Matcha muffins

When-life-gives-you3

I agree it’s not as catchy as the lemons and lemonade but I’m trying to make the best of a bad situation here (i.e. 100g of bad matcha). These muffins are easy to make and taste great but they are not the bright green I was hoping for. To fit the part for this weekend I’ll try making them again with maybe 3 tbsp of matcha.

This recipe is adapted from a breakfast muffin recipe that a friend gave me but these muffins could not be considered healthy. To gain the benefits of matcha it probably needs to be taken withouth sugar and white flour. ;-)

Matcha muffins:

  • 2 eggsmatcha muffins
  • 100g sugar
  • 100ml rapeseed oil
  • 200ml plain low-fat yoghurt
  • 220g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp matcha
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 100g chopped hazelnut

Whisk eggs, sugar and oil together in a bowl. Then add the yoghurt.

Sift flour, salt, matcha and ginger together and stir into egg mixture.

Add hazelnuts and then spoon into muffin cases.

Bake for 20 minutes at 175°C.

Truth or myth: Green tea and weight loss

Well it’s that time of year again when tea is peddled as a weight-loss product. Green tea is often the focus of this attention but a Cochrane review was published in December 2012. This work reviewed all the published experiments that had been done on green tea for overweight or obese adults. The conclusion was that “green tea preparations appear to induce a small, statistically non-significant weight loss in overweight or obese adults”. The study also concluded that “green tea had no significant effect on the maintenance of weight loss”.

The full text of the review is available here and it is worth downloading for the appendices alone. The rationale for the systematic review was to provide healthcare providers and consumers with reliable information on the impact of green tea in weight loss and weight maintenance. The authors only looked at randomised controlled trials (the most thorough of investigations). The studies were all at least 12 weeks in duration and compared green tea preparations with a control in overweight or obese adults who had no other health problems.

Bancha - Green TeaA search was done across a very wide range of databases (MEDLINE, CINAHL, AMED etc) for studies that investigated weight-gain and green tea in humans. The search was not limited by language and around 919 studies were found. 72 of those were relevant and 18 met the criteria of this review (randomised control trial with just green tea, greater than 12 weeks, on participants who were overweight but had no other significant illness) . In total 2,076 people participated in these 18 studies (ranging from 19 to 270 for each). Half of the studies took place in Japan with the other 9 conducted in Netherlands, Australia, China, Taiwan, Thailand and the US.

Higher weight losses were reported in the Japanese studies with eight studies reporting weight losses that ranged from -3.5kg to -0.2kg but overall, the author concluded that green tea produced a “very small, statistically non-significant loss of weight, decrease in BMI, and decrease in waist circumference” compared to those who did not have the green tea. The role of caffeine is not clear but there are some indications that the catechins in green tea, and not caffeine, may have been responsible for the “modest effect on weight loss”.

It’s not very encouraging for people who have started drinking green tea to help with weight reduction but swapping a double-mocha for a green tea would obviously be a different story.  And green tea does bring other health benefits so as the author says “even though the changes may be small, any small loss combined with minimal adverse effects may have an overall positive impact on an individual attempting to lose weight”.

Jurgens  TM, Whelan  AM, Killian  L, Doucette  S, Kirk  S, Foy  E. Green tea for weight loss and weight maintenance in overweight or obese adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.  2012 Dec 12.

Matcha

Matcha (or maccha) is a uniquely Japanese tea that comes as a finely ground powder. It is a green tea, but unlike most teas where the liquid is poured off the leaves, with matcha the powder is whisked into the liquid and ingested whole.

Matcha and chasen (bamboo whisk)

Matcha is made from the tips of budding tea-bushes that have been shaded with bamboo mats (or black tarp) for approximately three weeks of their spring growth. Less sunlight means less photosynthesis, which is how the plant generates energy and grows. Under the shade, the tea plants spread out and become thin and tender. They compensate for the lack of sunlight by increasing the amount of chlorophyll. Chorloryphyll is a pigment that absorbs red and blue light but reflects green (hence the green colour) so increasing the chlorophyll gives the leaves a bright green colour. After picking, the leaves are steamed, air dried and the main part of the leaf are separated from the stems and veins to produce tencha. The tencha is then ground using granite wheels to make the bright green, fine, matcha powder.

The video from o-cha.com shows the covering of the tea plants with bamboo and straw, the shaded hand-plucking and then the processing that takes place afterwards to make both gyokuro and matcha.

Matcha generally comes in three grades. The highest grade is Koicha (thick tea) and this is used in Japanese tea ceremonies to make a dense, viscous tea. Usucha (thin tea) is the second grade and it is used in Japanese tea ceremonies to make a more diluted thin tea with frothy foam. Finally, cooking matcha is used as an ingredient to make food like matcha ice-cream, cakes etc.

Matcha has the reputation of going stale quickly so if you are making the investment (matcha is a comparatively expensive green tea), it is worthwhile paying a little extra for a good quality matcha that is fresh. Matcha is not something that I will always have in the house. I’ll generally buy about 35g and then drink it every day until it’s gone (known in my house as the matcha-spree!).

To prepare matcha you will need a bamboo tea whisk (chasen). It is also helpful to have a tea bowl (chawan) and a tea ladel (chashaku) but these can be substituted with a flat bottomed bowl and a teaspoon. The bowl is pre-heated, then dried and about 2g of matcha powder is added with the ladel. Some people sieve the matcha to break the small lumps but I just break them up with the tip of the whisk. Water at approx 80°C is added and then the mixture is whisked until smooth with a back and forth motion (like writing a “W”) rather than a circular motion. The matcha is suspended in the hot water during whisking (not dissolved) which means that matcha particles will settle to the bottom of the bowl if it is left to stand so enjoy immediately.

I bought my current batch of matcha (Ishikawa Matcha) in Postcard Teas, London and it cost £20 for a 40g refill pack.

Japanese Green Teas

I decided yesterday to taste two Japanese green teas together so I could compare them side by side. The first tea, a Sencha, is the most common type of Japanese Green Tea and would be drank on a daily basis in most Japanese homes.  Sencha is harvested in the Spring from the upper leaves of the tea plant that have been in direct sunlight.

The second tea, a Bancha, is also a common every-day tea in Japanese homes. It is made from later harvests of the tea plant or from the lower leaves and stems. It is therefore a coarser tea and it is considered to be a lower quality and less expensive tea than Sencha.

Although Sencha means roasted tea, both Sencha and Bancha are steamed and rolled soon after harvesting. The difference between the two teas is the quality of the leaves used. Where Bancha has come from lower, older leaves it will have less caffeine and less catechin (antioxidant) than sencha. However, where Bancha has come from a later harvest of upper leaves, it could have more catechins. Below is a short video from My Japanese Green Tea of the steaming, drying and rolling process at a Sencha plant


Sencha is considered a fussy tea in terms of preparation. While Bancha is can be prepared with boiling water for 30 seconds, boiling water on Sencha will bring out the bitterness and kill the flavor so Sencha needs a water temperature of ~80°C and a longer brewing time. For my comparison experiment, I decided to brew them both at 80°C for 2 minutes. If you don’t have a thermometer or a thermostatic kettle (I used my new Breville!), you can guess 80°C by waiting for small bubbles to appear on the inside of the kettle.  The bubbles need to be the size of shrimp’s eyes as opposed to crab eyes (85°C) or fish eyes (90°C)!

Looking at the dry leaf, both are flat leaf, emerald green. From the pictures below you can see that the Bancha includes stems. It probably isn’t obvious from the photos but it is clear when you have the leaves in front of you that the Bancha is also less regular and is more dusty. The Sencha has a deep musky aroma with some sweetness while the Bancha is more grassy with a malty sweetness.

Bancha leaves

Bancha leaves

Sencha Leaves

Sencha Leaves

To prepare these teas, I put 3g of tea in a warmed ceramic teapot and add 150ml of water at ~80°C. I steep for 2 minutes. Both give a yellow/green liquor and both are cloudy but the Bancha is noticeably more cloudy. The taste of the Sencha is bright and grassy with a background meaty taste (unami). There is a sweetness at the start that is matched by a bitterness and astringency that comes out later. The Bancha is grassy and malty sweet with less of the meaty flavor and noticeably less astringency. Both are light and refreshing but I would describe the Bancha as milder, gentler green tea.

I combined each with a small pinch of salt beforehand to see how it brings out the sweetness. For the Sencha it mutes the astringency and gives a rounder flavor but I didn’t notice a big difference with the Bancha. Both of these were samples so I don’t know the price but one of my local tea houses has a Sencha for €11/100g and a Bancha for half of that (€5/100g).