Matcha powder, which is derived from the shade-grown leaves of green tea has been around for centuries, but in recent years has gained popularity predominantly through social media. The vibrant green powder packs a powerful punch and is recognized as a superfood, high in antioxidants with a robust, earthy taste. Culinary travellers are on a quest to savour this potent and rich green powder in Japan – a unique way to connect to the culture, one frothy cup at a time.
Matcha, with its bright green hue, is very Instagrammable and popping up with half a million #matcha tags and entire Instagram accounts dedicated to this picturesque green powder.
Traditionally, matcha powder is whisked into a creamy beverage during Japanese tea ceremonies, but has evolved from its conventional use and is now popping up in complex desserts like cakes, ice cream, and mochi as well as in savoury dishes from soups to croquettes. Beyond enjoying the multitude of matcha flavours found throughout Japan, foodies are taking it one step further and experiencing the cultivation process, drying procedure and the dynamic customs of preparing matcha which is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture.
Culinary tourism is a trend in which travellers taste, shop and eat local, delving deep into the unique flavours of the region. In Kyoto, for example, the tea ceremonies and culinary culture are meaningfully inspired by the traditions and the natural elements found in the region. In Tokyo, matcha is infused into everything from street food to high-end sushi establishments. All throughout Japan, matcha can be found in a variety of levels and grades and can be categorized as either ceremonial grade or culinary grade. The differences in the tea grades can be seen in the colour, texture and overall quality along with the fineness of the powder and the ways in which the powder has been processed and exposed to oxygen.
Ben Julius, CEO of Tourist Japan, has seen the matcha madness reflected in 2018 culinary tourism trends: “More and more we see travellers interested in immersive travel which is experienced through food.” He continues on to explain, “Experiencing not only the flavours but also the process in which food is prepared is often influenced directly by the culture, climate, and people of a location, and tourists always want to eat like a local.”
From matcha parfaits to matcha fondue and matcha gelato, Tokyo is filling up with cafes dedicated only to serving this green treat. Green pancakes, waffles and the ever popular Japanese dessert, shaved ice, coated with green tea flavouring are among some of the most popular. Travellers are also purchasing souvenirs from Japan of matcha specific products like a matcha flavoured Kit-Kat chocolate bar or even bright green matcha Oreos. Tourists are filling their suitcases with fan favourites like matcha Pocky, matcha Choco Curl and Pocky Wagokoro in Uji Matcha flavour.
Whether travellers are eager to watch the intricate and delicate process of cultivating and grinding the leaves, tasting some exciting new flavours and local delicacies or engaging in a traditional Japanese ceremony, the matcha possibilities are endless in Japan. Food tourism will continue to bring hungry and yearning palettes to Japan to satisfy and satiate those eager to taste more.
If you go:
Tourist Japan notes that the best season to visit Japan entirely depends upon what you plan to do. With its warm temperatures and beautiful cherry blossom displays, Spring is a great time to see Japan in all its glory while for those who wish to escape the crowds, Winter can be the quietest season. Both March to May and September to November usually see little rainfall and mild temperatures and are great times to visit for hiking…and enjoying matcha everything!