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TEA a Magazine
 
 

Seeing Green :

Matcha-Flavored Confections

by Curtis Vreeland & Carol Négiar

 

As any tea aficionado knows, matcha is a premium Japanese powedered green tea is served at format Japanese tea ceremonies. Representing only 1% of Japan's tea output, matcha is sold as a green powder that must be whisked carefully, but firmly, to ensure that it blends without lumps into a fiothy, bright green liquid.

Green tea and chocolate make an interesting flavor pairing, since green tea provides a pleasing contrast to the sweetness of chocolate and butter creams. Premium chocolatiers should be careful to select only top quality Japanese matcha.

As an added benefit, both matcha and dark chocolate are loaded with anticarcinogenic polyphenols. In fact, the health benefits of tea were well known in ancient China. As early as around 500 B.C., coinciding with the time of Confucius, tea was prescribed for medicinal purposes.

Fifty grams of dark chocolate contains 20% more polyphenols than a cup of green tea, but double the polyphenol content of a glass of red wine, according to Foods That Fight Cancer, written by Drs. Richard BCliveau and Denis Gingras. However, the polyphenolic content of green tea can vary widely, for Japanese green teas have a higher polyphenolic content than Chinese green teas.

Matcha-flavored sweets have an extensive history in Japan. Western confectioners have only just begun to recognize the value of matcha's attributes. In this article we will examine traditional Japanese matcha-flavored sweets, explore how French confectioners have espoused matcha, and have in turn influenced their American and British countemporary Japanese sweets makers.

Curtis Vreeland is both a chocolate sommelier and researcher who tracks new trends in the confectionary industry. With more than twenty years of experience in the chocolate industry, he has visited most of the major cocoa-production regions in the word and published nearly two dozen articles on the subject. He way be reached at cvreeland@vreelandassociates.com.
Carol Négiar is a board member of the Comité Français du Thé (French Tea Board) which organizes the annual Festival du Thé (Tea Festival) held in Paris. She is also the owner of Chajin, an exclusive tea solon located in the 8th arrondissement. She may be reached at chajin@wanadoo.fr.

Japan

"Flavorful desserts can do much to bridge hearts when people get together. They can enhance the moment when people cross paths, or they can convey a person's true feeling toward someone very special, "says Takashi Okada, President of Minamoto Kitchoan.

Matcha-flavored wagashi (sweets) are popular in Japan. They are consumed as cakes on special occasions such as festivals, as jelly-based cooling drinks in summer, and as French-inspired premium chocolates. One occasion in which they are not served is during tea ceremonies, in view of the fact that serving them with matcha tea would be considered redundant.

At present Tokyo is overflowing with boutiques of the finest French chocolatiers. They have in stock a vast collection of classic French confections, including bonbons anf French-style macaroons flavored from East and West.

Minamoto Kitchoan was founded in Okayama Prefecture in 1947. The company produces traditional Japanese cakes composed of three ingredients: rice flour, azuki bean jam, and sugar. The Matcha Manju is prepared with rice flour, white bean jam, and green tea powder. It features a flavor similar to that of a Fig Newton® and has a two-day shelf life.

The company also produces Kasutera Green Tea Sponge Cake. Kasutera is a corruption of pão de Castella or Castile bread (Castile is a province of Spain). In the 16th century the recipe, together with gunpowder and tobacco, was transported by Portuguese merchants to Nagasaki, the only port open to foreigners. Castile bread boasts a long shelf life, an advantage for sailors embarking on long sea voyages. It is loaf shaped, is available in an assortment of flavors, and is extensively sold at festivals and as street food.

Meisuinomai Green Tea Jelly is made with agar-agar, water, trehalose, and green tea, and tastes somewhat similar to liquid Jello®. When chilled it is served in a plastic cup and sipped through a straw as a nice refreshment for a hot summer day. The name means "dance of bright water."

Mary's Chocolate Company was established in Tokyo in 1950 and is well know for its European-Style premium truffles, bonbons, and box chocolates. Fortunately for American chocoholics, Mary's exhibits at the New York Chocolate Show. Desiring to incorporate distinctly Japanese flavors, the company produced its first green-tea-flavored chocolate 26 years ago, undoubtedly one of the first confectioners in the world to do so. The company now offers three matcha-flavored confections that superbly balance Eastern and Western tastes. The Green Tea Japanese Truffle possesses a white chocolate ganache center prepared with green tea (from the famous tea-growing Uji region near Kyoto), kirsch, and gin. The truffle is dusted with a combination of powdered green tea and wa-sanbon sugar. The Green Tea Ganache has a heart of white chocolate, cream, and green tea, and is coated with a thick dusting of green tea. Thé vert is a green-tea-flavored white chocolate bonbon.

Pocky is a stick-shaped biscuit that is sold in a great veriety of flavors, including green tea. Pockly are popular with teenagers. There is even a "men's" Pockly flavored with bittersweet chocolate, witch is often served in bars, accompagnied by a glass of ice water. Produced by confectionary giant Ezaki Glico, it can be located in Asian supermarkets in the U.S.

Matcha Shaved Ice is another distinctly Japanese confection. As the name implies, it is prepared with carefully shaved ice (AKA Aspen-style "champagne snow") and flavored with matcha, creating an appearance somewhat like that of the Creature from the Black Logoon, even though many additional flavors are offered. It is a summer food and is typically accompanied by red bean, condensed milk, and balls of rice cake.

France

Somewhat removed from the American consummer's obsession with healthy foods, French patissiers and chocolatiers incorporate matcha for four reasons :

Matcha's flavor pairs well with chocolate and almond paste.

Matcha's green color provides a pleasing contrast to dark chocolate and red fruit.

It is a natural color and doesn't need to be fortified with food color.

It is part of a culinary trend of cooking with tea.


L'Artisan des Saveurs, "matcha mallow"

The first known French chocolatier to add matcha to chocolate was almost nine years ago when a Japanese man approached La Petite Fabrique, an artisan chocolate maker located near the Bastille, to create a batch. Today, a number of France's top chocolatiers, patissiers, and chefs have incorporated this ingredient into their lines of über-premium products.

One of France's top pastry chefs, Pierre Hermé has a reputation for balancing chassic techniques with innovative flavors to create spectacular seasonal desserts. He prepares several matcha-flavored sweets. Pâté de Fruit Sarah is a passion fruit pâté de fruit that also contains pickled chestnuts and green tea. A baked version of this dessert is called Cake Sarah. Hermé also creates a milk chocolate truffle with green tea and grilled pistachios.

Initially created by nuns from Nancy over two hundred years ago, macaroons epitomize French pastry skills at their best. They are prepared with egg whites, almond powder, and sugar. Macaroons are available with a variety of flavored butter cream fillings, including green tea, but also pistachio, chocolate, and raspberry. They are moist but chewy, sweet but not cloying, and shaped like the large buttons on a clown's costume.

Other French chocolatiers and patissiers who produce matcha-flavored confections include Mariage Frères (matcha/green tea macaroons and madeleines), Chajin (matcha ice cream, white chocolate bars, matcha cake, and shaved ice with matcha syrup), L'artisan de Saveurs ("Matcha-mallow"), Gérard Mulot (green-tea macaroons and matcha tarts), Le Bar Thé (matcha cake and matcha coktail) and the confiseur Mazet de Montargis (chocolate with matcha ganache).

Terre Exotique uses Chajin's matcha to concoct Sucre Roux with Matcha, a blend of matcha with brown sugar crystals from Réunion, an island off the coast of Madagascar. It is delectable when spinkled over yogurt, cottage cheese, sautéed pineapple slices, or pear compote. Terre Exotique also adds matcha to salt from Madagascar for cooking use.


U.S.A.

Matcha-flavored sweets appeared on the American confectionery scene in just the past few years. Such inspiration may be partially attributed to shadowing French trends, in addition to several ultra-premium chocolatiers of Asian descent who have drawn from their heritage for culinary inspiration. These chocolatiers include Kee Ling Tong of Manhattan-based Kee's CHocolates, Kristy Choo of Venice, California-based Jin Patisserie, and newcomer Tomoko Kato of Manhattan-based Cha-An.

A good place to judge the state of American artisan chocolate preparation is to examine the results of the Next Generation Chocolatier competition. An event that takes place every other year in New York City, this competition endeavors to establish quality standards, as well as increase consumer appreciation in well-executed confections, in addition to showcasing the results. A third of entries in 2006 were green tea based.

Winner of the People's Choice Award was Kee's Green Tea Truffle, a celadon-colored sphere of white chocolate. White chocolate imparts a richness and sweetness that complements matcha's bitterness. "Most of my customers come into my shop to purchase dark chocolate," admits Kee. "But after they try a sample of this truffle, they are very impressed."

Tomoko Kato, the executive chef at the Japanese tea room Cha-An, creates her truffle by hand, rather than by the traditional method of dipping. This produces a very thin white chocolate shell with random veins enveloping the green matcha-flavored ganache center, the end result resembling a brussels sprout.

In Manhattan, additionnam matcha-flavored confections may be found at Franchia (Green Tea Cake), Cha-An (Green Tea Truffle), Room4Dessert (various desserts), and Ito En. Ito En sells a very healthy snack of chocolate-covered almonds dusted with matcha powder.