With all the hype over green tea, it’s almost hard to follow along with what it is that makes the green brew so great besides its incredible amount of antioxidants. Well so what? What are antioxidants except a word that seems to mean “good” and “fights off the bad guys in your body”? The short explanation is that antioxidants are molecules that can counter the effects of free radicals and are a substance, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, or beta carotene, thought to protect the body from cellular damage and prevent oxidization. Wha? Free radicals? No, nothing you would want for free and no not liberated revolutionists. Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with an unpaired number of electrons and can be formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Once formed, these highly reactive radicals can set off a domino damage effect with important cellular components such as DNA, or the cell membrane, causing cells to malfunction or die. The defense mechanism is yours truly – ”antioxidants, an army of scavengers that can safely interact with and terminate the chain reaction of free radicals before vital molecules are destroyed. The body cannot manufacture its own brigade of antioxidant-rich nutrients as listed above, so it is crucial that they are incorporated into one’s diet.
In fact, a real bonus with matcha is that the actual tea leaf is consumed, offering the body higher concentrations of catechins (polyphenols that prevent high blood pressure) and vitamins.
If we were the national tea board of some sort, we’d tell you more about catechins, egcgs and et al associated with green tea but we’re writing this month to talk specifically about matcha – ”powdered green tea. It has all the benefits of green tea in dry form and has a deep earthy flavor that is sure to comfort the body, mind and perhaps even the soul. In fact, a real bonus with matcha is that the actual tea leaf is consumed, offering the body higher concentrations of catechins (polyphenols that prevent high blood pressure) and vitamins. And one of the best parts about matcha is that unlike tea the beverage, you can sprinkle the powder into any food you please: yogurt, granola, pudding, smoothies or lattes (it may not be sweet but use it as a flavor enhancer or sugar substitute), and even savory dishes like braised duck, marinated sirloin tips and hard-boiled eggs.
And when you need a break from whatever you’re doing – ” school, work, work-out, life – ”check out the recipe we have below on this month’s fusion recipe: honey cereal bars dusted with green tea powder. Great for breakfast, a snack or a sweet treat for someone special, these bars are mysteriously addictive. But at least it isn’t that double chocolate cupcake you’ve been pining for – ”almost everyday. It still kicks the sweet tooth craving where needed, without twice the guilt and with the bonus of those heralded antioxidants.
The Customary Cup
There are two types of matcha – ”koicha, which is thick tea and usucha, thin tea. Koicha is higher quality than usucha because it uses new, young tea leaves from older tea plants (Clippers can be used but these leaves are still hand-picked) while thin tea is derived from new, young tea leaves from younger tea plants. This is analogous to how the most prized wines are the ones that have been aged much longer. At the same time, to prepare thick tea, there is proportionally more tea with less hot water; the two are then blended into a creamy mixture much like the consistency of soup. Thick tea tends to be concentrated so the highest quality tea is needed to yield the most palate-pleasing flavor. With thin tea, more hot water with less tea is beaten together into a frothy beverage. No other ingredients are added to the tea. Traditionally, a sweet is enjoyed before drinking the matcha to complement the delicious, grass-like flavor.
Matcha rarely ever comes cheap. Why? The amount of labor involved in bringing the powdered tea to the market makes it a specialty product paired with a rather hefty price tag. Unlike regular sun-grown green tea like sencha, matcha is derived from gyokuro. Gyokuro is a green tea that is grown under 90% of shade, three weeks before the harvest. Like other kinds of shade-grown green tea, the leaves used for matcha are steamed to prevent fermentation and to retain its vibrant green color. Unlike gyokuro, however, the leaves are not rolled and are instead de-veined, de-stemmed and thoroughly dried, producing a product known as tencha. The leaves are blown dry in a wind-tunnel-like apparatus until the inner portions remain in the air. The leaves are stored in chatsubo – ”tea jars, and allowed to season until November, at which time they are customarily stone-ground to a very fine state, creating what we know as matcha.
To protect the freshness of your matcha, always store it in the freezer in an air-tight container or plastic bag. Before using, bring the matcha that you will use to room temperature.
Matcha may be expensive, but there are still reasonably priced brands that will allow you the luxury to experiment with various foods along with its traditional way of mixing the powder with hot water. The recipe below incorporates matcha into a sweet, chewy, crunchy cereal bar. Don’t expect a huge hit of green tea flavor; think of it as an essence of the earthy flavor with plenty of its heath benefits hidden inside an irresistible treat. We encourage you to up the matcha amount yourself to the recipe if you prefer a stronger tea taste and if you get a better result, please share with us so we can alter the recipe accordingly. There’s always room for improvement and we welcome yours!
Matcha Crunch Bars
Yields about 15 bars
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups miniature jet-puffed marshmallows
16 ounces (contents of one box) Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds cereal)
11/4 cup matcha
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (optional)
Melt the honey and butter together in a large pot on medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add the marshmallows until creamy, smooth and well blended. Add the cereal and coat evenly. Then sprinkle in ¾ cup of matcha and combine with cereal mix. Press the cereal mixture into a greased, foil-lined 13×9 inch pan. Cool for 45 minutes or until stiff. Dust the tops with the rest of the green tea powder. Cut into bars or use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Serve with green tea for an extra tea experience!
Microwave honey and butter in a large microwaveable bowl for 1 minute and stir until well blended. Mix in the marshmallows until they are all coated and microwave for 1 ½ minutes. Stir until creamy, smooth and thoroughly mixed.
Add the cereal and make sure all of it is coated in the sweet mixture. Then sprinkle in ¾ cup of matcha and combine with cereal mix. Press cereal into a greased and foil-lined 3×9 inch pan. Cool for 45 minutes or until stiff. Dust the tops with the rest of the green tea powder. Cut into bars or use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Serve with green tea for an extra tea experience!
Note: If you want to add the chocolate bits, wait about 30 minutes for the cereal mix to cool before tossing in. Otherwise, the chocolate will melt into the cereal.