Matcha is nothing new. The Japanese-grown green tea has been enjoyed for centuries.
However, according to a 2017 Google trends report, matcha — along with other earthy flavors like turmeric and ginger — is surging in Western countries, including the United States, where since 2015, matcha beverages have experienced 202 percent year-over-year growth. Earlier this month, New York’s MatchaBar, whose high-profile backers include Drake and Ansel Elgort, announced it had raised $8 million for its matcha cafe concept.
Matcha, meanwhile, is inspiring new heights of creativity, far beyond the humble frozen mochi bites and frothy lattes that catapulted the green tea to mainstream fame. In the Bay Area, matcha is being featured in a range of desserts — from tarts and madeleines to delicately multi-layered crepe cakes — at a growing number of restaurants and cafes.
Valencia Street’s months-old Stonemill Matcha (561 Valencia St.) is dedicated entirely to matcha, and although the main draw is the cafe’s wide variety of tea drinks, pastry chef Mikiko Yui’s delightfully elegant sweets steal the show.
For Yui, whose resume includes Coi and State Bird Provisions, matcha imparts a pleasant bitterness that helps cut the richness of desserts and pastries.
“People add salt and acid to cut fat,” says Yui. “Matcha does the same thing.”
Among her creations, you’ll find matcha cream pie and a yuzu meringue tart (see recipe) with a crust that’s made with almond flour and, you guessed it, matcha. (She’s also experimented with matcha in canalés.)
In Milpitas, Anton SV Patisserie owner Anthony Tam specializes in just one dessert: high-end mille-crepe cakes that cost $88 each.
Tam, who comes from a family of bakers with businesses in Malaysia and Singapore, says that the two most popular flavors on the menu are a Hokkaido milk crepe that’s dusted with activated charcoal — and a matcha version that is made with premium-grade tea.
Although the patisserie doesn’t have a retail storefront, Tam’s cakes can be found by the slice at a handful of Bay Area cafes, including San Francisco’s Sno-Crave Tea House and Cupertino’s Cafe Lattea. Whole cakes, meanwhile, take up to two hours each to make — and come with that hefty price tag for a 7.5-inch cake. The cakes are available for pick-up and delivery through his website (www.antonsvpatisserie.com).
You’ll also occasionally find matcha mille-crepe cakes on the menu at SoMa lunch spot Sue’s Kitchen (303 Second St.), which serves deco-sushi, a type of especially adorable and colorful sushi that are meant to be a feast for the eyes. Along with savory food, owner Sueko Matsumura Ng creates an assortment of matcha-flavored desserts such as madeleines (see recipe), brownies, cheesecake and tiramisu.
Matsumura Ng lived in Kyoto — the heart of matcha production — during her college years and indulged in a lot of matcha desserts. She moved to the U.S. in 2006 to study public health and nutrition, but it was a longtime love of food and cooking and, as she puts it, “a desire to communicate with people through food,” that led her to open her restaurant.
Given her background, it’s not surprising that Matsumura Ng believes matcha’s healthful properties — it’s rich in antioxidants and amino acids — have helped increase the tea’s popularity in recent years.
But beyond its culinary and flavor attributes, there’s another reason the centuries-old powdered tea has seen a boost.
“I have a one-word answer: Instagram,” says Eric Gower, a former Chronicle contributor and founder of San Anselmo’s Breakaway Matcha, which provides green tea to notable Bay Area restaurants, including Single Thread, Saison and Benu.
Matcha’s vibrant — almost hallucinogenic — green hue certainly does seem to be made for posting food photos on social media. (Search #matcha on Instagram and there are well over 3.5 million posts.)
That’s a fact not lost on Tammy Boonlieng, owner of San Francisco’s U :Dessert Story (3489 16th St.).
“If you make a pretty dessert, it becomes very Instagrammable,” Boonlieng says.
At her 2½-month old Castro cafe, Boonlieng and her team crank out a variety of interactive and photo-friendly Asian desserts like bingsoo (Korean snow ice), kakigori (Japanese snow ice) and mango sticky rice toast. The shop even has a wall where guests can pose for photos with their desserts.
Boonlieng, of course, offers a huge selection of green tea drinks, including lattes and a fantastic matcha float. But the headliner? A chocolate matcha lava cake (see recipe), modeled on the famous 1980s sensation. In the original, liquid chocolate spilled out when the cake was cut. This version has a molten white-chocolate river tinted a verdant hue with bright green matcha.
It’s stunning enough to make other sweets green with envy.
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Everyone rants and raves about how great regular Green Tea is for you, but have you ever stopped and looked at how much better Matcha Tea is compared to regular Green Tea?