Breakaway Cook

Matcha and Caffeine

One of the most common questions we get is, “how much caffeine does matcha have?”

Matcha contains roughly 25mg of caffeine, which is approximately one-third the caffeine of a cup of brewed coffee. This is by most standards a very small amount of caffeine; it is easily tolerated by many people for whom coffee makes them jittery because all of the other components that make up matcha in effect slow down the release of caffeine into the body. It typically takes a good three to six hours for this minimal amount of caffeine to be absorbed into the bloodstream, and yet the wakefulness effects are apparent almost immediately upon drinking it.

In other words, matcha doesn’t make you “wired” — it’s nothing like coffee. If you’re wary of caffeine, you can relax  (and matcha will make you relax).

By definition, all “real” teas — that is, teas that come from the plant camellia sinensis, including all black, green, and oolong teas — contain some caffeine. It’s built into the molecular structure of the plant.

Matcha is different from coffee, and from other teas, in one important aspect: the caffeine in matcha works in a synergistic manner with all the other great stuff that matcha contains, including hefty quantities of phytonutrients, antioxidants, and amino acids.

This combination of caffeine + phytonutrients + antioxidants + amino acids produces an unusual effect on matcha drinkers: an uncanny ability to focus and be productive over an extended period of a few hours (for some, the effect can last up to six hours). The effect is quite fascinating, and extremely pleasant for most people because there is none of the jitteriness associated with caffeine from coffee.

Because the caffeine molecules in matcha bind to larger and more stable molecules (especially catechins), the caffeine is, essentially, released over time, instead of all at once, as it is with espresso or brewed coffee, into the bloodstream. In contrast to coffee, this timed-release mechanism tends to inhibit any sudden insulin increases, so there is no “crash” associated with quick drops in blood sugar that so many coffee drinkers feel an hour or so after drinking a cup. Nor does matcha stimulate the production of cortisol, the stress hormone, as coffee can.

Our favorite description of the effects of caffeine in matcha comes from Dana Velden, a writer at The “The caffeine hit of an espresso can be a bit like having an express train screaming through the middle of your body: a deep, powerful, jittery roar. I find the effects of matcha to be just as stimulating but in a more delicate, refined way, as if a thousand butterflies have descended on my body, beating their wings until I’m lifted, gently but resolutely, a few inches off the ground. (Seriously.)” Love those final parentheses!

I finally got around to publishing part of the new masterclass in matcha — lots more to come!

More at Breakaway Matcha.


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Gingery Love


It took me long enough, but I realized today that I should be sharing my SF Chronicle articles and recipes here, for those who missed them in the paper. The original version appeared here.


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It seems impossible to imagine nowadays, but I never tasted fresh ginger until I was in my late teens; it simply wasn’t part of our family’s culinary lexicon.

But don’t feel too sorry for me: I’ve spent the rest of my life making up for it. Fresh, pickled, crystallized, powdered, preserved, dried, I consume it mad quantities, and it still feels like I can’t get enough.

I vividly recall the first time I had pickled ginger, that small mound of ginger that comes with sushi. It was one of a small number of “whoa!” culinary milestones that was so different from what’s come before it that it’s not an exaggeration to call it an epiphany. And it was free, at the sushi bar! You could have as much as you wanted! To this day, I still probably eat ten times the amount of pickled ginger as the average person when I go to sushi restaurants.

And then I noticed fat bags of pickled ginger for sale at both Japanese and Chinese markets around town, for just a few dollars. So I began chowing on it, as a snack, with dinner, with all kinds of meals. But one casual glance at the ingredient list on the bag one day also produced another epiphany of sorts: ginger, white sugar, white vinegar, and red dye — surely I could make pickled ginger on my own, using better ingredients?

Why yes, I could.  Homemade pickled ginger made with high-quality ingredients — young, lithe ginger, excellent vinegars, and fantastic sweeteners (artisanal honeys, organic maple syrup, and organic agave)– not only tastes vastly better than its industrial brethren, one would have to conclude it’s better for you, too.

Epicurean reasons alone are enough to make ginger a part of daily life, but its health benefits are enticing enough to begin adopting it into breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.  There’s wide agreement in the medical community that it boosts immunity, promotes digestion, battles viruses, helps nausea, staves off sea sickness, gooses metabolism, reduces inflammation, stimulates appetite, ameliorates rheumatism and arthritis . . . the list keeps going.

I’m partial to its heady, spicy, sweet aromas, and to its bracing clean taste. It lends brightness and vibrancy to everything it touches.  Its pro-digestion properties and cleansing effects on the body are just happy bonuses.

If you’ve never had a ginger blast in a salad, you’re in for a treat. And do try bites of pickled ginger with meat dishes; I like to place a little mound of it next a piece of cooked meat on my plate — a small nibble between bites cleanses the palate in the same way it does sushi. And be sure to use the ginger-infused pickling liquid in salads, it’s beyond fantastic.


Three-Ginger Salad

If you like ginger, you’re going to like this salad, which is loaded with sauteed ginger, pickled ginger, and crystallized ginger. It has crunch and snappiness from the cabbage, firm texture from the edamame, and creaminess from the avocado, all brought together by the ginger symphony.

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons fruity green olive oil
  • 1 cup minced leeks
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • — Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups finely chopped green cabbage ( 1/4 head, about 8 ounces)
  • 2 cups finely chopped red cabbage ( 1/4 head, about 8 ounces)
  • 2 cups cooked shelled edamame
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced pickled ginger (see recipe below)
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced crystallized ginger (see Note)
  • — 2 tablespoons seasoned vinegar from accompanying pickled ginger recipe
  • — Matcha salt or medium-grind sea salt (see Note)
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped, roasted unsalted almonds

Instructions: Heat the butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and fresh ginger then reduce heat to medium-low; season with salt and pepper to taste. Gently cook until soft, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Combine the red and green cabbage, edamame, pickled ginger, crystallized ginger, the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and vinegar in a large bowl; mix well (your hands work best). Add the reserved leek mixture, and combine. Season liberally with matcha salt or sea salt and pepper. Taste, and add more vinegar, if desired.

Halve the avocado, slice each half lengthwise into 1/2-inch wide wedges, and remove the peel. Then cut each wedge into 1-inch pieces. Add to the salad, and mix gently. Serve, topped with a scattering of chopped almonds.


Breakaway Pickled Ginger

Traditional gari, as it’s called in Japan, is made from rice vinegar and white sugar, but it’s much better when made with quality ingredients. Fruit vinegars – raspberry, fig, and Muscat – work especially well, but so do balsamics and wine vinegars. For the sweetener, try agave nectar, a good local honey, maple syrup, or your favorite sweet syrup. I’ve even used excellent jam to great effect. Mature ginger will also work, but the young variety is superior – check produce specialists like Berkeley Bowl or any Asian market. The dish is still good with older ginger, too, so if you can’t find young ginger don’t let that stop you from making it. I use an inexpensive plastic Japanese-style Benriner mandoline to slice the ginger, but you can also use a sharp knife or vegetable peeler. The formula is easy to remember: 1 part ginger, 1 part vinegar, and a touch of sweetener (to taste).

  • 1 cup shaved baby ginger (see Instructions)
  • 1/2 cup fruit vinegar 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey, or to taste

To shave the ginger, use a spoon to peel off the skin, then slice it very thinly with a knife, vegetable peeler or mandoline.

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the ginger, and blanch for 2 minutes. Drain, and transfer the ginger to a bowl. Add the vinegars and honey, and mix well.

Transfer to a jar and refrigerate. The flavors are excellent immediately, but will improve with time. And it seems to keep forever.

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A Quick Way to Great Pizza

I must say for the record: having a small child DOES impact one’s everyday cooking. It’s often a race to get something good on the table by about 6:30, since Daphne goes to bed by 7:30 or so. We’re believers in not only eating dinner together every night, but also in serving Daphne the same thing we eat — no separate “child friendly” dinners here at Breakaway Central.  I figure that the wider a variety of foods Daphne eats, the more adventuresome she’ll be with food (and maybe other things too) later on. (She sometimes reaches for her tongue with alarm if something is aggressively spiced, but she gets over it quickly!)

Daphne’s vocabulary is exploding, and one of her favorite words is “pizza” (it does feel good to say, especially when you really accentuate the first syllable). So I’ll rummage through the fridge and garden to collect a few things, turn the oven on to 550 (with pizza stone inside), and begin preparing the world’s simplest pizza.

Breakaway cooking has always been about little “tricks” that save time and hassle. And what I’m about to say is sure to disappoint a few people, but here’s a valuable trick/tip: buy your pizza dough at Trader Joe’s. It’s sold in the refrigerated section near the tofu, in a plastic bag, for about a buck, and is ready for immediate use. You just lightly flour a pizza peel and spread out the dough, forming a small mound around the perimeter. The dough even freezes well, so I’ll buy four or five at a time. I then simply transfer one from freezer to fridge, where it will live for a day or two, ready to be pulled out on a moment’s notice.

I usually just saute an onion with some fresh rosemary and thyme and oregano and maybe some garlic confit, and toss in a veggie or two — summer squash, mushroooms, fennel — and lightly cook. The dough then gets sprayed with plenty of olive oil and  slid on to the pizza stone and baked, sans toppings, for a few minutes to let the whole thing get exposed to blasting heat. Then the veggies go on, followed by a little cheese (I’m kind of a minimalist with the cheese, to the great consternation of European Delia, who always wants more cheese). When it’s done, about five minutes later, I’ll usually add very generous lashings of black pepper and good salt, followed by a big toss of chopped fresh herbs. Sometimes tomatoes go on, uncooked, if we have them, and maybe a final fleck of shaved pecornino. Total prep is about 10 minutes, and baking time is about the same.

Anyone else a fan of this dough?

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Matcha Tea Party at SF Zen Center


Please be free, dear matcha fans, this coming Sunday, August 7, from 2 to 4:30 pm: we can hang out together in the Julia Morgan-designed dining room of the San Francisco Zen Center (at the corner of Laguna and Page), taste several of the world’s best matcha, and cook up a few dishes together to go with the tea. Final menu not set yet but I’m thinking the matcha carrot cookies and some matcha truffles. I’ll be talking at length, and quite casually, about this magical substance, its history (especially its connection with zen buddhism), how good it is for you, and how to develop a daily matcha practice/create your own tea ceremony. A delightful afternoon of wakefulness and epicurean enchantment awaits you, co-led by our favorite monk and cook, Dana Velden.

Would love to see you there! Details are here.  To register or to ask questions, call 415-475-9362.

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