You may have noticed a new name popping up on menus across Melbourne. It is usually listed just below the familiar cappuccinos, lattes and long blacks: matcha. It might be tempting to dismiss this alternative as yet another food fad but if you’re sick of the jitteriness caused by coffee or just want a break from the taste, matcha may be the answer to all your sleep-deprived student prayers.
Matcha has long been a part of Japan’s tea culture, and is the basis of the traditional tea ceremony. It is essentially ground-up tea leaves, from plants that have been sheltered from direct sunlight to slow down growth. This helps boost chlorophyll levels and leads to a darker shade of green – a process that also gives matcha its slightly bitter, grassy taste. In fact, it is also prepared differently to other teas, with special bowls and whisks being used in tea ceremonies to ensure a smooth, foamy beverage without any clumps. Normally, you’ll find matcha in the form of lattes, as the milk tones the taste down a little.
The drink’s recent popularity, particularly in Melbourne, can be explained by our obsession with clean eating and exploring other culture’s cuisines. Matcha ticks all these boxes: it has high levels of amino acids and antioxidants which will keep you glowing from within, is culturally significant in traditional Japanese tea practises, and is of course highly Instagrammable, especially if cute latte art is involved.
But most importantly, matcha packs a decent dose of caffeine that has different effects than our usual short blacks and Coca-Colas. Coffee tends to quickly raise your blood sugar levels, making you feel more alert in the short term but eventually leads to a caffeine crash. Some people may also feel jittery, anxious or experience heart palpitations.
The caffeine in matcha, however, affects you in a completely different way, providing a focused and concentrated sort of energy. The drink is rich in L-Theanine, an amino acid that off-sets the negative effects of caffeine while providing a calm sense of focus and increased memory. This means that the energising effect of matcha can last up to six hours, saving you from the painful mid-afternoon crash that coffee binges often result in.
You might also notice clearer skin or a faster metabolism, which are all welcome perks during your busiest times of semester.
In fact, the drink’s energising properties are so legendary that samurai were known to chug down a matcha or two before battle. So, the next time you go into battle (i.e. an 8am tute) you’d be wise to follow in their footsteps and have a nourishing matcha latte beforehand that’ll actually allow you to focus on the task at hand rather than your increased heart rate. Today, Chinese Daoists and Japanese Zen Buddhists also drink matcha for similar purposes, as it allows them to strike the balance between meditative relaxation and mental alertness.
Although this drink is on the menu of many respectable cafes now, not all matchas are created equal. Due to its naturally strong, grassy taste, some cafes will serve it in a highly diluted form or with tonnes of sugar or ice cream. For your dose of matcha, you can turn to Little Rogue on Drewery Lane, one of the first places known for popularising matcha lattes in Melbourne. Their smooth and rich latte stays true to its original flavour and you can even watch it being whisked to foamy perfection. If this is not enough for you and you want to totally immerse yourself in matcha, head to Matcha Mylkbar in St Kilda, where it is included in many of the menu items. However, if you’re more worried about your Instagram feed, head to Eden’s Backyard in Carlton for matcha lattes with adorable bear art. For a more local avenue, try the University’s Tsubu or Castro’s Kiosk for a brew.
If you’re feeling brave after being spurred on by the spirit of the legendary matcha-chugging samurai, try making your own at home. Supermarkets and pharmacies will sell matcha powder in their health food section and T2 has all the equipment you need (at exorbitant prices, mind you). Of course, the internet is always a great place to buy obscure things but make sure to check you’re buying a good grade of matcha that isn’t artificially enhanced.
So, next time you know you have a long day ahead of you, try starting it with a warm bowl of matcha or a creamy latte to keep you blissfully chugging along through your tutes, lectures and study sessions.