For years--and years--I have been a coffee person. Growing up in Georgia I was practically breast-fed sweet iced tea. Hot tea is equally unappealing to me. In my career in the food business it is sometimes my job to taste lots of unfamiliar foods, and I prefer to keep things simple. The tea industry is throwing too many flavors into their brews--peach mint matcha anyone?-- and it has not helped. So a coffee guy I stayed.
It was through my work that I connected with Eric Gower when his second cookbook came out and discovered matcha through him. Bracing for one of those times where I had to separate my personal likes with using my palate to judge something objectively, I tried some of Eric’s matcha after inviting him to the store to do a tasting. I was shocked at how much it had packed in there, and WITHOUT any of the bitter cloying “green” flavors I was expecting. I had a great time introducing my customers to it, yet I remained a coffee guy.
Not just any coffee guy. A sugar and cream laden coffee guy. (We will pause for a moment while you judge me….now we shall continue.) Cut to a couple of months ago. My wife was about to embark on a Healthy Eating Challenge, and she (half jokingly) inquired if I wanted to join her in the program. For some reason I said YES right away. She was more surprised than I was. Looking at the packet of info we got I realized how much of my caloric intake was wasted on the cream and sugar in my coffee, even if it was only one cup a day. I cannot drink it straight and haven’t liked any of the alternative creamers that I’ve tried, so I was going to have to find another option and quick. Caffeine, as everyone knows by now, is a pretty addictive thing.
Right before this happened I had procured some of the Breakaway Matcha Blend 97, though from an unfortunate circumstance. The cooking store that employed me closed, and the one jar we had got to come home with me. My caffeine solution was possibly at hand.
Now there are many people more qualified than me to extol the health benefits of matcha, but here’s what I do know. The caffeine from coffee and the caffeine from tea behave differently. In coffee the caffeine is on the outside of the bean and free-form. This is what allows it to be decaffeinated, simply by washing it off in the Swiss Water Process. It is also what gives us the jolt, as when you drink coffee the caffeine basically goes straight into the bloodstream, right through the blood-brain barrier. Tea, on the other hand, has the caffeine molecularly bound to the leaf. So drinking the steeped liquid or, in the case of matcha, ingesting the leaves, doesn’t have quite that effect. The caffeine is processed through our digestive system. The caffeine molecules also bind with the amino acid l-theanine, which slows the absorption rate and functions as a time-release effect
I really didn’t have high hopes for the experiment, but did feel committed to see it through. There have been days in the past when I skipped coffee, and those days usually did not turn out well. I was bracing for that when I started the program and dutifully brewed up a shot of matcha. I prefer the intensity of the espresso style shot I learned how to make from Eric rather than a full cup of tea.
The flavor reminds me of a rich mushroom broth in some ways. Earthy without tasting like dirt, hints of grass without tasting like lawnmower clippings, no bitterness and that umami hit that dances on the tongue for a while after the first sip.
For a month I lived on the matcha, usually one a day, sometimes two, along with the specific eating habits of the program. From day one there was no problem with the switch. The effect of the caffeine feels different. Sometimes I miss the jolt, but not the ones that come with the jitters. I was able to stay focused for the most part but never got the hyper-focus that some people talk about with matcha. That could be that I wasn’t having enough in a day since there is much less caffeine in matcha than coffee, but it could be my ADD.
By the time the eating program was over, I had lost a few pounds. I decided to keep some of the precepts of the program in my diet and, while I’ll have the occasional cup of coffee, I switched my morning caffeine intake ritual to matcha. I’m currently taking advantage of the “Matcha Flights” to try some other blends. Should be a fun trip.