Going Green

Sorry, Saint Paddy. L.A.’s emerald obsession, matcha, comes via Japan

Photograph by Sara Remington

It’s the color of fresh pistachios and packs up to 20 times the antioxidant punch of a handful of blueberries. You’ve seen it in your latte at Urth Caffé (where they’ll draw a Hello Kitty shape in the foam, if you ask nicely). It lends a springlike bitterness to Bottega Louie’s macarons and a grassy hue to the custard-filled doughnuts at Little Tokyo’s Café Dulcé. Most recently it’s been the focus of Matcha Source, a new 3rd Street boutique dedicated to importing, selling, and promoting the ancient Japanese staple. Made from finely ground green tea leaves, matcha (pronounced MAH-cha) is being hailed as a wonder ingredient. “It helps with everything from skin health to metabolism,” says Matcha Source owner Alissa White, a former Web developer who became a full-time matcha purveyor in 2006.

In its most classic, sippable form, matcha powder is whisked with hot water for a thick drink that captures the tea’s toasty, almost medicinal notes. Matcha specialists at downtown’s Spring for Coffee concoct the frothy beverage using ceramic bowls and delicate bamboo whisks, the same tools employed by 16th-century Buddhist monks in elaborate ceremonies. One serving can have the caffeine equivalent of a cup of coffee, and since the entire leaf is ingested, it exceeds regular green tea in those good-for-you antioxidants.

Chefs have caught on to the ingredient’s potential to add herbaceous flavor and color to dishes. During his time at the Langham Huntington, chef Michael Voltaggio created miniature, flash-frozen matcha orbs, like Dippin’ Dots. Chef Ludo Lefebvre has served matcha-crusted turbot at his pop-up Ludobites, and Providence’s Michael Cimarusti has made a matcha-coated marshmallow to accompany a Gruyère gougère.

“Matcha is relatively new to the States,” says White. “People are still finding their preferred way of experiencing it.” Her customers pick up aluminum tins of the stuff to mix with yogurt, blend into smoothies, or use as a facial rub. We like it on a hot day shaken with ice and topped with lemonade.

Open Wide: Where To Get It

Bottega Louie
700 S. Grand Ave., downtown

Café Dulcé
134 Japanese Village Plaza, Little Tokyo

Matcha Source
8036 W. 3rd St., Beverly Grove

Spring For Coffee
548 S. Spring St., downtown

Urth Caffé