Samurai warriors used to drink it before entering battle and Zen Buddhist monks consumed it for increased alertness during lengthy meditation sessions. Nowadays the Vietnamese population is stirring it into their bubble tea, mixing it into their waffles and flavouring all types of confectionary with it. Turning the nation green with increasing ardour is the neon caffeinated tea powder, matcha. What started as an innocent food trend rapidly escalated in a full blown matcha frenzy, where residents now live amidst matcha flavoured baked goods, green tinted beverages and everything in between. Vietnam simply can’t get enough of the powdered stuff, but what exactly is being whisked into the local dietary staples that has made it such a fervid obsession?
The origins of matcha can be sourced to the 12th century where it was a focal point of traditional Japanese tea ceremonies called chanoyu, a practice involving milling tea leaves and whisking the powder with warm water. The finely ground form of green tea derives from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, but as opposed to being strained, the tea leaves are directly mixed into the final beverage, meaning precious antioxidants and minerals are not lost in the process. It seems that green really is the colour of health – and although ingesting The Hulk coloured drink won’t turn you into a superhero, research suggests it’s damn good for you. The greener your matcha, the better. If the powder is too dark, it may lose its beneficial properties.
To get a sense of the scale of the powerful punch the powder packs, a single serving of matcha is equal to ten cups of regularly brewed green tea in terms of nutritional content. The key element that gives green tea their signature verdant colour is chlorophyll, which also happens to be an impressive detoxifier that eliminates both heavy metals and chemicals from the body. On top of that, studies found that the consumption of matcha tea helped to slow the progression of kidney and liver damage from Type 2 diabetes.
In Hanoi, matcha isn’t just flavour of the month, it’s flavour of the day – every single day. It’s embedded in menus of most cafés and ubiquitous in products from bakeries to convenience stores. To indulge in a local baked treat, head to roadside bakery King Roti, where fluffy matcha coffee buns are one of the bestselling cakes of the city. Wanna Waffle also serves up matcha infused waffles dolloped with an extra serving of matcha ice-cream, ideal for filling both your empty stomach and your instagram feed. If pre-prepared matcha goods are simply not cutting it, Japan Matcha sells the frozen powder in sachets for the option to have home-brewed concoctions on demand.
No matter if you prefer it hot, whipped, frozen or cooked, matcha may just be one of the healthiest food obsessions to have ever hit the country.