Zen Buddhists might tell you that matcha is a powdered green tea whisked with hot water that they’ve been drinking for nearly a thousand years. But blended with steamed milk in creamy latte form, matcha is becoming a more popular option for D.C.’s health-conscious caffeine addicts. It’s so rich in muscle-building amino acids, antioxidants, fiber and smooth, sustained caffeine (about as much as in a cup of green tea) that Manelle Martino, co-founder of Capital Teas, calls it the “all-natural Prozac.”
“Matcha is overall just a wonderful tea, right?” she says. “It’s a mood enhancer, it gives you energy … and it tastes really good.”
Cafe and spice shop Souk in Capitol Hill has been serving matcha — in baked goods as well as lattes — since it opened last year. Winnette McIntosh Ambrose, owner of Souk and its sister shop, The Sweet Lobby, gets her matcha from the same California company (she’s keeping it a secret) that has supplied her personal matcha fix for years, ever since she got hooked on the superfood while working in Japan as a researcher.
“It’s more floral, less harsh and astringent” than coffee, she says. “The boost that you get from matcha is a bit more sustained than the jitteriness you get from coffee. It’s more of a slow release.”
Most matcha lattes start the same way: with a bit of hot water poured over about a teaspoon and a half of matcha powder, then whisked together to create a green foam on top. Then the barista pours over steamed milk, just like a regular latte.
Souk keeps its matchas pretty traditional, which means letting the tea’s subtle earthiness stand without any sweetener. Other D.C. spots are experimenting: At The Royal in Shaw, for instance, matcha lattes get sweetened with a touch of simple syrup, or even lavender syrup, if you ask for it. Ngan likes his Maketto matcha with a bit of sweetened condensed milk, which makes the drink even creamier.
At A Baked Joint in Mount Vernon Triangle, baristas recommend taking it with soy milk, which brings out the natural sweetness of the matcha powder. (Sister shop Baked & Wired will start serving matcha lattes that way within the next couple of weeks.)
No matter how you take your matcha, D.C.’s experts agree that the jade green color is just begging for some latte art. The matcha latte has to be ready for its Instagram close-up, after all.
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