Over the last few years, we have had the privilege of working closely with Pedro Villalon of O5 Tea. Based in Vancouver, BC, O5 is known for sourcing exceptional quality teas around the world to be served at their beautiful tea bar in Kitsilano. When we met many years ago, we bonded with Pedro immediately over our shared passion for traveling the world to source tea and coffee from producers who we could form meaningful relationships with.
As such, all of the loose leaf tea that is served at Phil & Sebastian comes from O5 — and we knew that Pedro would be the only person we could work with when we decided to add matcha beverages to our menu.
What is matcha?
Unlike steeped tea, matcha is actually a very finely-ground powder of specially-grown green tea that is whisked rapidly into a uniform consistency. Traditionally, you would steep regular tea leaves in hot water, discard the tea leaves, and consume what remains — this is unique in that you fully consume the product itself, lending wonderful flavours and textures to the overall experience.
So… Why is matcha so green?
Matcha comes from green tea leaves of course, but the colour is intensified because of the way it is processed — several weeks before harvest, the tea plants are shaded. This process slows down growth and therefore intensifies and stimulates chlorophyll growth. Chlorophyll is the essential building block of all plants and a key in photosynthesis, allowing plants to absorb energy from light.
The increased chlorophyll growth turns the tea leaves an even darker shade of green, which also increases amino acids, particularly theanine (long hailed as a non-essential amino acid that acts as a relaxing agent without sedative properties — many take L-Theanine supplements in conjunction with caffeine, as it is hailed to have a synergistic effect).
High-quality matcha will be the most vibrant of green colours, as seen below:
In recent years, matcha has made its way into many different products: baking, chocolate bars, ice cream, smoothies, lattes, etc. — but as with many goods, there are varying degrees of quality available. Broadly, most commercially-produced products made with matcha are heavily sweetened which balances out the inherent bitterness of a lower-quality matcha.
Sourcing a high-quality matcha focuses on a few things: the age of the tea leaves, the timing of shading the tea plants, and the processing method. Younger tea leaves tend to be more soluble, more vibrant, and less bitter. The shading process, as mentioned above, is integral to the development of chlorophyll, which of course contributes also to its flavour and vibrancy. Lastly, truly quality-focused producers will pay close attention to the processing/grinding of the matcha — it cannot be heated up past a certain degree, so often the tea must be ground very slowly. It can take up to one hour to grind 30g of tea!
How do you make matcha drinks?
To begin, you weigh out a small amount of powder and sift it through a fine sieve before adding water (hot, or cold — depending on what you are making). The general ratio is about 30:1 – 50:1 (grams of water to tea):
From there, you add water…
And begin to whisk rapidly:
As the image above hopefully illustrates, you must use the chasen (the traditional bamboo whisking tool for matcha) to quickly blend this mixture. The finished product should look a lot like this:
It is thick. It is rich. It is extremely luxurious. We think it is absolutely delightful.
Great! Now what?
From here, you can consume it as it is — or, you can use it as the base of another drink. On our menu, we have opted to create a few beverages in addition to matcha shots:
The iced matcha shot is matcha whisked with cool water, then poured over a small gibraltar of ice.
The matcha cortado is matcha whisked with hot water, with approximately 4 oz of steamed, micro-foamed milk. It is served in a small glass gibraltar and has notes of sweet pea, vanilla, and green tea ice cream. Although it’s not sweetened, it does have natural sweetness derived from combining the steamed milk and matcha together.
The matcha latte is matcha whisked with hot water, with about 8-10oz of steamed, micro-foamed milk. It is served in a 12 oz latte mug with notes of sweet pea, light caramel, and vanilla. This is the best way to start experiencing great-quality matcha.
Where can I try these new drinks?
We will be launching this menu exclusively at Phil & Sebastian in Mission (2207 4th Street SW).
Questions? Comments? Let us know in the comments section below.