Tea Expert Interview: Elena Volkova

photo (4)Tea expert Elena Volkova was first exposed to tea culture in Russia, her country of origin. She has been creating house tea blends at Culinary Teas since October 2013. Culinary Teas is a small family-owned partnership that specializes in tea and tea accessories. Check out our reviews of their Matcha Green Tea Powder and Genmaicha Extra Green Tea with Matcha.

What do you do at Culinary Teas?

I work full time at Culinary teas and enjoy being with teas, smelling, touching, drinking tea, sharing my love for tea and excitement for tea discoveries. I hand-pack teas, work with customers, write tea reviews, generate and execute marketing ideas, and create house tea blends :-).

Have you always had an interest in tea?

I was exposed to tea culture in Russia, my country of origin. I love tea and it is a part of my everyday happiness. In 2003 I graduated from tea school and started to present Chinese tea ceremonies. I have been working for Culinary Teas since October 2013.

How do the health benefits of matcha green tea compare to those of other varieties of tea?

Matcha is a powerhouse of antioxidants and contains L-theanine, which helps relax the mind, enhance mood, focus, and alertness. Matcha contains 137 times more antioxidants than plain green tea.

Matcha increases:

- academic performance
- concentration
- immunity
- energy and vivacity

Matcha tea

- focuses and stimulates brain activity
- improves mood and calms the nerves
- preserves youth and brightens the skin
- promotes weight loss
- contains more antioxidants than ginger, blueberry, spinach, and broccoli

What makes your matcha special? Is your usucha or “thin matcha” prepared differently from koicha or “thick matcha?”

Our matcha is not a ceremonial, but high quality matcha suitable for everyday consumption. It is grown in Nishio, Japan, the largest region of matcha production. The tea bushes are carefully shaded a few weeks prior to harvesting in order to protect them from direct sunlight. This method brings out the sweetness or “umami.” The manufactured leaves are milled like flour to produce a fine green powder.

Koicha and usucha types are used in tea ceremonies. Culinary Tea matcha is used as an ingredient in beverages and pastries so we do not call them either koicha or usucha.

Can you tell us about your Genmaicha Extra Green With Matcha?

Blends of Matcha and Genmaicha have been popular for decades in Japan. However, the quality varies. Our blend uses a tea ceremony grade matcha and high quality Bancha and produces a very aromatic, flavorful, bright green cup compared to other blends.

What should readers know about drinking matcha tea?

Matcha is a century old health elixir. The people of the Okinawa islands have an average life expectancy of almost 90 years and low rates of chronic disease. The highest quality matcha is produced and consumed there and health experts attribute the native Okinawans’ longevity and vitality to regular consumption of Japanese matcha tea.

Can you tell us how you keep matcha and green tea fresh at your shop in Massachusetts? How can consumers keep their supply fresh after opening it?

Matcha is immediately placed in chilled storage after shipment from Japan. This preserves the freshness of the product.

We recommend that you freeze unopened packages of tea. After opening your tea store it in an airtight container in a cool dark cabinet but not your refrigerator. Storing open packages in a refrigerator may cause moisture to condense inside the package, harming the tea. Once the package is opened the tea has a shelf life of three months.

Matcha Recipe: Matcha Blancmange

Matcha blancmange recipeBlancmange (from French blanc-manger) is a sweet dessert made with milk, cream and sugar thickened with gelatin. It is usually set in a mold and served cold. While it’s traditionally white (hence the name includes “blanc”), blancemanges are often given other colors. This is a matcha spin on the original recipe.  Special thanks to Maeda-en for providing this recipe. It was made using Maeda-en Culinary Grade Matcha.

When I made the Matcha Blancmange, I skipped the Red Bean Topping as I didn’t have any red bean paste. I also didn’t use any whipped cream. My Matcha Blancmange turned out light, creamy and delicious. The matcha flavor (1 tablespoon) from the blancmange was subtle and smooth. The matcha sauce on top also required 1 tablespoon of matcha. This sauce blend was a bit strong on the matcha flavor, be careful (unless that’s what you want!).

Whisking the heavy cream (step 3)

Whisking the heavy cream (step 3)

Making the matcha sauce (step 1)

Making the matcha sauce (step 1)

 

Folding the heavy cream into mixture (step 7)

Folding the heavy cream into mixture (step 7)

Heating milk, sugar, heavy cream, adding matcha (steps 4 and 5)

Heating milk, sugar, heavy cream, adding matcha (steps 4 and 5)

Recipe (Serves 5)

For the Blancmange

1 Tbsp(5g) Culinary Matcha Powder
1/2 envelope of unflavored gelatin
5 Tbsp Water
1 cup Milk
1.5 cup Heavy cream
1/2 cup Sugar

For Red Bean topping

5 Tbsp Sweetened red bean paste
Whipped Cream for garnish

For the Matcha sauce

1 Tbsp(5g) Culinary Matcha Powder
3 Tbsp Lukewarm water
1.5 Tbsp Sugar

Directions

1. Mix Matcha sauce ingredients together and cool in refrigerator.
2. Disperse the gelatin in water. Let stand 10 minutes until softened.
3. Whisk half of the heavy cream to a stiff peak.
4. Heat milk, sugar and remainder of the heavy cream over medium heat in saucepan, whisking constantly.
5. Add the Matcha powder very gradually, pouring it through a strainer.
6. Remove from heat and add softened gelatin, stirring continuously until gelatin dissolves completely to make Blancmange.
7. Place the pan over a bowl of ice water, fold the heavy cream into the mixture.
8. Pour the Blancmange into a dessert size bowl.
9. Refrigerate until firm.
10. To serve, decorate the top of Blancmange with whipped cream and sweetened red bean paste, pouring Matcha sauce on side.

Matcha Expert Interview: Eric Gower from Breakaway Matcha

Eric Gower of Breakaway Matcha

Matcha expert Eric Gower badly wanted to drink some good matcha and couldn’t find any. He founded Breakaway Matcha in 2010. Breakaway Matcha specializes in sourcing, custom blending, and distributing the highest-quality matcha on earth.

What do you do at Breakaway Matcha?

I do pretty much everything, from sourcing to operations to supply chain to marketing, sales, educational writing, ceramics design, web design and development, setting up matcha programs in restaurants, training staff … janitorial too!

Have you always had an interest in tea?

Black tea yes, from a small child, but I didn’t really discover other teas until college, and didn’t discover matcha till I lived in Japan, and then didn’t discover artisanal matcha until my 30s.

What makes your matcha special?

Obsessiveness really. It’s all about how obsessive the farmers are. Japanese people can be fairly obsessive when something interests them—they tend to take very deep dives into detail.

Artisanal matcha farmers really go all the way. Many of the plots have very specific terroir that yields unusually sweet and fragrant teas, with amino acid levels into the stratosphere. Some of them have been farming matcha on the same plots for more than 20 generations. This kind of farming doesn’t scale, so yields are very limited. It’s extreme-grade tea, the very opposite of most matcha on the marketplace.

How do the health benefits of matcha green tea compare to other (black, green, white, red) tea?

It’s really very simple: matcha is much healthier because you’re “eating” the leaves. The tea is finely and gently milled to a talc-like powder, hot water is added, and the powder gets suspended (via whisking) in water long enough to consume it. Most of the beneficial phytonutrients in tea are NOT soluble. You certainly get some benefits from drinking an extract (steeping a bag or loose leaves in hot water, waiting, and then straining out/discarding the leaves and drinking the extracted hot liquid), but most of the action, it turns out, is in the INSOLUBLE fibers of the leaves. So consuming these leaves is a really good idea. I’ve seen many different chemical analyses but basically speaking matcha provides at least 10x the antioxidants and other health benefits of regular steeped green tea, white tea, or black tea (or rooibos).

What should readers know about drinking matcha?

We’ve been taught that there are socially acceptable ways of preparing and drinking matcha, most of which revolve around elaborate choreographies in tightly scripted ceremonial settings. But it doesn’t have to be that way; it’s perfectly ok to sip matcha in any way you can dream up. I for one think the two accepted traditional styles of matcha preparation – “thin tea” and “thick tea” are misleading. It’s a continuum. You could have very thin matcha and very, very thick matcha (with the consistency of warm honey) and you have can have every degree in between. I like it thick, but not ridiculously thick. Prepare it however you like! I would say however to avoid adding things (fats and sugars) to great matcha – it really doesn’t need anything. If you need to put milk or nutmilk or honey or whatever in your matcha, you should definitely use culinary matcha and not hyperpremium matcha, because you won’t be able to taste the difference anyway: the fats and glucose molecules coat the palate and essentially obviate the umami and extra-long finish, the epicurean properties you’re paying a premium for. So save yourself the money and use cheaper matcha if you’re going to make a milkshake out of it.

What should readers know about cooking with matcha?

All cooking should be done with culinary matcha, without a doubt. Using hyperpremium matcha to cook with is a little like using a bottle of Romanee-Conti for a sangria or pasta sauce. Would the sangria and pasta sauce be good? Of course it would. Would it be the best use of that wine? No, it’s much better appreciated on its own, for similar reasons.

Matcha loves dairy. Use it with yogurt, butter, cream, milk, ice cream . . . it also loves chocolate.

Never boil matcha, it will turn horribly bitter and destroy whatever you’re cooking. Only add matcha to dishes at cooler temperatures, and don’t simmer it. It’s almost always better added at the very end.

Do you have any recommendations for readers wanting to learn more about matcha?

Masterclass in Matcha at Breakaway Matcha

Your blog often compares great matcha to great wine. Can you explain this analogy to our readers?

“Matcha,” like “wine,” is a HUGE category that encompasses a very large range of quality. In one sense, Charles Shaw (aka two-buck Chuck) and Harlan Estate are both “wines.” And in another sense, they’re so different that it’s hard to believe they’re in the same category of foods. One costs $2, the other fetches nearly $1,000.

It’s the same with matcha. Obsessive farmers who sweat the details for their discerning clients produce much better matcha than those producers most interested a race to the bottom—the most quantity at the cheapest price. The good stuff is rare, and demand for it is keen, hence the prices go upward..

What’s the difference in taste between regular and hyperpremium matcha?

It’s all about umami, natural sweetness, acid structure, and long, long finish, all of which hyperpremium matcha has in spades. Almost all “regular” matcha is really culinary matcha, but it’s never referred to as that. It’s all very confusing to the neophyte, and many matcha companies have totally confusing nomenclature. Anyone can call any matcha “ceremonial” and it vaguely sounds sophisticated and good, but when you try prepping a cup of this stuff it tends to be …. culinary matcha, i.e it’s bitter, has a dull color, is astringent, and often tastes swampy/pondwater-ish. Some ceremony! No one ever gets called on it, because no one really understands what it’s *supposed* to taste like. Imagine serving “cooking wine” in a nice glass and, with some ceremony, clinking glasses and sipping it alongside a terrific meal. That’s what most matcha on the marketplace is.

And my other pet peeve: no one stores it properly. It MUST be refrigerated or—if you’ve got a larger quantity—frozen. Whole Foods sells matcha unrefrigerated, in the tea aisle, as does everyone else. The enemies of matcha are light, air, and heat. Matcha must be kept air-tight and light-tight, and very cold.

The good stuff is electric green, so green it looks fake. It should smell chocolatey and exceedingly fresh. It should taste like sugary pureed baby vegetables with some grilled mushroom (this is the umami). And it should have a VERY long finish – you should still taste its flavors for at least 20 seconds, sometimes up to a full minute or even longer. And your body / stomach should feel GOOD afterward, as if you’ve just consumed some kind of optimal health manna, which is exactly what you’ve just done.

Matcha Reviews Showdown: Battle of the top five matchas

Top 5 matcha tea reviews

I’ve been drinking matcha green tea for a while now, and purchase my matcha from Amazon. The problem? There are too many choices. What’s a matcha drinker to do? I purchased the top 5 matchas from Amazon search results and tasted each one. The results were surprising. See below for my detailed tasting notes and matcha reviews.

Matcha Reviews Key

Matcha Key

I’ve sorted my reviews by price per ounce (#1 being most expensive, #5 being least expensive):

  1. DoMatcha Green Tea, Organic Matcha (Japan)
  2. Premium Organic Matcha Green Tea Powder (Japan)
  3. MatchaDNA Certified Organic Matcha Tea (China)
  4. Tradition Pure Green Tea Powder Matcha (Taiwan)
  5. Vita Life Brand Matcha Green Tea Powder (Taiwan)

DoMatcha Green Tea, Organic Matcha

1. DoMatcha Green Tea, Organic Matcha

  • From: Kagoshima, Japan
  • Ounces: 1.06
  • Price: $26.61
  • Price per ounce: $26.61
  • Rating: 5 / 5
  • Get This Matcha

DoMatcha is packaged in a sealed tin can, inside is a sealed bag. The matcha is a beautiful bright green in color. This means the leaves were picked young and dried properly. It has a delicate fresh grass smell. After whisking, the matcha is full of bubbles and froth (as good matcha should be). The taste is smooth, creamy, and bittersweet. Like dark chocolate. DoMatcha isn’t cheap, but if you want the real deal, this is it.

Premium Organic Matcha Green Tea Powder

2. Premium Organic Matcha Green Tea Powder

  • From: Uji, Kyoto, Japan
  • Ounces: 1.05
  • Price: $10.99
  • Price per ounce: $10.99
  • Rating: 4 / 5
  • Get This Matcha

This matcha from Kyoto comes in a small sealed bag. For storage, you’ll want to move it to a sealed can. The matcha is bright green in color and has a slight aroma of sweet fresh grass. After whisking, it has plenty of bubbles and froth. The texture is creamy and smooth. The taste is slightly sweet and not as bold as DoMatcha. Overall, it’s a great matcha for the price.

MatchaDNA Certified Organic Matcha Tea

3. MatchaDNA Certified Organic Matcha Tea

  • From: China
  • Ounces: 3
  • Price: $19.71
  • Price per ounce: $6.57
  • Rating: 2 / 5
  • Get This Matcha

This green tea powder claims to be matcha, but is likely sencha. See Matcha versus Sencha. It comes in a sealed bag, and inside is 34 individually packed pouches. These seem useful if you are on the go but otherwise seem unnecessary. MatchaDNA has a dark / olive green color (good matcha should be bright green). It has an earthy smell to it. After whisking, there are very few bubbles and little froth. The taste is very bitter, chalky and has an astringent aftertaste.

Tradition Pure Green Tea Powder Matcha

4. Tradition Pure Green Tea Powder Matcha

  • From: Taiwan
  • Ounces: 8.8
  • Price: $13.49
  • Price per ounce: $1.54
  • Rating: 1 / 5
  • Get This Matcha

This green tea powder claims to be matcha, but is likely sencha. See Matcha versus Sencha. Additionally, on Amazon, it says it’s from Japan, but actual packaging says from Taiwan. It comes in a large, resealable bag. It has a dark green color and old grass smell. It has a strong vegetal flavor and a very bitter, astringent aftertaste.

Vita Life Brand Matcha Green Tea Powder

5. Vita Life Brand Matcha Green Tea Powder

  • From: Taiwan
  • Ounces: 10.58
  • Price: $19.38
  • Price per ounce: $1.83
  • Rating: 2.5 / 5
  • Get This Matcha

This green tea powder claims to be matcha, but is likely sencha. See Matcha versus Sencha. It comes in a nice large container. Inside is a sealed matcha bag and plastic spoon. The matcha is dark green in color. It has a smooth grassy smell. It has a smooth vegetal taste an only slightly bitter aftertaste. For sencha, this is pretty good tasting. It’s also at a more affordable price than real matcha.