My first bowl of matcha green tea

After having lived in Japan for over a year, a bowl of matcha green tea seems like the most normal thing in the world to me. But I can still vividly remember the first time I came into contact with this magical substance.

Matcha tea is produced by drying and grinding green tea leaves into a powder. This powder is then placed into a bowl, hot water is added and the tea is whisked to a uniform consistency with a bamboo whisk. The end result is a bowl of bright green, foamy tea with a soft, slightly bitter, slightly sweet taste. Matcha is most famous for its use in the Japanese Tea Ceremony, but in Japan it is also enjoyed on more informal occasions like a touristic temple visit or as an afternoon treat.

making matcha
Making matcha: the tea powder has been scooped into the bowl. Hot water is ready to be added. Then the tea is whisked. You can see the bamboo whisk in the bottom right.

Of course I didn’t know all of this when I first arrived in Japan. I had never even heard of matcha. My first introduction to matcha was at a small lunch restaurant (Mamean 豆庵 in Toyota City), popular with elderly Japanese ladies. I noticed all the ladies were consuming some bright green beverage after lunch, which fascinated me tremendously. In my beginner’s Japanese, I tried to ask one of the waiters about it. In reply to my halting “are wa nan desu ka” (lit. “what is that over there?”), the waiter provided me with a very elaborate explanation, of which I of course understood absolutely nothing. I just practiced my smile and nod technique, which is my go-to solution for such situations, and was rewarded with a steaming bowl of matcha tea.

my first matcha
This is the result, my first bowl of matcha tea

I think ‘interesting’ would be the best way to describe my first taste of matcha. It is somewhat of an acquired taste. Some foreigners just plainly dislike it, but I have grown very fond of the taste. In Japan you will encounter it frequently, since it is also used as an additive for sweets, cakes and ice cream. Starbucks Japan even serves matcha flavoured latte and frappuccino.

Starbucks Japan matcha
Azuki Matcha Latte at a Starbucks in Japan… while one could argue about the taste, it is certainly very Japanese.
matcha ice cream
My first taste of matcha ice cream (the green scoop on the top) wasn’t really a big hit. I later discovered that the taste can differ greatly from place to place and occasionally it can be very good. Therefore my advice is: avoid the Baskin and Robbins matcha ice cream, try it somewhere where it is homemade.

16 thoughts on “My first bowl of matcha green tea

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  1. I went to a Japanese garden near Yokohama years ago while living in Tokyo, my mother, sister brother and old neighbor also visiting. A kindly old woman taught my mom and the neighbor how to make the matcha, telling them that when they’re done they should give it to someone else. My old neighbor, a coffee shot barista at the time, decided to scoop in ‘an extra shot’. Then he was kind enough to give the green paste drink he just made to me.

    1. Haha, lucky you ^_^ But have you heard of koicha? That’s a really thick kind of matcha, where a lot of tea powder is used and the end result is something with the consistency of yoghurt. It is usually drunk at the beginning of a formal tea meeting. After the koicha, it is time for usucha (lit. ‘thin tea’). That is the kind of tea featured in this post, and probably the only kind of matcha you will encounter outside of formal tea meetings.

      Here is a picture of koicha:

      Here is video of someone making koicha:
      6:20 min: tea is added to the bowl, first a few scoops but then the entire contents of the tea holder
      8:30 min: water is added and everything gets a thourough stir 前千家
      10:30 min: a little more water is added and the mixture is whisked some more

  2. I love all kinds of matcha sweets and especially soft ice cream. I like regular matcha ice cream but I think we have the best soft ice cream in the world (not that I have tried it in other places but ours is great!)

    1. There is such a world of matcha products out there to discover! It’s nice getting everyone’s recommendations ^_^ Matcha soft ice cream is now added to my list of things to try the next time I’m in Japan. ありがとうね。

  3. Hi there!
    I really appreciate your inspiring choice of topics and the lovely photos. I think I’ll go and have some matcha now 🙂

  4. the technique is to eat something sweet before drinking it. In the tea ceremony, the one that I went to, we had a small sweet sort of cake first before having the tea. I like it also when eating sushi but I am not a fan of the ice cream or latte.

    1. I don’t think the tea powder at sushi restaurants is the same as matcha. It’s just green tea powder. Of course it’s a little confusing that matcha is often translated as ‘green tea powder’, altough it is a different product.

      It’s possible that for my first bowl of matcha, I ate the sweets after drinking the tea, in which case I wouldn’t have had the nice contrast. Unfortunately I don’t remember which I had first, tea or the sweet.

  5. i know exactly how you feel. honestly, i think matcha is really really mild and slightly bitter, which means a lot of times it doesn’t exactly lend itself to the common american palette.

    that being said, i highly advise you check out cha soba. when it comes to mild, fresh flavors that are perfect for summer, it can’t be beat. (plus, it is a beautiful bright green.) by far one of my favorite, and one of the more unique, uses of matcha powder.

  6. I’ve had matcha a few times now and have decided I neither like nor dislike it. I wouldn’t purposefully order it at a cafe but if it’s made for me by someone, I always manage to drink it without having to make faces. I had pretty damn good matcha ice cream at a rural roadside stall once though, and I can see why a lot of people might drink it in order to set off the intense taste of some traditional Japanese sweets like wagashi.

    1. Hmm, I sure do miss wagashi now that I don’t live in Japan anymore. They do bring out the taste of tea very well but they are quite hard to come by here in Belgium. Please enjoy some on my account as well! ^_^

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