Green tea is hugely popular not just in Japanese culture, but also Asian culture in general. It has it’s own ceremony (read more about that here), and a long, illustrious history in general. I’d like to draw your attention specifically to matcha (pronounced mat-cha), a finely ground version harvested from a special crop.
As you’re about to discover, matcha is wonderfully diverse. Personally, I’m a bit of an addict, and I’ve gone out of my way to try lots of different matcha products. This is one thing I really love about Japan, they’re wonderfully creative. Matcha has evolved beyond a simple hot drink, let me share with you some of the awesome variations I’ve had the pleasure of trying.
Let’s kick off with the original use. Drinks. You may be surprised to learn that you can do more with matcha than just drink it hot (as per the traditional way). Here’s a few great ideas and examples.
This can be enjoyed hot or cold, though I actually prefer it cold. Sticking with this, it comes iced, topped with whipped cream, and a small sprinkling of matcha powder. Latte is a coffee preparation, but this version tastes purely like green tea. It has a silky smooth flavour, with more than a hint of green tea. Very refreshing on a hot day (of which there are many on Okinawa). Best place to grab one is Key’s Cafe (find it here).
This is pretty much just cold matcha, mixed with milk, on the rocks. Another hot day cooler, it has a slightly milky taste but otherwise is refreshing, not at all thick. Goes great with a crafty slice of cake! Climax Coffee has this as one of their mainstays, it goes great with their pancakes! (Climax Coffee is a chain of establishments you can find all over Okinawa).
Oh yes! This basically does what it says on the tin. It’s very indulgent, with a rich taste. Another Climax Coffee offering, it’s thick, creamy, and also goes great with pancakes! Fabulous if you’re looking to just treat yourself to something a bit naughty!
Another opulent treat, this beauty is thick, and served with caramel (absolutely heavenly) and a generous topping of whipped cream. Jetta Burger is behind this creation (find them here). The combination of smooth matcha and soft caramel is probably the best combination I’ve found so far. Whoever thought to pair these two together: Thank You!
Another confusing coffee based name, but nonetheless delicious. This is basically hot matcha with milk, served at many local coffee shops (Key’s Cafe and Climax Coffee), but also available to buy in instant sachets to enjoy at home. This did make me question quality, but actually the instant versions are really good. And affordable: you can buy a pack of four sachets from the Daiso (100 yen shop) for only 108 yen (this includes tax). It’s a good way to start the day. I’m not a coffee fan, I love tea, but I like a little variety. So this is a nice option. It’s also pleasant as a day finisher, it has a pleasing aroma and a comforting, milky texture.
You read correct! Food! I was amazed when I realised you could EAT this stuff! I actually tried matcha chocolate back in 2013, in London (of all places) at a convention called Hyper Japan (great event if you want to learn about Japan, it’s culture, history, food, and travel options), but sadly it was quite expensive. Here, happily, matcha treats can be bought for as little as 108 yen. Here’s a run down of the creme de la creme.
Flavoured Kit-Kats are hugely popular and well known in Japan and beyond, so I won’t go into the fine details (you can however read about them here https://manage.taiken.co/single/colorful-kit-kat-flavors-in-japan if you like). Matcha flavoured ones were a glorious (and accidental) discovery. I was looking for other flavours when these caught my eye. It would’ve been rude not to try! Unlike a lot of flavours, these appear to be available year round. I’ve seen them consistently in Don Quijote, a wonderful megastore found all over Japan (find it here).
These! Little squishy bites of heaven! Light green in hue, with a small amount of matcha syrup contained within. It’s a bargain too, you can buy it from the Daiso for 108 yen (along with other cool flavours) and you get a good amount in the bag. I enjoy these as an occasional treat. If I have the willpower (haha), a bag can last me over a week.
Now we get to the really rad stuff. Chocolate. As I said previously, I tried this in London but it was so expensive I decided not to indulge any more than the tiny piece I did buy. Here it’s a different story, you can buy small bags of different variety from the Daiso for (you guessed it) 108 yen. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. One of the best is the little bag with two types of chocolate in it: bars and cremes. The bars have a thin layer of matcha spread atop a thin layer of chocolate, and are bite sized. Sweet and tasty. The cremes look like those little liquor chocolates, and have a layer of solid matcha and liquid matcha ensconced in milk chocolate. Also really delightful. Another attractive version is similar to the creme, except the matcha inside is all solid (another Daiso bargain) You can’t go wrong with any of them.
This is an interesting one. Shortbread is a popular sweet snack in Scotland (you may have received some as a gift if anyone you know has ever taken a vacation there?) it’s a powdery biscuit that, funnily enough, goes great with tea. This matcha version has the same texture and a similar taste, but of course with strong green tea overtones. I tried it on it’s own, but it might go really well with a matcha cappuccino! Grab a pack for less than 300 yen at Lawson’s (nationwide convenience store, you can’t miss them, they’re everywhere!).
Another odd one, these are literally corn snacks (like Wotsits or Cheezits), except matcha flavoured. They have a very strong taste, and a heavy powder coating. I like them, but can only manage one or two before the taste becomes too much. A good snack to share or pick at on occasion. Also available at Lawson’s.
This is but a small cross-section, there are many, many more varieties available. Found any quirky ones not on this list? Let us know! (Comment below or hit us up on Twitter)