Matcha Macaroons

After writing the prior blog on tea parties, I started looking at different recipes for cookies that are typically served with tea. Macaroons are mentioned, so I thought it would be fun to use Matcha instead of the green food coloring typically used in Pistachio Macaroons to make Matcha Macaroons. A traditional macaroon always contains nuts, usually almonds or pistachios. I was surprised to find that the matcha and pistachios got along just fine when it came to flavor. I filled these with chocolate buttercream to help soften the green tea taste of the cookies. However, you can make whatever buttercream filing you like to put in the middle of the cookies.

Macaroons made with matcha spread out on a cookie sheet.

Matcha Macaroons before baking.

Matcha Macaroons

1/3 cup pistachios (these can be replaced with almonds)

2 tsps Matcha

3/4 cup powdered suger

2 large egg whites

1 tbs sugar

Chocolate Matcha Buttercream filling

1 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature

2oz semisweet chocolate, melted

1 tsp matcha

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cup of powdered sugar

 

Grind the pistachios, powdered sugar and food processors until the nuts are as fine as the powdered sugar. You may need to stop and scrap the bowl down a couple of times to ensure you got as much of the nut pieces as small as possible. In a metal bowl, whisk the egg whites until fairly stiff and then dust them with the tablespoon of sugar. Then whisk until very stiff peeks forms. Fold into the egg whites the nut mixture about a quarter cup at a time. If the oil from the nuts causes the sugar to clump, just run the mixture through a sifter as you add it to the eggs to separate it. The mixture should be fully incorporated with the egg whites.

Pipe the mixture onto cookie sheets to get round circles. You will need either greased parchment paper or Siltpad in order to keep the cookies from sticking to the baking pan. The goal is to get an even number of cookies that are relatively the same size so we can incorporate the filling. If you do not have a piping bag and tips, just cut the corner off a ziplock bag and use that. They will not be as perfect, but still nicely round. You should get around 24-30 cookies depending on how big you make them. Bake for 8-12 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from oven and allow to cool on tray above a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before handling.

Fresh Macaroons Made with Matcha

Macha Macaroons

To make the filing, using an electric mixer beat the butter until pail and then add in the chocolate followed by the matcha and powdered sugar. The mixture will start to lighten in color and expand in the bowl as the sugar is incorporated. In judging whether to add additional sugar, look at the shininess of the cream and don’t be afraid to stop the blend and take a small taste. The filing needs to stay creamy, hold its form on the spoon (turn the spoon up-side down, if it starts to drop immediately you need more sugar) and not feel grainy on the tongue, which will happen if there is too much sugar added.

The filling can either be spooned onto the bottom of one cookie or piped on with an icing bag if you would like precision. An icing knife or straight edge can clean up the edges for you. Add around 1/2 tablespoon of the filing. Of course you can add more, it just may squeeze out the sides and become a bit messy when you bite in. (My six year old thinks this is one of the better features of this cookie). This will make somewhere around 12-15 cookies.

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Matcha Smoothies – A Summer Treat

With summer already appearing here in the DC region, well before its due date, finding cool ways to consume your morning tea, makes it high on my priority list. While usually a purist when it comes to consuming my tea, I will make an exception for matcha smoothies. When cooking with tea, matcha is truly versatile as we’ve illustrated in previous blogs with matcha recipes for ice cream, cookies, and more.

Matcha Organic Cooking Grade

Cooking Grade Matcha Poweder

What is Matcha?

Matcha is typically ground gyokuro though it can be made from other Japanese teas. It generally has the taste of fresh cut grass. Not necessarily my favorite flavor, but it compliments other fruits and vegetables well. Below are a handful of smoothie recipes that allow you to get your morning tea and maybe venture into appreciating Matcha.

Spinach and Matcha Smoothies (Makes 1 16oz glass)

These bright green matcha smoothies are going to taste more like a salad than matcha.

  • 1 cup of loose Spinach leaves
  • 2 oz Silken Tofu
  • 1 Stalk of Celery, trim off the ends
  • ½ cup of water
  • 1 tsp of Matcha
  • 1 tsp of Agave Nectar (or more if you like sweet smoothies)

Blend together until the celery pieces are to a size you like.  Can be poured over ice if you prefer.

Blueberry Matcha Smoothies (Makes 1 16oz glass)

Ingredients for Blueberry Matcha Smoothies

Blueberry Matcha Smoothie Ingredients

This recipe makes great smoothies if you do not like the color green in the morning but still like the flavor of matcha.

  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2oz Silken Tofu
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp Matcha
  • 1 tsp Agave Nectar

Blend together until slushy and blueberry pieces are small.  This will taste more like Matcha than Blueberry.

Banana Mango Matcha Smoothies (Makes 12-16oz glass)

The matcha in this recipe makes turns this drink green. However, the banana and mango will dominate the flavor of this smoothie.

  • 1 small banana
  • 3 medium mango slices (If you cut your own Mango, figure about a quarter of the Mango)
  • ½ cup water or your favorite milk or nondairy milk if you would like it a little creamier
  • 1 tsp Matcha
  • ½ tsp of Agave Nectar

Blend together until smooth.  Add more water if it is too thick for you.

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Jasmine Tea – The First Nighttime Tea

Jasmine teas have been made in China since the fifth century and only began being exported to Europe in the 1600’s. They include teas like the classic Jasmine Green as well as Jasmine Dragon Tears (aka Jasmine Pearls). This hugely popular variety of tea gets its scent from Jasmine flowers, which only open at night.

Jasmine Plant

Jasmine flower for producing scented tea.

Scented tea is often produced using jasmine petals.

The two main species of Jasmine used in Jasmine tea are native to Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, as well as the eastern Himalayan region and have spread into China and across the globe because of humans. Jasmine is actually a member of the olive family. It is a vine that looses its leaves every fall. Jasmine typically blooms in the summer, not early spring when most of the best teas are picked. The flowers are white and open only in the evening when they release the oil that contains their famous scent. This beautiful plant is pollinated by moths, not bees, which are nocturnal insects. Plants that have evolved to have nocturnal pollinators are very fragrant as they use the fragrance to guide in their pollinators. It is believed that the Jasmine plant was introduced to China sometime during the Han Dynasty (200 BCE to 200 CE).

Making Jasmine Tea

Jasmine tea is traditionally made with green tea but you will also find it made with white or black tea. As mentioned earlier, Jasmine does not bloom when tea does. So the tea is picked, manufactured into its green state and then stored for 3-4 months, pending location, before being scented with jasmine. The jasmine blossoms are picked in the morning while closed and kept in a cool shaded place until evening, when it will be applied to the tea. The scenting process is rather laborious regardless of whether the tea is ultimately turned into a pearl or left in its original state of being twisted.

There are typically two methods of infusing the tea with the jasmine scent. The first method is to alternately layer the tea and the jasmine blossoms. These layers are built typically with a fine mesh cloth, almost like cheese cloth in between the layers to allow for the removal and replacement of the jasmine petals. Given the type and grade of tea that the scent is being applied to, the blossoms may be replaced multiple times before the tea is considered complete. On average, it takes about four hours for the jasmine scent to permeate the tea. However, some of the highest grade jasmines may take as long as 12 hours for the scenting application process. The tea is then sent back through the drying process to remove the moisture it absorbed from the jasmine flowers. The second method involves blending together the jasmine petals with the tea and allowing it to sit overnight in a cloth bag to allow the scent to apply. The petals are then removed by hand and the tea is generally rolled into tiny balls, or pearls. Some of those pearls may still have a jasmine petal in them that you will not see until it is brewed and the pearl opens into a full leaf.

Jasmine Tea - Scented Green Tea and Liquor

Jasmine Dragon Tears – Scented Green Tea

Enjoying Jasmine Tea

Like all green teas, Jasmine Green Tea or Jasmine Dragon Tears are best brewed at water temperatures between 170-185° Fahrenheit for 3-5 minutes. A high quality jasmine tea can be steeped at least twice before losing its fragrant nose. If you haven’t had a Jasmine tea before, it is a light refreshing tea made with considerable care.

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Umami, Taste, and the Brain

When you find yourself really engrossed in tea, wine, cheese or other culinary item its not long before you’re searching for the right words to describe the taste and the differences between those items. Smell, texture, and appearance have a large impact on the overall experience and enjoyment of a food, though they impact the overall flavor experience. Taste comes from signals sent to the brain from the tongue itself. A recent article in the BBC reminded us of the role these receptors play, illuminates a bit more about how the brain interprets tastes, and discusses why we loose our sense of taste as we age.

Taste map of old showing sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.

Many of us were taught that there were only four tastes and they were detected in very specific places on the tongue.

Conventional Thinking on Taste

In the early 1900’s the German scientist D.P. Hanig developed the taste map which other scientists later endorsed, though in a form which appeared to show that vast parts of the tongue didn’t taste anything (Dowdy). According to the map the tip of the tip of the tongue could detect sweetness, the front sides detected salty, farther back on the sides the tongue could detect sour tastes, and finally the rear of the tongue detected bitterness. This was the way many of us were taught about taste in school and is still used when teaching taste in many books and on-line references. However, over the past 10-15 years there has been significant work to understand taste.  Among other things, scientists have discovered (or perhaps just begun to acknowledge) that taste can be sensed from receptors all over the tongue.

The Five Tastes: Introducing Umami

Despite what we learned in school, it is generally accepted today that there are actually five tastes; sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. While the first four are quite familiar to us all, it is umami that needs a bit of explanation for many. Also known as savory, umami is much more subtle than the other four tastes. Its is the other taste in foods that we often can’t quite put a finger on. Technically it is the taste of glutamate and ribonucleotides in foods. Umami is often found in meats and fish as well as some vegetables and dairy, notably tomatoes and shitake mushrooms. The term itself means “pleasant savory taste” and was coined back in the early 1900’s by Professor Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University.

More recently, researchers in France have suggested there might also be receptors for fat on the tongue, and according to an article in the New York Times there are researchers trying to isolate up to 20 other tastes that can be detected by our tongue (Smith).

New Research on Taste

On November 8, 2014 the BBC published the story “Brain’s taste secrets uncovered” which turned conventional thinking about taste on its head a bit and inspired this blog. The story in the BBC outlines the results of a new study in the US, and published in the journal Nature. In it, we learn that there are roughly 8,000 taste buds on the typical human tongue, some animals have evolved without the ability to identify certain tastes, and we get new taste cells every forty days or so thanks to stem cells on the tongue.

The meat of the article illustrates how scientists took a close look at taste buds noting that all taste buds can sense the range of the five (at least) tastes, yet specialized receptors within each taste bud pick out the chemical compounds relating to sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. These receptors, in turn, signal specific parts of the brain for each of the different tastes. The rejuvenation process for creating new taste cells every 40 days or so becomes less efficient as we age impacting our taste and raising interesting questions about how we could improve this experience in the coming years.

Implications for Tasting Tea

Loose Leaf Japanese Sencha is Known for its Umami Taste

Japanese Sencha Green Tea Illustrates the Umami Taste

So how do we boil this back down to tea? Well, first of all, we need to dispel with the notion that certain areas of the tongue “own” the identification of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. These tastes can be detected all over the tongue, yet some parts may be more attuned than others to each of them. Its also important to start to recognize umami. We can do this through practice with tea as well as by eating and noting the umami taste in other foods like meats, broth, and certain vegetables.

One of the teas most noted for its umami taste is loose leaf Japanese sencha tea. Take care to steep this with cooler water, around 170° to 185°. This will bring out the sweetness and umami of the tea without causing it to be bitter tasting. As you develop a taste for sencha you may wish to pickup a Kyusu instead of using an infuser or single serve tea bag. The slightly larger holes in a Kyusu allows some of the fine particles to pass through which serves to enhance the texture and mouth feel of this wonderful tea. Through practice you will be able to pick out the different taste components and move on to more in-depth descriptions of flavor.

Sources Cited

Brain’s taste secrets uncovered, by James Gallagher, BBC, November 8, 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-29912877

How Taste Works, Susan Dowdy, howstuffworks, http://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/human-nature/perception/taste3.htm

Beyond Salty and Sweet:  A Budding Club of Tastes, by Peter Andrey Smith, The New York Times, July 21, 2014, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/07/21/a-budding-club-of-tastes

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Green Tea and the Japanese Kyusu

Green tea is often made with a kyusu in Japan.

Japanese Yokode Kyusu

Just as we love to explore the history, culture, and various types of tea, we also are fascinated by the variety available in tea accessories. There are of course many different shapes and sizes of teapots available in western cultures but these are so, well… familiar. We love exploring tea and stories of tea from all sides. If you enjoy green tea then an experience not to be missed is that of the Japanese Kyusu. This small, by Western standards, teapot is excellent for steeping your favorite green tea. It provides an experience of multiple rapid steepings and is ideal for sharing green tea with several friends or guests at once. Correctly steeping green tea in a kyusu will yield a fresh umami (subtle savory taste) flavor without the overwhelming grassy flavor or bitterness often associated with green tea.

About the Japanese Kyusu

Teapots themselves are believed to have originated in China out of necessity for brewing the camellia sinensis (tea) leaf and evolved from there. As tea was brought to Japan by monks, teapots naturally followed. Over time the Japanese experimented and developed their own teapots, producing them from kilns that have been in operation since approximately 1100 CE. In Japan, the sencha style of tea has developed over hundreds of years. Unlike Chinese green tea which is pan fired to stop oxidation, sencha is a steamed product, with some varieties being light steamed (asamushi sencha) and some deep steamed (fukamushi sencha). Sencha is normally steeped at cooler temperatures and has less uniformity in leaf size with many smaller particles coming from the slight leaf breakdown that comes with steaming.In any case, Japanese teapots have evolved over time to support brewing this style of green tea.

Green Tea in a Yokode Kyusu

Geen Tea in a Yokode Kyusu

The term kyusu literally means teapot in Japanese and generally refers to a small clay teapot used for brewing green tea. While the kyusu is generally considered to be a teapot with a large conical handle attached to the side it turns out this is actually a yokode kuysu. There are also ushirode kyusu that looks like a traditional western teapot with the handle attached to the back, uwade kyusu which has a handle on the top, and houhin kyusu which doesn’t feature a handle at all. The yokode kyusu is the most distinctive to westerners though all can be considered works of art. Indeed, if you appreciate the artistry of the kyusu you will find any number of colors and styles available from skilled craftsmen.

 

Green Tea Steeped with a Yokode Kyusu

Holding the Japanese yokode kyusu.

Hold the yokode kyusu with your thumb on top of the lid.

Preparing Japanese green tea with a kyusu is simple though it is a bit different than brewing with single use teabags or hard infusers.  To get started it is best to have some kind of cooling pitcher since we want the water to be around 160-180 degrees Fahrenheit. Pouring hot water from a teapot or kettle into a cooling vessel will quickly allow the water to cool to the desired range after only a couple minutes or so.

Add 6-8 grams or about a tablespoon and a half of Japanese green tea.  Although this style teapot is normally associated with Japanese sencha green tea it can be used with most other varieties including bancha and gyokuro. For what should be obvious reasons this teapot isn’t a good choice for matcha.

Steeping with a kyusu is intended for multiple rapid steepings, so add the water to your kyusu and steep for 25 to 30 seconds.  When pouring a little gentle rocking of the pot will ensure the contents are well mixed and balanced throughout. Pour a little into each cup and then return to add a bit more so that each cup ultimately gets an even balance of flavor and umami.

Green tea poured from a Japanese  yokode kyusu.

Pouring green tea from a yokode kyusu.

Be sure to pour out all the liquid so the leaves don’t sit in hot water.  When ready, infuse a second and even third time.

Finally, be sure to remove all the tea leaves and rinse out your kyusu with cold water.  Do not use soap to wash your kyusu or use it to make other kinds of tea as the clay absorbs and retains a little bit of the green tea with each steeping, flavoring the teapot as its used.

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