Green Magic: The Many Benefits of Matcha
Eric Gower discusses an obsession. The former food columnist found his calling in Japan, where he lived and worked for 16 years as an author, editor, private chef and cooking teacher.
Eric Gower is passionate about matcha. The former San Francisco Chronicle food columnist found his calling in Japan, where he lived and worked for 16 years as an author, editor, private chef and cooking teacher. Now he resides in San Anselmo, where he founded Breakaway Matcha, which has been sourcing and distributing the green goodness since 2010.
MM: What is matcha?
EG: Just green tea. But a special one: instead of steeped as whole leaves, the way you would prepare teabags or loose leaves in a pot, matcha is ground very finely on traditional granite wheels until it looks and feels like green cocoa. You then whisk it up in water (hot or cold) and sip it. It’s heaven when the quality is good.
MM: How did you become interested in it?
EG: I first drank it with an old Zen teacher of mine, Joshu Sasaki, back in 1981. I started studying Japanese just so I could talk with him. I wound up majoring in Japanese literature in college and moving to Kyoto, where many of my friends were studying tea ceremony and needed guinea pigs to practice on. It felt like it gave me superpowers, so I kept going down the giant green rabbit hole — just delightful in every way.
MM: What is the biggest misconception about the drink?
EG: That you have to drink it as a latte, which is not so irrational given the quality of most matcha out there in the marketplace — you need fat and sugar to basically make a milkshake out of it to make it palatable. But the good stuff is basically just espresso shots, no additions. Great matcha is a lot like great wine — the complexities and nuances give so much pleasure. Except you not only don’t get drowsy, you get increasingly awake, without the jitters of, say, coffee.
MM: What distinguishes high-quality from lesser-quality?
EG: The five holy grails of great matcha are aroma — it should smell enticing and ultra-fresh, with strong notes of cacao; color — the more garishly freaky green the better (yellow tones are bad); umami [savoriness], the more the better; frothability — you’re after puffy whorls of crema; and finish — the longer you taste it after you swallow it, the better. Some matchas can finish for minutes at a time.
MM: What is your favorite way to consume it?
EG: Straight up, extra thick, 165 degrees Fahrenheit water, whisked with an electric handheld milk foamer. For my cold brew, I occasionally add some collagen powder for my creaky knees.
MM: Any favorite Marin haunts that serve up a good cup of matcha?
EG: Yes, M.H. Bread and Butter in San Anselmo. They make a terrific cold brew there; also the matcha affogato with Posie ice cream — it’s quite dreamy.
Winter Remedy: Matcha Beauty Smoothie
MAKES 1 SERVING
We can all do with a little beauty boost in the winter, and this delicious smoothie from Neka Pasquale, founder and president of Urban Remedy, is an elixir rich in healthy fat, antioxidants and detoxifying chlorophyll. Cold weather never felt (or looked) better.
2 cups filtered water
2 to 3 ice cubes
½ medium avocado
2 tablespoons tocotrienol powder from rice bran
2 teaspoon matcha powder
1 teaspoon wheat/barley grass powder
A few drops stevia or raw honey, to taste
Optional: 1 tablespoon flax oil
Put all the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.
Time-Out for Tea in Marin
Marinites love a cup of joe, and the county has an abundance of coffeehouses and baristas — but what about tea? Tea can be equally stimulating and delicious, with nutrient-rich leaves that benefit body, mind and spirit. So for all tea lovers out there, or those who crave a New Year’s break from daily coffee, here are local spots to sip a different brew.
CROWN AND CRUMPET A classic tea salon with a splash of cheekiness, this San Francisco spot is owned by Marinites Amy and Christopher Dean, who provide a vibrant and stylish setting for afternoon tea and private parties. 1746 Post Street, San Francisco.
KEY TEA HOUSE AND KAVA LOUNGE Key Tea is a plant-centric place to savor locally grown tea, kava, kombucha on tap, chocolate, and house-made organic and vegan treats, along with weekly community gatherings. 921 C Street, San Rafael.
TEA FOUNTAIN An award-winning one-stop shop with more than 350 varieties of naturally grown and fairly traded loose gourmet and artisan teas from around the world, as well as tea accessories and gifts. 363 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley.
WU WEI TEA TEMPLE A full-service teahouse and kava bar featuring organic bone broth, housemade healing elixirs and Middle Eastern bites, with weekly live music, tarot readings and performances. 1820 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, Fairfax.