off the list price. I’m exciting for this and I hope some others will be too.

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.

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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.

Outing: Tea Demonstration at the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Washington D.C. Association

This is a bit of an exciting outing post. You see, when I was a child, I remember a local museum having an exhibit where they recreated a Japanese tea house inside the museum. I wondered recently if the exhibit still existed, or if it was a temporary one, so I was looking around the internet. I did not find the exhibit, but I did find out that my city has its own tea ceremony association, the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Association of Washington, D.C., which holds weekly open houses by appointment.I decided to send them an email and see if they would make an appointment for me to come by, see their tea house, and learn more about the Japanese tea ceremony. I was fortunate enough that they not only invited me by, but also allowed me to take a few pictures to share with you.

The tour began at the front door to the tea house, which is on the second floor of a rather unassuming office building downtown. My host, Mioko, opened the locking door and showed me the closet where I could trade my street shoes for house slippers and leave my purse safely out of the way. Then, she showed me into the tea lesson room. We both took off our house slippers to step up into the tea house, which consisted of two rooms: a six-tatami less formal room and an eight-tatami more formal room. The formal room had an alcove with a scroll and a small flower. Mioko explained that they can also open the divider between the two rooms to make a large formal room.

She showed me around the rooms and explained the significance of the various elements, from the recreated tea garden on the tea house’s balcony, to the particular clay color of the walls. Much of the design of the tea house comes from the preferences of the shogun at the time the Urasenke school’s master lived. After that, she showed me to the formal tea house and began the demonstration of the tea ceremony.

The ceremony began with the presentation of a tray of sweets, which I got to contemplate as Mioko returned to her preparation area to bring out the various elements of tea preparation: the tea bowl, whisk, scoop, linens, and a waste water bowl. She then performed a ritual cleansing of the tea canister and scoop with her cloth. Then, she invited me to have a sweet while she prepared the tea. I bit into the crispy biscuit on my paper, and then tried the pressed sugar confection, letting it melt on my tongue, while I watched her make the tea.

The idea behind the timing of the ceremony is to allow the guest just enough time that the sweetness of the confection is still in their mouth as the tea is served. Sure enough, just as the last bits of sugar melted, she presented me with my bowl of tea. I hadn’t mentioned that I drink matcha, so I think she was surprised that I enjoyed my tea. The matcha was very smooth, both in flavor and consistency. It was eye-opening to have a bowl prepared by a true master. It was also quite delicate and floral, with an umami flavor that melted into sweetness as an aftertaste. Truly excellent matcha.

After I finished my tea, she invited me to examine the tea canister and bamboo scoop, explaining the history and process used to make these items. The canister she used for the demonstration had a flower design that was once again a favorite of the shogun at the time of the master’s life in Kyoto.

Once she had finished the demonstration, she invited me to try making a bowl myself. Of course, by this time, my feet were starting to get very sore from the sitting! But I endeavored to try the process. She had us move to the informal room, where a small tea kettle made it easier to serve the water without the elaborate ritual of using bamboo ladles. She also helped me set up my own tea equipment on a tray, making it easier to carry in and out of the room.

I won’t pretend my attempts were anything but humorous, but she was impressed with how quickly I picked up the particular method of folding the cloth used in the ritual, and how well I was able to create froth in my tea. After I made my bowl of tea, she suggested I switch back to playing the part of the guest so I could taste my own bowl of tea. After two bowls of matcha and the satisfaction of completing the elaborate ritual, I was exhilarated.

The whole experience took just under an hour and was a wealth of information, both about tea preparation, and about the context of the tea ceremony in Japanese history. What I found particularly interesting was the strong connection to the context of the time in which the master lived. Certain elements are admittedly due to the preference of the ruling shogun, not for any supposed mystical reason. I found it down to earth and refreshing. I also found Mioko a pleasant guide. It is always awkward for me to go places with the purpose of sharing them on the blog sometimes, and she helped put me at ease. If you’re in D. C. and curious about the tea ceremony, I would definitely recommend you email the association to make an appointment.

Tea Review: Kaoru Supreme Organic Matcha from O-Cha

My recent experience with Matchaeologist renewed my interest in matcha and made me curious to try a real, Japanese ceremonial-grade tea. To that end, I did some researching and found the website O-Cha, where they sell high-quality Japanese teas. I decided to buy one of their organic ceremonial-grade matchas, which came highly rated, especially for the price.

I went with a decision to try a matcha that was in a similar price range as the matcha powders from Matchaeologist, but sold through a more traditional Japanese company. While the Matsu matcha was very good and interesting, I found the Matchaeologist website a bit “slick” for my tastes and I felt remiss not being able to compare it to anything more traditional. So I placed my order, and a short while later, got my package from Japan.

I chose the Kaoru Supreme Organic Matcha based on reviews I’d read around Reddit and other blogs. Upon opening the matcha, I was not disappointed. It has a vibrant green color and a light, fragrant scent. I prepared it both with the traditional whisking method and with an electric frother and tried it with and without sifting.

This is a very enjoyable matcha to drink. It lacks the heavy, almost syrupy textured vegetal flavors of the Matsu matcha, and it displays a much more characteristic “green tea” flavor. I found the flavors a bit more delicate, and it lacked any astringency, but it had a slight acidic bite that made it actually quite pleasant, especially first thing in the morning.

As with most matchas, this gives me a sense of enthusiastic vigor for life, which is why I like it as a morning drink. But the experience of savoring a cup of this tea first thing in the morning is enough to recommend it, even without any particular other benefits. I definitely would consider this a good starter matcha for those interested in getting started with the real thing, directly from Japan.

NB: I purchased this product with my own money and was given no incentive to write a review. All thoughts are my own. If you are interested in learning about partnering with me, please see my contact and sponsorship page. This review does not contain affiliate links.

Tea Tasting: Matsu Matcha and the Matcha Brewing Kit from Matchaeologist

NB: These products were provided to me at a discount in return for this review, but all opinions are my own. If you would like to support this blog, please use my affiliate link to access the store here. It has also been added to my Affiliate and Referral Links page. For more information about sponsorship at Tea Leaves and Tweed, click here.

Last week, I wrote about my experience tasting a Korean matcha that suggested to me that I had not perhaps exhausted the higher end of quality in my previous matcha tastings. I decided to expand my matcha horizons, and to that end, I contacted Matchaeologist to see if they were interested in working with me on a review. They were very helpful and suggested I use the discount they offered me to purchase their Matcha Brewing Kit.

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First I should make a note about preparing matcha. Traditionally, match is prepared in a special bowl, called a chawan, whisked with a traditional handmade bamboo whisk, called a chasen. The Matchaeologist kit includes both of these things, along with a bamboo measuring spoon (“chashaku”), although the chawan is a more modern, double-walled clear glass bowl. That said, I have never owned any of these things before. I made my matcha in a mug or tea cup, using a handheld electric milk frother to create the foam and blend the matcha. And it works well, for less money than purchasing a full matcha setup. I did use this method to brew the matcha from Matchaeologist at least once to see how it held up, and it produced a nice cup of matcha. I do prefer the whisk because I can make a cup of matcha without sifting the powder, but matcha novices should consider getting an inexpensive electric frother if the traditional setup seems a bit expensive, although the kit does provide a slight discount from the pieces purchased individually.

Now, on to the matcha. Matchaeologist includes a tin of their mid-range Matsu matcha in the brewing kit. It is a ceremonial grade matcha, with a price on par with most high-quality matcha I’ve seen elsewhere. The powder is silky smooth and very bright green, and the vegetal smell hits you as soon as you add the first bit of water to mix it. I mixed two measuring spoons (about one teaspoon) of powder with about two ounces of water to make usucha for my morning cup. It blends easily and whisks up to a nice stable froth (in the photo above, the usucha had cooled considerably by the time I got that photo, and yet the foam remained).

Upon tasting, it is a much more intense flavor than the delicate Wooree Korean matcha I reviewed last week. The flavor is powerfully of green, leafy vegetables. It tastes of cooked spinach and chard, although not unpleasantly. It tastes of bright green cooked vegetables, not overcooked vegetables, and it lacks almost any bitterness or pronounced acidity. It has a smooth mouthfeel and an almost creamy undertone to the flavor that makes it quite easy to drink, almost like the feel of a matcha latte without actually having sugar or milk. I can feel an immediate physical effect: that particular matcha buzz that makes me feel I could take on the world with a smile and a whistle. And even when I drink it on an empty stomach, it does not upset it.

It was, in fact, such a lovely experience, that I am now excited to go back and buy the three more grades of matcha that Matchaeologist offers. There are two ceremonial grades, one more and one less expensive than Matsu, plus a culinary grade that looks quite intriguing. I’m curious to see if Matchaeologist’s Midori culinary grade matcha could make a matcha latte without any sweetener that still satisfies that craving. If their other grades are anything like their Matsu matcha, I expect to be impressed.

Readers of this blog are invited to use the code “tealeavesandtweed” to get 15% off a purchase at Matchaeologist (expiring 31 July 2017), and again, if you would like to support this blog, please use the affiliate link at the top of this post to go to the store. It’s likely any affiliate income will simply go into purchasing more matcha to share with you!

Tea Tasting: Korean Imperial Blend Green Tea and Matcha from Wooree Tea

As my readers know, I’ve develop an interest in beauty products from East Asia, particularly from South Korea. The South Korean government has done a great job of marketing their exports and boosted the popularity of Korean beauty worldwide. Now, of course, I also drink a lot of tea, much of which comes from Asia, but until recently, I’ve never really looked into Korean teas. I tend to buy my green teas from Japan, my oolong from Taiwan, and my black teas from either China or India. Where does Korea fit in?

It turns out that Korea has an interesting tea-growing history. The apocryphal tale is that the Indian princess Heo Hwang-ok brought tea with her when she married the ruler of a kingdom in southeastern Korea in the first century BCE. Tea cultivation became more widespread as Buddhism took hold in Korea and was associated with that practice until the secularization of the Joseon Era. However, tea-drinking entered a decline, until a well-documented comment from a Joseon-Era king who, when presented with a way of making money by selling high-quality Korean tea, said “We do not have a tea-drinking custom in our country.” But there are still tea plantations in Korea, notably on Jeju Island, home of several skin care companies who tout green tea in their products.

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Wooree Tea started when the founders visited Korea as part of their charity work with orphans there. They tried some of the local tea and were so impressed by it that they decided to start a company, based in their native Auckland, NZ, selling luxury Korean teas, with a portion of the profits going to help orphans in Korea. They claim their tea has a softer and sweeter taste than Chinese tea. They claim their matcha, in contrast to Japanese matcha, is grown under natural shade from trees and mountains and tends to be grown more organically, which can translate into a softer flavor. It’s worth noting here that calling this Korean-grown powdered tea matcha may leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths, as true matcha must be made from tea leaves that are grown in deliberate shade for twenty days, which it sounds like this has not. I, however, put these prejudices aside to taste the tea.

The company had a special sample offer, where they were offering a 10g sample of their Imperial Blend green tea for NZ$0.01, plus the cost of shipping (NZ$2.50). They had an additional option to include a 10g sample of their Korean matcha for an additional NZ$6.99. So for NZ$9.50, I ordered samples of both the full-leaf green tea and the powdered tea. Do note that these are in New Zealand dollars: I found the exchange rate favorable and got away under US$7 for the whole thing. Also, despite the fact that the company stresses that they are selling a luxury product for a high price, I did not find the prices of Wooree’s teas to be exorbitant. Should I wish to repurchase the Imperial Blend green tea, it will run NZ$16 (just over US$11) for 40g in a tin or NZ$19 (just over US$13) for 80g without a tin. Compared to other tea companies I’ve ordered from, this is not even on the high end of the price range. The matcha is NZ$20 (about US$14) for 40g, which is honestly on the low end of what I’ve found for ceremonial-grade matcha (of course, this cannot be called ceremonial grade) and about on par with standard-grade matcha.

Alright, so now onto the tea. I ordered on April 10th and got a shipment notification the next day. It had shipped from Korea, so I didn’t expect it any time soon, but received my package on April 15th, which is pretty quick, I have to say. I immediately broke into my package to look at what I’d gotten and brew myself a cup.

Imperial Blend Green Tea:

This tea is very much a green tea in the Chinese style, although I find the leaves a bit smaller and more delicate than typical Chinese green tea. I will admit, I wasn’t expecting much, as I don’t typically enjoy the seaweedy, vegetal-earthy flavor of Chinese green teas. But I wanted to give it full consideration. First, I brewed it according to their brewing instructions: boil a kettle, let it cool for 3 minutes (I did this in my electric kettle with the lid open), and then steep one teaspoon of leaf in a cup of water for three minutes. This produced a very light, but enjoyable cup of tea. The first thing I noticed was that the tea was very fragrant. It smelled about like a cup of Chinese green tea, but with more subtlety. The flavor was similar, although I will say it had more flavor than the pale, almost straw-color brew suggested it would have. I got a few infusions out of it with this method.

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Next, I tried it in gaiwan, which meant the same amount of leaf in less water. I also used my kettle’s temperature control setting and brewed it at 180 F instead of boiling and cooling. I steeped for the three minutes for the first infusion, then a minute and a half the second infusion, and then a third infusion for three minutes. This method brought the flavors forward and intensified them, but still avoided both the off flavors that I dislike in Chinese green tea and also the tendency of Chinese green tea to upset my stomach.

Finally, I brewed it with my standard office brewing tools. I used my fish-lid travel gongfu set to brew with water from our hot water tap at work for three minutes, two minutes, and three minutes. Once again, it yielded an enjoyable result with none of the off flavors I get from Chinese green tea. All in all, I would call this tea a great one and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed tasting it. I will probably reorder it soon, probably in the 80g size so that I can split it between two tins: one for home and one for work.

Update: I have indeed repurchased this tea in the 80g size, which arrived as two sealed 40g packages. I now find it my favorite daily green tea, and I generally drink it grandpa-style.

Korean Matcha

As I mentioned before, it’s odd to consider this “luxury matcha,” as it is not shade-grown in accordance with the highest standards of Japanese matcha, and it is not sold at a high price. Indeed, the main photo on the Wooree website of this matcha is that of a matcha latte, which is not where you would use a high-quality matcha powder, both for economic reasons and because the subtleties of a high-grade matcha would be lost in the flavor of the milk. But the fact that it’s not terribly expensive allows me to overlook this and just taste tea.

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Now, I’ve drunk matcha in the past, but I’ve come to the realization that what I had was not very high grade. Also, I lack real matcha preparation tools. So I took my Korean matcha and saw how it behaved with a hobbyist’s toolset. I sifted a teaspoon into a tea cup with a tea strainer, and then added two ounces of 176 F water and mixed it with my electric milk frother.

And oh my. It was a lovely cup of matcha. It was smooth and while it had an intense green tea flavor and bitterness, it was never unpleasant. Indeed, the smoothness almost gave it the creamy, soft flavor of a matcha latte, but without the milk or sugar. It also frothed up nicely with a stable crema using the electric whisk, and I found no grit or sediment after I finished my cup. The second time I tried it, I tried skipping the sifting and found it was still an enjoyable cup, but there was a bit more sediment, so I will continue to sift it in the future.

I do not know if I will repurchase the matcha, as I have more matcha coming from a Japanese company soon, but I am curious how the Korean matcha compares to high-grade Japanese matcha, particularly when I get my proper matcha tools. I would definitely call this a successful experiment. Plus, I love the happy buzz I get with matcha as compared to other sorts of tea.

I would certainly recommend that anyone interested in expanding their green tea horizons.

NB: I was not provided any special discount in exchange for this review. Although I was approached by Wooree about their ongoing sample offer on Instagram, the sample offer is open to the public at large. All thoughts are my own. More information about sponsorship here.