Some colleagues recently flew over to Japan, ostensibly to enjoy the fleeting, ephemeral beauty of sakura [cherry blossom] viewing season. (Lucky ducks!) As a result, I found myself accepting bits and bobs of omiyage (homecoming presents/souvenirs) from their trip to the Land of the Rising Sun – and all of them featured matcha (powdered green tea) as the main flavoring.
By now, you’re all aware that matcha is the finely pulverized green tea used for making green tea lattes and green milk tea drinks; it’s also used to flavor a number of sweet treats from mochi and daifuku (stuffed mochi) to castella (Portuguese-style sponge cake) to French macarons. Its rather bittersweet and nutty, almost almond-like flavor has made it popular even among those who would rather have something much sweeter as its flavor profile is close enough to that of either coffee or dark chocolate.
The Japanese have gone the extra mile and have added it to everything from traditional sweets to KitKat bars – and, in KitKats, they shine: the bitter-almond flavor keeps the white chocolate coating from tasting too sweet and balances the vanilla tones in the crunchy wafer.
It’s one of my favorite flavors, so you can just imagine how happy I was to see the following items on my desk:
- Oreo Soft Cookie (sold as Oreo Cakesters in the West) in Matcha Milk – This was very much like a miniature dark chocolate whoopie pie filled with a nutty, creamy matcha latte creme that threw the dusky flavor of the chocolate into high profile. It’s wonderful for people like myself who love good, strong, flavors that are more bitter than sweet. However, this Oreo variant isn’t for everyone, I think: a junior colleague took one bite, turned greener than the matcha filling, and tossed it into the trash without bothering to offer the leftover cake to any of the rest of us; we stared at this act of wanton wastefulness and ingratitude in sheer horror, the wasteful little gastronomical Philistine!
- American Soft matcha chocolate-chunk cookie with macadamia nuts – While the cookie itself was a wonted green from the matcha in the dough, the flavor of the tea was overpowered by the chocolate and vanilla.
- Limited Edition [Spring Only] Sakura Matcha KitKat – Now this was lovely: the matcha was balanced out by the cherry-vanilla notes of the sakura extract used to flavor the wafer, so the resulting bittersweetness also had an appealing bit of fruit and blossom to it. Definitely something to savor slowly together with an iced matcha latte.
It was, to be perfectly honest, like having a little bit of Japan in the heart of the tropics. 🙂