Coffee and cycling are excellent bedfellows; they go together like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, indeed even giving you a similar level of bounce. The tradition of coffee and cycling runs very deep, not surprising given the Italian heritage of both. Coffee companies such as Faema sponsored the Italian pro-cycling team as early as the 1950s, pro-cyclists used to prep for the Tour with a cup of coffee and Sir Chris Hoy was known to travel to cycling events with his professional standard espresso machine. The growing number of excellent cycling coffee shops such as Look Mum No Hands and Mud Dock Cafe mean we can all emulate these cycling heros pre or post ride ourselves.
But now there is a new coffee on the block - Matcha. Created from using the whole of the Green tea leaf this emerald elixir is credited with having an abundance of anti-oxidants, vitamin c, magnesium, and essential minerals and as described by Japanese Zen Buddhist monks unlike coffee it gives you a steady hit of 'calm alertness'.
It's not actually new, in fact it has been drunk in Japan since 1170 AD and was considered so precious that tea ceremonies created specific brewing techniques for the drink which have been passed down from generation to generation. The cultivation and growing of the tea itself is akin to the artistry of European wine making and it's socially acceptable to drink it before 11am.
Catherine caught up with founder and third generation Matcha Tea producer Akio Tanaka (田中章男) from Matchaeologist to find out more about this beverage drunk by Samurai warriors and to learn the ancient art of Matcha brewing (in 30 minutes.)
Akio says that "the evolution of matcha and its making has been intertwined with the history of Japanese tea ceremony and Zen Buddhism over the past 400 years. Unlike any other types of tea, matcha is a finely ground powder made from stone-grinding green tea leaves grown under unique conditions. Brewing matcha involves whisking it into warm water, as opposed to simply steeping. Thus, the entire leaf is consumed, carrying with it a more sophisticated flavour profile as well as greater nutritional properties than any other types of tea. It is for this reason that matcha has been considered a gourmet delicacy."
The first step in Matcha brewing is adding one spoon of the powder to your finest drinking vessel. then wet with a little water. It is now you start to knead it with a bamboo whisk until it creates a smooth paste.
"As a highly-prized ceremonial delicacy, matcha is generally marked by three key features: colour, aroma and taste. The highest grades of matcha are electric, bl-ish green in colour, in contrast to the brownish green colour possessed by lower-grade matcha. Artisanal matcha will also have an aroma of fresh, young vegetables, almost buttery, as opposed to an astringent, grassy, hay-like scent found in lower-quality matcha. Lastly, when brewed correctly, artisanal matcha will glide smoothly into your mouth, bursting with a symphony of flavours that range from floral notes to savoury-sweet, umami undertones. Fine matcha can sometimes be touted as a green espresso, with a robust body, a smooth mouthfeel, and a long, heavenly finish with little or no trace of bitterness."
Next in the brewing process is adding 70-100ml of warm water (Around 60 degrees C) Ideally this shouldn't be boiling as it can damage the nutrients in the tea. And Akio tells me the health benefits of the drink are abundant:
"The purest and most potent form of tea, matcha has also long been consumed as natural medicine. Eisai, a famous Japanese Buddhist monk, described matcha as a ‘healing medicine for a healthy life; an art for a long life’ (Kissa Youjyouki, 1211). Modern scientific research has confirmed matcha as a great source of naturally occurring antioxidants (approximately 137 times that of regular green tea), amino acids, vitamins, flavonoids and essential minerals. Due to its L-theanine content, matcha also contributes to the state of ‘calming alertness’ that lasts for hours without the “lull” that usually follows a strong coffee after an hour or two. Because of this effect, matcha has historically been used by Zen Buddhist monks and samurai warriors to enhance their mental focus before practicing meditation sessions or stepping into arenas."
The final step is to briskly whisk the liquid back and forth. The more whisking the more 'froth' you will get which gives it a lighter texture.
Before meeting Akio I had never tasted Matcha before so I was excited to feel the benefits of this drink. It certainly felt indulgent as it was served in a Japanese hand blown glass bowl and the iridescent green colour is a feast for the eyes. It tasted light, quite earthly and frankly very good for me, but not in the way Wheatgrass tastes good for you - it's much more enjoyable than that! The taste might take a bit of getting used to after years of sipping the bitter black stuff as the flavour is much more delicate but it's good. But how did it make me feel? It did make me feel quite sharp for the rest of the morning, and there was no raised heart rate that I have been used to from coffee. Admittedly I didn't attempt to cycle with it afterwards and I haven't quite stopped my addiction to coffee but I will certainly think about switching when the options there. And perhaps in a couple of years time the Tour de France will go green and be sponsored by Matcha companies.
If you want to find out more information on Matcha or to buy a starter kit, complete with a handmade bamboo whisk and Japanese glass blown drinking bowl, have a look on the Matchaeologist website.
Thanks to the Pop Up Patio for use of your cafe. http://popuppatio.co.uk/