The first time I heard about Matcha was years ago when a friend recommended a Green Tea Latte from Starbucks. My younger, naive self thought it was amazing (albeit way too sweet) and set out to make some at home, only to realize that Matcha wasn’t like a regular green tea.
(Skip ahead if you just want to read about Matcha in DC!)
Regular tea consists of tea leaves that are dried, then steeped in water and discarded; matcha is leaves that are stone ground to a fine powder, consumed entirely (stems and veins excepted). When matcha powder is combined with a liquid it is ‘suspended’ – meaning it can separate if it sits, which is why you often find some of the powder in the bottom of your cup when you finish your drink.
Health experts tout the many benefits of matcha, citing powerful antioxidants (more concentrated than in steeped tea, and that help fight cancer and heart disease), dietary fiber, and lower caffeine content that is also absorbed slower by your body (this gets pretty nerdy about the caffeine binding to certain stable molecules and releasing slower into the bloodstream). Because the leaves are ingested, they are grown with more care, being covered before the harvest to keep the leaves shaded.
Similar to Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony, the Japanese celebrate with matcha during a traditional tea ceremony, where they use a higher quality matcha called Koicha that is very thick. The ceremony is meant to promote mindfulness and to cherish the encounter. What you commonly see in cafes is Usucha tea, which has a much thinner consistency when prepared.
Matcha in DC:
We went to The Royal on U Street to get some caffeination education on matcha, where I talked to Jay Suh who is in charge of their coffee program. The Royal started serving matcha latte 6-7 months after their opening to add creativity to their menu and to offer an alternative for those wishing to keep their caffeine intake lower (and to adorn our Instagram feeds with vibrant green latte art).
They source their powder from Japan through SerendipiTea. While they used to whisk their matcha latte from powder, they now streamline the process by making a matcha syrup in house: 1 part culinary grade matcha powder to six parts simple syrup. It’s combined in a blender and keeps at room temperature for a week and half.
Next comes the exciting part. One ounce of the syrup is added to a beautiful stoneware cup and Jay adds some steamed milk and stirs to incorporate it. Just like making a cappuccino, he then begins to combine the milk in such a way that it creates a gorgeous heart in the cup. The light microfoam perfectly complements the rich and subtly sweet matcha.
Jay, who lived in Korea for part of his childhood, is also the creative genius behind their black sesame latte (with sweetened black sesame paste), colorful Valentine’s white chocolate mocha (with cardamom and cinnamon) and other seasonal drinks. They will soon start serving a rainbow latte made with banana puree and more promising colors like those found in the Instagrammable egg nog confetti latte.
Some other places to find a great matcha latte in DC: The Wydown, a Baked Joint/Baked and Wired, Chinatown Coffee, and Zeke’s coffee; Maketto, where they sweeten their drink with some condensed milk upon request, or coconut milk in their iced version; and Grace Street Coffee where they use their celebrated vanilla bean syrup for a little sweetness and concoct other drinks with it like matcha tonic.
Do you know of other notable DC cafes that serve matcha to impress?