Until recently, my exposure to matcha was mostly associated with the sweet Japanese treats that I loved from my childhood. I was fortunate to have lived in Hawaii until the age of 7. It’s true, Hawaii is paradise and everything about it was fantastic, from the beautiful people, lush landscape, picture-perfect weather and — believe it or not — the ice cream trucks. I lived in a neighborhood on the ever-sunny island of Oahu, where the ice cream trucks were unique in that they not only sold candies, ice creams and snow cones, but they also offered a wide variety of treats that were reflective of the rich cultural landscape of the community they served. Some days they offered halo-halo, a popular Filipino dessert made up of shaved ice, evaporated milk, various sweetened fruits and beans; like mango, coconut and kidney beans; and combination of vanilla and ube ice cream — an ice cream made from purple yams. It’s really good —so good, that I think it needs a blog post of it’s own soon. On other days, Bai Tang Gao, a Chinese treat made with rice flour was offered. Unlike the rice cakes that are sold in markets, which resemble styrofoam, both in texture and flavor, these Chinese rice cakes are squidgy, moist, slightly chewy and mildly sweet. Part of what I think makes it so wonderful is that it balances sweetness with a very subtle hint of sourness, which is achieved through fermentation. And on other days, the ice cream truck’s offerings would include a plethora of matcha-infused treats, like mochi, a pillowy treat made from rice dough that can be filled with various sweetened paste, cakes and ice creams.
I remember, as a 6-year-old, standing on the very tips of my toes, struggling to get a better look through the plexiglass bakery case of the ice cream truck, which served dual duty as the counter. This is where the cakes, cookies and other homemade goods were proudly on display. Despite the brightly colored stickers that wallpapered the doors and served as the menu — which pictured everything from frozen push-pops, ice cream sandwiches, and rainbow popsicles — my eyes danced wildly at all the bright and pastel green, matcha-infused baked goods that stared back at me, begging to be eaten. I’ve always loved matcha. However, it wasn’t until recently, that I gave matcha a try in its traditional tea form.
About a year ago, I started reading up on matcha and all of its health benefits. Coincidentally, around the same time, I met a friend of a friend who spoke very passionately about matcha. Her enthusiasm stuck with me and was made even more concrete in the following days, after seeing some of her Facebook posts. She posted a few beautiful pictures of her morning matcha, and within days I followed suit.
The beauty of matcha
Matcha is a finely ground green tea powder. Its splendor goes far beyond it’s appearance and taste. Its beauty is evident in the care that is taken during its harvesting. It’s ground from the leaves of tea plants which are kept under shade during the final three weeks before they are harvested. With matcha you ingest the entire leaf, which means that you get all of the benefits of the tea leaf, some of which you would otherwise lose from steeped green tea. It is said that one single cup of matcha contains as many antioxidants as 10 cups of steeped, loose-leaf green tea. In addition, matcha is high in chlorophyll and is said to increase memory and enhance concentration and calm.
What I think is even more beautiful about matcha is the attention that is given to its preparation. Traditionally, matcha tea ceremonies not only focuses on the tea, but also on ritual and simplicity. The host takes great care in preparing the utensils for tea service. The tea is made by scooping two scoops of tea into a special bowl using a chashaku, a utensil made from bamboo. Very little water is added to the tea powder. Afterwards, it is mixed with a chasen, a bamboo whisk, to form a thin paste. More water is then added and the tea is whisked until it is foamy and frothy. The tea is then shared with guests. Every step of the ceremony has deep and profound meaning. The aesthetics of the ceremony go back hundreds of years, and it’s beauty rest in its simplicity.
Domo ariagato, now onto Affogato…
I think the Italians, much like the Japanese, have a way of taking simple ingredients and making something truly special out of them. Take for instance affogato, which is simply a scoop of vanilla ice cream that has been “drowned” in a robust cup of hot espresso. Its simple, straightforward, unadorned and beautiful.
I worked in retail for nearly two decades and coffee was absolutely essential for getting me through most days, or at least getting them started. Most recently, I worked for a luxury home-furninshing, design and lifestyle brand. I was responsible for ensuring that the gallery represented the brand and was showroom ready at all times. It wasn’t uncommon that I would receive deliveries of grand solid-wood bookcases, dining tables, bed frames, stone countertops and ridiculously oversized sofas in the early hours of dawn, many hours before the doors even opened. All the heavy lifting and rearranging of massive furniture meant that I hardly had the time to sip and enjoy a cup of coffee, or even a free hand to do so. I decided then, that affogato would be the way to go — since it was quick and easy. And while I wouldn’t recommend this as a way to start your day, I rationalized having ice cream for breakfast by claiming that the ice cream was essentially milk and sugar in frozen form. Leave it to me to take what is essentially a dessert and enjoy it for breakfast.
Now, as I think about those countless sunny afternoons in Hawaii, peering into those ice cream trucks, and those many days I spent curating that beautiful gallery space; lifting heavy furniture in the wee hours of the morning, it makes perfect sense that I’d combine those two memories into one love. But, don’t let my play with words in naming this Afauxgato fool you, its the real deal, especially considering all of the health benefits from matcha. And while I still wouldn’t recommend this for breakfast, I think it makes the perfect midday treat — and there’s no need to chase after the ice cream truck. However, it does make me feel like that 6-year-old in Hawaii all over again. Aloha!
Makes 1 serving.
2-3 scoops of matcha, using a chashaku
hot water, not heated beyond 175 degrees F/ 80 C
1 small scoop really good vanilla ice cream
Heat a small bowl by filling it with ½ cup of the water. If you have a tea bowl, use it. Otherwise, a small cereal bowl works nicely. Let the bowl sit for about 30 seconds.* Heating the bowl will ensure the matcha stays warm when mixing.
Discard the water and place the matcha into the bowl. Pour about 2-3 teaspoons of the hot water into the bowl. Using a chasen, whisk until you have a thin paste.
Next, pour about ¼ cup of the hot water into the bowl and whisk vigorously in “W” formation, until the matcha is foamy and frothy.
Add the ice cream and enjoy.
*You can serve this directly in the bowl, or you can decant the tea into an espresso cup, which you can also heat with the warm water.