September 1, 2020

What Is A Matcha Latte?

The matcha latte first emerged on coffee shop menus a few years ago, and it has seen a considerable rise in popularity over a relatively short period of time. Its distinctive green colour and uniquely nutty, earthy, and sometimes bitter flavour set it aside from typical coffee shop beverages.

The tea it’s made from – matcha – has been consumed for more than a thousand years. According to some, it also boasts a number of health benefits for those who drink it. But how does it become a latte – a beverage traditionally made with coffee?

Read on to learn about what a matcha latte is and how it’s made.

Lee este artículo en español ¿Qué es un Matcha Latte?

Making A Matcha Latte

A matcha latte consists of matcha powder (made from the finely-ground leaves of certain green tea plants), water, and milk. If the matcha powder is unsweetened, the drink is then often sweetened with honey or syrup. The type of milk used will vary according to preference – as will the amount of milk used. 

How is it made? First, a few spoonfuls of matcha are blended with water to form a paste. Then, steamed milk is added, as it is with a normal latte, allowing baristas to create latte art on the drink. Effectively, the highly-concentrated matcha “paste” is used instead of espresso, but otherwise, the ingredients are the same.

Rob Good owns Kudos Coffee, a coffee shop in Hampshire, UK. He tells me about how he and his team prepare the drink. “We put a spoonful of matcha in a jug with either water, milk, or a milk alternative and mix it using the steam wand,” Rob says. “We found that with a whisk you still have a few tiny lumps in the drink. By steaming, however, you get a nice, smooth finish. Customers preferred it when we changed to this method.” 

Looking to enjoy a matcha latte at home? Well, first, make sure your matcha is suitable for consumption. Quality matcha will have information on its origin or producer. Make sure that it’s fresh (matcha has a six-month lifespan) and kept in a tin to prevent it from being overexposed to heat and air. If the leaves are brown, this indicates that the matcha is “stale”. While it’s not unsafe to drink, the flavour will not be as vibrant as normal.

For a serving for one person, you will need:

  • 15g of filtered water, boiled to around 90°C
  • 5g matcha powder
  • 250g milk (or non-dairy alternative)
  • Sweetener, such as honey or maple syrup (optional)
  • A whisk

Mix the matcha, the boiling water, and the optional sweetener in a jug and stir thoroughly. Heat the milk until steaming (make sure to check the temperature if you’re using a non-dairy alternative) and use a whisk to froth the milk. Pour the milk straight into the mug (latte art optional) and enjoy.

Some variations include serving the matcha latte with cold milk, over ice, or topped with sweetened whipped cream to form a “frappuccino”. One famous variation of the drink, the “military latte”, was created by Hiroshi Sawada, the first Asian World Barista Champion at the Latte Art World Championship. The military latte combines matcha powder with espresso, cocoa powder, and vanilla syrup. 

You may also like Matcha Green Tea: A VIDEO Guide

Are Matcha Lattes Becoming More Popular?

It’s difficult to find information on how many sales the matcha latte generates for coffee shops. However, a report by Zion Market Research predicts that the global matcha market will be valued at US $4.83 billion by 2024. 

The same report indicates that matcha sales are predicted to rise in the USA, Europe, and Asia. Popularity is expected to remain low in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, thanks to a lack of consumer awareness.

Matcha (and matcha lattes as a result) saw a particular rise in global popularity over the last few years. However, it saw another surge in 2020 with the emergence of the whipped or “dalgona” coffee craze. A matcha latte-style version can be made using matcha powder, egg whites (or chickpea water), and a small amount of sugar.

Thanks in part to the health benefits associated with green tea, matcha also seems to be experiencing growth on the back of its reported health benefits. Matcha has followed the same pattern as other drinks which consumers associate with health and wellness, such as kombucha. Rob confirms this, saying that matcha latte sales are “definitely increasing”. 

“We are seeing a similar pattern [with matcha] to when we brought in kombucha, which is doing really well right now,” he says.

How Does Matcha Differ From Green Tea?

Both matcha and traditional green tea come from the Camellia sinensis plant, and both are green tea. However, green tea plants which are used for matcha are shade-grown for about a month before processing. This increases the levels of chlorophyll in the leaves, which gives matcha its vivid green colour. Once harvested, the leaves, or tencha, are stripped of their stems and veins and ground into a fine, silky powder. 

Matcha is also more concentrated than traditional green tea, and has a much higher caffeine level. A standard cup of matcha made with four teaspoons of powder contains around 280mg of caffeine, while a cup of green tea will contain around 35mg – eight times less. This is why matcha powder is often used in much lower quantities, and why matcha beverages are often served in a lower volume.

As matcha is high in antioxidants, a lot of people believe it prevents heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and can even be used as a dieting aid. This has been a big part of its recent global growth. Rob says: “The health benefits associated with matcha are by the far the biggest reason we are seeing people order this drink.” 

However, official information about matcha’s health benefits, given its relatively recent rise in global popularity, is difficult to find. Make sure to check the label or ask a barista when you buy any matcha drink. Some popular coffee shop chains sell matcha-based beverages that are quite high in sugar, and may not be as healthy as you think.

The Different Grades Of Matcha

Not all matcha is created equal, and there are three typical “grades” of matcha that people refer to. Today, most matcha sold is “ceremonial-grade” – this is the grade of matcha used for most beverages.

Ceremonial matcha is meant to be consumed as is, without additives. It is almost always ground by stone. It is the most expensive grade of matcha (US $100 to $140 per 100g). This is because the process of grinding leaves with a stone can be time-consuming and labour-intensive. 

Premium matcha is “food-grade” matcha that isn’t as intense, bitter, or sweet as ceremonial matcha. It is slightly cheaper than ceremonial-grade matcha (US $50 to 80 per 100g) and contains younger matcha leaves for a fresher flavour.

Finally, culinary matcha has a very intense and bitter flavour, and is usually used for baking or cooking. It is the cheapest of the three grades (US $15 to 40 per 100g). While they do vary in price, no one grade of matcha is “better” than the other – they all simply have different uses.

To Western palates, matcha can taste unusual. As it contains high levels of chlorophyll and amino acids, it has a very savoury flavour (also known as “umami”). However, adding milk or sugar can make matcha much sweeter. Furthermore, the drink’s quality and taste will depend on the grade of matcha used, and how it is prepared.

Zach Mangan is the co-founder of Japanese green tea company Kettl. He explains that matcha can be an acquired taste, and says it is one that should not be forced. “Your palate will develop,” he explains. “But it shouldn’t be miserable to drink.”

So, what does the future hold for the matcha latte, and matcha as a whole? “I’m not sure how popular the matcha latte will be against other drinks,” Rob tells me. “But with people becoming more aware of the importance of their diet and looking after their bodies, I see this taking off and being on the menu for some time.”

There is a growing consumer focus on health and wellness that extends to the food we eat and the beverages we drink. As we continue along this trend, the matcha latte (and other matcha-based drinks) could become a lot more popular on coffee shop menus. Not sure whether or not you’d like it? You can use the recipe in this article to try it for yourself at home.

Enjoyed this? Then read Specialty Tea: An Introduction to Tea Cupping

Photo credits: Kiri No Hana, Ilya Yakubovich

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