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.