By HYE JUNE SEO
Matcha full of savory. Photo by author.
I remember hesitating which ice cream to order during my very first stay in Kyoto. In the menu, there were photos of three flavors including vanilla, green tea, and a mixed one. Written Matcha ice cream on the menu, I thought it was the exact Japanese word meaning green tea, which was a little different. It seems a lot of people including some Japanese, don’t know the difference between Matcha and green tea. So what’s so special about Matcha?
Put it simply, Matcha is one type of green Tea. Including Matcha, Sencha, Gyokuro, and Bancharui, there are four types of green Tea. The most popular green tea drink in the market is Sencha. The major difference between Matcha and Sencha, is the way of cultivation. Before 2 weeks of harvesting the tea leaves, Matcha is grown in a tea field covered with shade to evade the sunlight. However, Sencha is grown at a field exposed to sky. Adding to that, Matcha is ground powdered green tea while Sencha is a ground leaf. Because it requires a lot of care during the process, it is expensive than the normal green tea. Due to its umami (savory), Matcha is normally used in traditional tea ceremonies of Japan, and desserts like snacks-cakes and drinks.
Including Matcha, Japan’s green tea has outstanding health benefits. Matcha is especially known for being rich in theanines and catechins. Theanine relaxes those who take it in and has a effect of soothing one’s feelings. Catechins are compounds of polyphenol that contains many effects like diet effect and antioxidant effects.
For those who find Matcha too bitter, Matcha sweets could be another way of enjoying Japan’s most revered tea. Any foreigner can easily find many snacks and sweets using matcha in Japan. Almond chocolate (Meiji), meiji Rich Matcha biscuits, OtonaPuchi Chocosand Uji Matcha (Bourbon), Oreo Premium Noukou Matcha Milk Cream, and Starbucks Discoveries Kyoto Matcha Latte. These make for a great gift to family and friends overseas; reasonable and distinctly a product of Japan. Matcha drinks, Matcha sweets are indeed a unique culture of Japan, which is also why it is so popular.
Near Komaba, there are two places prized for its Matcha drinks and sweets. Both two stations away from Komaba Todai Mae, one is in Shibuya and the other in Shimokitazawa. Located on the 5th floor of Shibuya Hikarie, Zenkasyoin（然花抄院）provides customers with sweet Matcha castella and ice cream. On the 2nd basement floor of Hikarie, people can buy Matcha, the powder itself and enjoy it at home. In Shimokitazawa, you can find Shimokita chaen Ooyama (しもきた茶苑大山), a store known for its shaved ice with Matcha syrup on the top.