April 11th, 2009
Matcha Harmony Cupcake – soft, buttery cupcake made with high-grade matcha powder from Japan, iced with white chocolate truffle flavored with matcha, and topped with a handmade white chocolate disc imprinted with a Japanese calligraphy character depicting “harmony”. Price available upon request.
going green and loving it
I admit I have never tasted a green tea cake before, let alone matcha when I thought of making these cupcakes. But I was intrigued by the flavor and its popularity in cupcake blogs so I gave it a try.
What is matcha anyway? Matcha is the green tea served in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. It has also become a favorite of tea enthusiasts because of its health benefits; it is rich in theanine, vitamin C, bioflavonoids, caffeine, and minerals. It is unique among all teas because it is ground into powder, thus when you drink it, you ingest all the nutrients and natural flavor of the tea leaf, including oil soluble constituents (vitamins A and E, fiber) which are not extracted into water when brewing loose tea leaves. According to one site, one cup of matcha is equivalent to 10 cups of brewed green tea in terms of nutritional value.
Finding the right matcha was a challenge. I found a sweetened matcha in the grocery but this was really just good as a beverage. I visited several local Japanese supermarkets hoping to get this precious stuff but I always end up empty-handed. After countless searches, I finally found this online Japanese store—yay! As I do not know which to buy, I chose one priced at mid-range and described as high quality (mind you, matcha IS expensive!). I liked it but there was a slight bitterness to it. Miss O._ of Ippodo advised me that the higher the grade of the matcha, the better it will taste. The Japanese refer to this unique flavor as “umami” which in green tea is characterized by full-bodied mellow sweetness (theanine, an amino acid is responsible for giving matcha this flavorful taste). Right. Higher grade = richer umami = costlier price!
I got another 20 gram-tin, two grades above the one I earlier bought. It definitely tasted better, brewed as a tea or used in baking. Still I searched for less expensive matcha. I had a friend send me restaurant grade baking matcha from the US but they were a big letdown. The color was a drab olive—it should be vivid green—and the bitterness stood out. To get the taste of authentic Japanese matcha, you have to get it from Japan itself.
To make these cupcakes, I added the matcha to a plain cupcake recipe. I wanted the flavor to stand out so these have a lot more matcha than other green tea cake recipes. To further highlight the flavor, I iced each with white chocolate truffle with matcha powder. The decorative topping is a white chocolate disc that I “imprinted” (using dark chocolate) with a Japanese calligraphy character depicting harmony which I believe is a very apt decoration. As declared by Sen no Rikyu, the revered Japanese master, there are four fundamental qualities that should be exemplified in the tea ceremony: harmony, respect, purity, tranquility.
These cupcakes are also the costliest in my repertoire. Aside from the fact that matcha itself is expensive, I get mine shipped direct from Japan via express mail service (EMS). Good thing Japan and the Philippines are neighbors; although still costly, whatever minimal savings I get from the EMS shipping rate is still welcome! The food grade is indeed a lot cheaper but the taste of high grade drinking matcha in baked goods is incomparable so that’s the only thing I use. The flavor of this tea also quickly deteriorates once a pack is opened so I never store matcha; I only buy this when there is a cupcake order to fulfill.
Because of all these tests, I have become a matcha drinker myself. I used to say earl grey tea is my tea of choice but it has now been relegated to being my second favorite—I am now a matcha junkie! I’m loving the matcha I get from Ippodo but I will surely try other brands coming straight from Japan as well. I would also love to get the special tea utensils so I can properly prepare matcha for drinking. Right now, I get by with a wire whisk, an ordinary teaspoon and a large cup. Serious matcha drinkers must be frowning upon me, I know! I’ll soon post a video on how matcha is prepared the right way.
I really love this cupcake because it is buttery and soft and to me, it perfectly captures the authentic taste of matcha. If you happen to like the Haagen-Dazs green tea ice cream, then you will like these cupcakes!
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why is matcha so expensive?
Matcha is expensive because of the labor involved in producing it. The tea plants are completely shaded for about 20 days using a large framework of reed screens and rice straws. Most tea farmers pick the leaves entirely by hand although machine picking is not uncommon. The harvested leaves undergo several stages—steaming, cooling, drying, deveining and destemming. The resulting leaves, called tencha, are stone ground slowly—a stone mill produces only about 40 grams of powder in an hour—to finally produce matcha.
There are many grades of matcha, from the ceremonial grade to food grades. Food grades are of low quality and only used in cooking and as an ingredient.