Twenty years ago, you were unlikely to see matcha outside of Japanese restaurants and Asian grocery stores. But in the past 5 years, matcha tea has steadily gained consumer interest in the United States. Is your restaurant ready to get in on the trend? Here’s a list of 4 ways your restaurant can incorporate this increasingly popular ingredient into your offerings!
But First: What Is Matcha?
Matcha is a type of ground green tea — in Japanese, ma means “ground” and cha means “tea.” Like the name suggests, matcha differs from regular green tea in one simple but very important way: with regular green tea (just like with black tea), you add the tea leaves to hot water, steep for a short time, and then remove and discard these leaves. But with matcha, the leaves have already been ground into a powder so fine that it’s almost silky.
To “brew” matcha, you stir the powder into the water just as you would with a chocolate mix for hot cocoa. There is no tea bag to remove afterward, and your matcha is ready for consumption immediately after stirring! This also means matcha is, technically, a “whole leaf” tea which provides a different flavor, mouthfeel, and nutritional profile from regular loose leaf green tea.
- Give Your Diners a New Experience
American consumers are always looking for a new experience, but they don’t like to be scared off by something completely alien. Matcha is the perfect blend of novelty and familiarity: it’s still green tea—something that most consumers are comfortable with—but it’s presented in a new (and exciting) way.
Providing matcha tea to your customers could also be an opportunity for your restaurant to expand sales in the lucrative beverage category. For customers who don’t want soda, coffee, alcohol, or traditional black tea, matcha presents a luxury alternative—“luxury” because matcha is not the generic pot of green tea that many Asian restaurants give customers just for walking in the door. This is a high-quality beverage that costs more to procure and commands a premium on menus. In this regard, matcha is more like a fancy cappuccino and less a cup of basic drip coffee.
Additionally, many Americans still have yet to try matcha, so it holds the appeal of a surprise, brand new product. Give it a place of prominence on your menus, with some text to entice diners into trying it, or suggest it as a recommended pairing with popular dishes and specials. You can also have wait staff recommend it. Matcha can accompany any part of the meal—appetizers, entrees, even desserts—so it’s up to you to choose how you want to advertise it in your business.
- Round Out Your Healthy Offerings
Matcha has numerous documented health benefits that go above and beyond regular green tea. Because you’re ingesting the entire tea leaf when you drink it, matcha’s health effects tend to be more intense than regular tea, with higher concentrations of various minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients. Matcha tea is actually even considered a “superfood!”
If you’re trying to carve out a “healthy” section in your menu (or if your entire menu is health-oriented), matcha can help round out your healthy beverage options.
The other health-oriented selling points of matcha include:
- It’s vegan.
- There are a variety of organic matcha options available.
- It’s not a processed food.
- All authentic matcha tea comes from Japan, a country known for being one of the healthiest societies in the world.
- Use Matcha in Blended Drinks
The classic way of consuming matcha is to drink it like you would an ordinary cup of hot tea. This is still by far the most popular way of consuming matcha, but matcha as a plain beverage isn’t experiencing the same growth as its other uses. To the extent that more Americans are trying matcha for the first time, they’re often not drinking it the traditional way.
One of the fastest-growing alternative ways of consuming matcha is to incorporate it into blended drinks. In the last 10 years, matcha has become a staple in many coffeehouses, including Starbucks who sells a popular matcha latte.
But you can go farther than just the world of coffee-type drinks. Matcha’s well-rounded, grassy flavor and delicate sweetness lends itself exceedingly well to shakes and smoothies, where it combines pleasantly with various fruits, juices, and dairy (as well as plant-based dairy substitutes). This tends to overlap with matcha’s reputation as a health food: many people take a canister of matcha with them to places like the gym and the office so that they can blend healthy smoothies and shakes-on-the-go.
- Don’t Just Drink It: Eat It!
You may have seen matcha show up as a designer food ingredient, adding color and flavor to bakery items like cheesecake and tarts. This is another rapidly growing category for matcha, and it offers multiple pathways for you to boost sales.
For example, when matcha is incorporated into a cheesecake, there are two benefits: First, the cheesecake looks visually more appealing. Second, the matcha cuts the richness of the fat and adds a layer of complexity to the overall flavor.
Food-grade (or “culinary”-grade) matcha—which is a step down from drinking-grade (or “ceremonial”-grade) matcha—is more bitter, which is actually an advantage in food, since a dash of bitterness combines quite nicely with many different kinds of dishes. You’ll find recipes using matcha in just about every dish you can think of, from risotto to hamburgers. This isn’t to say that it’s a good idea to add matcha to every recipe, but the extent of culinary experimentation happening in America right now is a testament to matcha’s versatility as a food ingredient.
Matcha is a fairly new arrival to the American palate and has experienced years of steady growth. Its simplicity means that many restaurants can incorporate it into their existing operations with minimal complications. So, whether you’re thinking of presenting it as a premium upsell to regular green tea or of mixing it into frosting for your cookies, if you can find a place for it on your menu and are looking to boost sales on the margins, matcha might just be worth a closer look.