I have been drinking tea since I was twelve years old. It all started with some CTC in teabags, its flavour was very strong even if I did not brew it for long. So adding milk to black tea has been a part of my life for many years. In fact, each time I went out with my parents I would order a tea with milk and cinnamon. This was a rather popular way of serving tea in my area back in the day. The other options available were plain tea or with a slice of fresh lemon. Nothing too fancy...
So do you add milk on all your teas then?
When I started working and earning my own money, I invested in slightly higher quality teas. I tried Darjeeling, Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Prince of Wales... and I would mainly drink them with milk. I barely drank any green teas by then, mainly because the expensive Gunpowder I purchased tasted rather horrible. As a matter of fact, I was lacking tea brewing skills and this is why my brews didn't have a good flavour. Strong, astringent...I think I added too many leaves, to little water and I brewed it for far too long. Then matcha happened, and my tea life changed forever. I grew tired of drinking Earl Grey, in fact I drank so much of it that it made me feel sick each time I smelled it, only recently I have been able to enjoy Earl Grey again in super small quantities. But since matcha was something so new, so tasty, so rich, my interest in Japanese green teas grew exponentially. Still, the thought of adding some milk to green teas felt aberrant and I wasn't willing to experiment at this point. How little I knew that years later a rather trendy combination of green tea and milk would take the world by storm. Meanwhile, I kept sipping on Darjeeling and other type of teas with fancy names that tasted great but weren't that good.
Oh dear, there is tea in my milk!
I traveled to Japan in 2008 for the first time. This trip meant everything to me. I had been waiting to go there since long and worked hard to save for it, I was excited, I was nervous, I was over the moon. Traveling to Japan was an eye opener for me. Not only with regards of food, customs, people, ways of doing things, hospitality... but also for tea.
The first product I tried containing matcha and dairy was ice cream. Dark in colour, soft, creamy, intense, not so sweet. It was delightful! I ordered the largest ice cream they had in the shop, I got an extra scoop since the waitress found my way of enjoying the ice cream rather amusing. How could be possible that green tea was mixed with dairy? And the most worrying part, why did I enjoyed it so much? At this point I did not longer think that green tea and dairy shouldn't be mixed together, in fact I celebrated that such a culinary marriage existed. Many more green tea flavoured treats later (matcha pudding, matcha salt, matcha cookies, matcha cake...) I came across something even more interesting than the matcha ice cream. Its name? Matcha latte. Excuse me? There is green tea in my milkshake!!! But what is matcha latte? Matcha latte is an improved version of the café latte made out using matcha powder and some times sugar or sweetener. Some people add whipped cream on top. A delicious green tea based beverage so good that should be forbidden. I have no qualms about trying new things, specially if food or drink related. So, here I went, I ordered the biggest matcha latte they had, a venti, not knowing if I would really like it. I did. I thought it was glorious. My taste buds thought it was glorious. My friends also thought it was glorious. We all agreed and we ended feeling pretty full since we had a very large matcha latte. Oh, how glorious!
That first matcha latte wasn't the best in the market even. However, since it was the first one we ever had, we loved it. A Japanese friend proposed us to go to a café she knew. Her friend's mum run it. Her friend's mum was extremely nice with us and prepared an artisan matcha latte, with way less sugar, a higher quality matcha and milk. It was much more concentrated, smaller and way greener than the first one we had. This was a proper matcha latte as it should be, made with love and care. Tasting an artisan version fueled even more my passion for all matcha things.
Many more times during this trip I drank matcha latte. It would be impossible to find it once I was back home, so I tried many versions of it, with more sugar, with less sugar, with whipped cream, without any sugar at all, big, medium, small... I ate and drank a lot during this trip I have to say.
Afterwards, my knowledge about Japanese cuisine, culture and above all tea, had grown. I no longer thought that green tea and milk were an aberrant combination. I embraced my new knowledge and I spread the word around. I would prepare matcha latte at home, matcha pudding, matcha sponge cake... You name it. And I would tell everyone who wanted to listen to me how wonderful this green tea from Japan was and how well it worked with milk and dairy. The matcha explosion.
Many years later, matcha popularity exploded. More and more people started to drink matcha, to take photos of the treats prepared with it and of course matcha latte was quite the hit. Since dairy and milk products are extremely popular, it was easier for people to assimilate this new green tea drink. Nowadays, I can find matcha latte in the little local cafés in my city. Who would have thought that such a thing could happen?
I can prepare a really good matcha latte at home, the way I like it, with high quality matcha, no sugar, strong flavour. However, I am always curious about what people are being served outhere so if I see matcha latte on the menu, I will order it. I will evaluate it and I will take notes. I have tasted rather horrible ones, some tasting like nothing special, some others so sweet that my throat hurt, plenty had rather big lumps. All and all, it is not easy to find a place where they really know what they are doing. They just follow the trend and they jump to the matcha bandwagon without much knowledge or effort. It looks great on Instagram though!
The truth is that the best ones I have ever had were either in Japan or made at home by myself. I have yet to find a place in Europe where they serve a matcha latte so good that would transport me back to my first visit to Japan.
Do you know such a place? Please let me know!
But why did matcha latte become so popular outside Japan?
As mentioned above, it was easier for people outside Japan to assimilate matcha latte since milk and dairy are popular products. In addition, it looks really nice on photographs. But also, many people don't like or cannot drink coffee, so a tea based drink that looks rather similar is a fancy one. Plus the vegetarian/vegan/healthy lifestyle popularity was increasing and matcha could be mixed with vegetable drinks of all sorts. Matcha is healthy, has virtually no calories, no sugar content and goes well with almost anything.
I must confess I do not like matcha latte that doesn't have dairy in it. I have tried, but the flavour of the vegetable drinks kill the matcha for me. Coconut, almond, pea, cashew, hazelnut, rice, oats... you name it. They all have an undesired flavour that overpowers the matcha. I have tried different brands of the same type of vegetable drink, with the same results. Not for me! However, mixing the matcha with some goat milk has been an amazing culinary experience. What are your thoughts about this? Have you tried matcha latte before? How did you like it? If you haven't tried it yet, are you curious about how does it taste having green tea in your milk?
I would love to know your opinion, comment below! Thanks for reading me!