Breakaway Cook

Breakaway Matcha at the Remodelista Market in Marin, December 3

 

 

It’s happening again! For those of you who couldn’t make it last year, we’ll be frothing up cups of the tastiest matcha on earth next Saturday, Dec 3, in Larkspur Landing, in Marin County. It’s sponsored by the wonderful folks at Remodelista, headed by my long-time good friend Sarah Lonsdale.

It’s an excellent chance to pick up all your xmas gifts early (and be done with it). Breakaway Matcha is in excellent company (check out the list of vendors below), but here ar the essential details:

  • Date: Saturday, December 3rd, 10am to 4pm
  • Location: Marin Country Mart, 2257 Larkspur Landing Circle, Building B, Larkspur CA 94939.
  • Parking: Free, or just hop on the Golden Gate Ferry to Larkspur Landing (Marin Country Mart is across the street). Coming by car? Directions here.
  • Admission: Free; lunch offerings from The Farmer’s Wife.

I’ve also got a good supply of lovely black cotton furoshiki, in which I’ll be wrapping matcha gift sets. Do come by, say hello, and have a cup if you can.

Vendors include: Ambatalia Fabrics, BFF Bags, Breakaway Matcha, CC Made, Cocoa, Dagmar Daley, Erica Tanov, Foraged Flora by Louesa Roebuck, Heidi Swanson 101 Cookbooks, Heritage Culinary Artifacts, June Taylor Jams, Marie Veronique Organics Skincare, Mato Creative, Mint Design Play, Pope Valley Pottery, Public Bikes, Richard Carter Studio, Rough Linen, Sefte Living, Studiopatro, Whim and Caprice.

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Daily Candy Discovers Breakaway Matcha!

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Any Daily Candy fans out there? To our great delight, their curators have discovered Breakaway Matcha. They often feature great stuff — check them out. It’s a big coup for us, for sure — lots of new matcha family members already.

Who is Daily Candy? From their website:

“DailyCandy is dedicated to helping you live the sweet life. DailyCandy editors scour the corners of the U.S. and London to deliver the very best in style, food, fashion, and fun for free via email, video, and the Web. Want the latest and greatest? Sign up for the DailyCandy email. Need help navigating your city? Visit DailyCandy.com, the new one-stop for what to do, shop, see, and eat in your city and beyond. It’s your life — curated by DailyCandy.

Lots more on beautiful matcha at Breakaway Matcha.

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Matcha and Chocolate Tasting at TCHO SF, September 24, 5pm

Artisanal matcha is one of those drinks that’s best imbibed on its own; most foods just interfere with and often obviate the delicate umami and acid structures of the tea. Matcha is almost like a food itself, really, with its chewy and creamy textures; it really doesn’t need much, if any, accompaniment.

But there’s one big exception to that rule: great chocolate. Artisanal chocolate and artisanal matcha play incredibly well together.  The combination is a rare one, one whose sum is far greater than its parts. Both are laden with umami, have perfectly balanced acid structures, and have long finishes. Taken together, the experience intensifies into a calm elation that must be experienced to be believed.

I’m really happy to announce that Breakaway Matcha has partnered with TCHO chocolate, the SF-based obsessive makers of some truly dreamy chocolate. It’s almost scary how well our matcha goes with their chocolates.

So come taste! It’s only $20 to sample all three matcha blends and the complete TCHO line. The event takes places at TCHO’s trippy and wonderful headquarters on Pier 17, and we’re limiting it to just 20 people so that it can be as intimate as possible. From 5 to 6 pm on Saturday, Sept 24.  Write Tyler at [email protected] to reserve a spot. It will be a perfect unique start to your Saturday evening! Check out the cool flyer they made for the event. And come join us!

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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 Kitchn.com. “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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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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World-Class Wine, World-Class Matcha. Cooking Wine, Cooking Matcha

Drinking world-class matcha is SO much like drinking a truly great wine. Forget the health benefits of either for a moment, and let’s just concentrate on taste.

World-class matcha — and yes, I do count all three grades of Breakaway Matcha in this category — really is like a world-class red like Domain Romanée-Conti in many respects:  both are heady, have perfect balance, have umami in spades, have acidity that’s racy and almost electrifying, have multilayered flavors and aromas on both front and mid palate, and have a long, smooth finish.

Lots of agricultural similarities, too: geography, soils, amount and intensity of sunlight, humidity,  rain, harvest time, fertilizer . . . .

And then we have similarities of craft: harvest timing, inherited knowledge, method of picking, processing procedures, aging, blending … ALL of these factors dramatically affect the final product, be it matcha or wine.

That said, it’s also important to note that, just as there is no shortage of truly bad wine in the world, the markets are full of very, very poor quality matcha. Much of it starts off bad (by poor/cost-cutting agricultural techniques, and by machine harvesting new growth, stems and all) and winds up much worse: poor storage, excess supply, and a “race to the bottom” in price all add up to matcha that is either sugared (meaning, sugar has been added to it to make it palatable), badly oxidized (resulting in a hay-like colors and aromas), or simply lifeless and dead, bitter, dusty, and forgotten.

It is vile stuff; most unfortunately, this dead, cheap matcha is the only experience with matcha that many people have. If you’ve tried matcha and didn’t like it, join the club. That is what you had, and it’s ubiquitous.

Bad matcha is actually much worse than Two-Buck Chuck; it’s more like pouring a glass of “cooking wine.” Which is what it is, in essence:  most matcha is meant for culinary purposes. It may still have enough of a “matcha” taste to taste ok as green tea ice cream, as cookies and cakes and all kinds of confections. The fats and sugars in those confections will often mask off-flavors, and the result will be quasi-acceptable.

Great matcha is very, very different. It is meant to be drank, like wine, not used as a cooking ingredient. (I doubt there is anyone on earth who dumps half a bottle of Echezeaux into a pasta sauce.) All of the amino acids, umami, and acid structure of great matcha remain intact when brewed into a nice cup, but are destroyed/rendered undetectable if fat, sugar, and heat enter the picture.

So: think of great matcha as great wine. And think of culinary matcha as cooking wine. The parallels are pretty much exact.

But in another important sense, great matcha is the antiwine: instead of the soporific effects associate with alcohol, matcha provides a calmly stimulating effect, perfect for sipping throughout the day and becoming supremely productive.

One more difference, while we’re pointing out differences: cost.

  • Grand Cru Burgundies: $200/glass
  • “Cult” Napa wines: $75/glass
  • Excellent Napa cabernets: $30/glass
  • Mediocre Napa cabernets: $10/glass
  • Breakaway Matcha Blend 100:  $ 3/cup

Yes, the most delicious, rare, and healthful drink on the planet costs about 1/10th that of a quality cabernet, and even less less than a glass of subpar wine. Great news for hyperpremium matcha drinkers! AND great news for serious wine drinkers: if you’d like an Echezeaux-like experience that you drink all day long and that makes you MORE focused, calm, and awake, look me up!

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Matcha and Radiation Fears

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This photo is one of the tea fields from Nishio, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, where our top matcha, Breakaway Blend 100, is produced. The bamboo scaffolding and black netting on top are there to shade the leaves during the last eight weeks or so of new growth, so that the leaves can retain all of their umami-laden amino acids when they get steamed, dried, and ground into matcha. Direct sunlight would turn the leaves quite dark, and would cause these amino acids, notably L-theanine, to get converted into catechins and thus make the tea less sweet and more astringent, like other green teas.

I’m sure that many of you, like me, have been worried about the effect of the Fukushima nuclear disaster on this matcha. Thankfully, all three of my suppliers (one in Nishio and two in Uji/Kyoto) have not only assured me that no radiation whatsoever has been detected in their areas, they’ve been sending weekly and sometimes daily reports from third-party labs. They are monitoring the situation as one would expect hyperthorough Japanese scientists and engineers to measure and monitor it.

Although radioactivity can in rare instances get airborne and form “plumes” that can travel thousands of miles, the fact is that radioactivity weakens in inverse proportion to the square of the distance between two points.

Again, there has been NO radioactivity reported in either Nishio or Kyoto, which are roughly 600 and 800 km, respectively, southwest from the Fukushima reactors. Moreover, prevailing winds in Japan tend to blow eastward. Tiny amounts of radiation, under 0.0001 msv (millisieverts), have been detected in parts of Tokyo, but what does that number mean? For comparison, an x-ray of the stomach radiates at about 0.6 msv, and a CT breast scan clocks in at around 6.9 msv. One report said that humans are on average exposed to roughly 1.5 msv per year, just in the form of cell phones, plane rides, and other aspects of normal daily life.

Japanese and IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors are rigorously testing all foods and banning export of all products that show unusually high readings. This is how Joshua Kaiser, the founder of Rishi Tea (which has truly excellent Japanese sencha and other stellar teas) put it recently:

“It is important to support Japanese farmers and, so far, there is no evidence that Japanese tea is at risk of radiation contamination, especially tea harvested or stocked before the disasters. The tea harvested and stocked before the disasters is already in the market and available for purchase. Avoiding Japanese tea for fear of radiation would be an overreaction at this point in time because what you are buying now has already been harvested, sealed, and exported well before the earthquake hit.”

This is the case with Breakaway Matcha, and all other matcha as well. All Breakaway Matcha in stock is from the 2010 harvest, and was sitting in the Breakaway Matcha freezers long before the earthquake hit.

The 2011 harvest will take place in late May, and you can bet I will be monitoring events extremely closely. We wouldn’t dream of buying matcha that hasn’t been thoroughly tested and examined for traces of radiation, and the ethical farmers I work with wouldn’t sell it in any case.

So please — don’t worry! If anything, there’s never been a better time to drink matcha: our bodies can use the maximum immunity boost that it gives! Please do show your support to these incredible farmers who have, through no fault of their own, been hard hit not only by the many aftereffects of this horrific disaster but also by fear, however misplaced.

Plenty more at http://breakawaymatcha.com

 

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The Breakaway Facelift! + Matcha Store Goes Live

Well we did it — the Breakaway Matcha webstore is now live! For those of you reading this in a web browser, you’ll see MATCHA on the navigation bar. For those reading this via some other method, please check it out at http://breakawaymatcha.com.

The response to the matcha has kind of blown me away. I’ve put a little of the correpsondence I’ve had with people in the testimonials section of the site; it makes me very happy to know that people are digging it as much as I am… :^)  if you haven’t tried it yet, please do! It also makes a pretty cool gift.

I’m still working on the section I’m calling “master class in matcha” — it’s going to feature just about eveything you’ve ever wanted to know about matcha. I’ll be rolling that out in phases, and adding to it over time, but wanted to make the webstore section live as quickly as possible. So here we are!

You’ll notice — I hope! — that we’ve completely redesigned the website. It was about time, and I want to thank the fabulous Stephanie Sawchenko for all the design work she did.

Feedback is EXTREMELY welcomed — if you find anything that’s broken, unclear, or just not to your liking, let me know. Gratitude in droves to all.

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Breakaway Matcha Ceramics

I’m beyond thrilled to announce that the custom-designed matcha ceramics are finally here! Our humble little office has never looked happier, surrounded with boxes of these  lovely little pieces  . . . they’ll soon be featured on the all-new website, which I hope to launch in the second week of March, but if anyone is interested in pricing or other details, let me know.

This ceramics project started last fall, when I approached the renowned ceramicist Aletha Soule with an idea for custom-made matcha ceramics. Why did I need/want ceramics made for matcha? The internet is full of lovely matcha bowls — and some of them are really dazzling in their beauty — but those bowls are designed to accommodate traditional hand whisking of matcha; that is to say, you need a wide, shallow surface to properly whisk the matcha with a chasen, or traditional bamboo whisk. (They do make sensational oatmeal bowls, however.)

As many of you know, I vastly prefer the handheld electric whisk/milk frother to the bamboo one. The depth and extent of the crema/creaminess achieved with the Aerolatte (my preference, and the only one available at Breakaway Matcha) is leagues better than what is achievable with the traditional chasen. But if you try whisking matcha with the Aerolatte in a traditional matcha bowl, you end up with a very messy kitchen and a very green shirt, because the matcha just flies up and out of the bowl. So I needed a different shape, one that could accommodate electric whisking. You can see the shape and glaze colors we went with (which we’re calling blush, celedon, and eggshell) in the photo above.  The shape allows you to whip up a perfectly frothed cup of matcha in just a few seconds. It then gets poured into these cups:

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Aletha and I designed these cups to be off-center and slightly wabisabi; the glazes resemble a satin matte. The fit in the hand is ridiculously comfortable and right. The cups are the perfect size for matcha: slightly bigger than an espresso cup, but much smaller than a coffee cup. They have an off-center, asymmetrical design that not only feels great in the hand, it serves to highlight the beauty of the matcha.

It is sheer delight to slurp matcha from these things. I think matcha reaches its fullest potential when frothed in a creamer and then poured into small, preheated cups. I like to preheat them with boiling water as I wait for the water to cool a bit before making the matcha. They feel even better when they’re warm, and the tea stays warmer longer.

The breakaway approach to matcha has nothing to do with ceremonial procedures that are in fact a kind of proprietary intellectual property controlled by family lineages in Japan.  I think of it more along the lines of how Italians feel about espresso: as a delicious, epicurean, and casual little treat/pick-me-up. We will eschew nearly all the customary rules regarding the preparation and enjoyment of matcha, and reinvent it entirely. In the same way that breakaway cooking breaks free from traditional culinary constraints, breakaway matcha aims to democratize matcha and to make it accessible to everyone who wishes to have an epicurean experience along the lines of a fine wine, except that it promotes wakefulness, not drowsiness, and happens to have — almost as an afterthought — off-the-charts health properties. But it’s important to distinguish culinary matcha — essentially everything for sale on the internet — from epicurean matcha meant only for drinking, not cooking. These ceramics are for the latter.

The culture of matcha is incredibly rich, and has a venerable history that is simply awesome in its beauty and relevance. But it can be, indeed must be, brought up to contemporary times, to be more suited to the way people live and work today. Enter these hauntingly beautiful ceramics, and “permission” to prepare the damn tea any way you like.

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Matcha and Health

And the matcha story continues.

We’ve received so many requests for allotments of Breakaway Matcha that it’s been a bit overwhelming, though this is exactly the sort of problem I was hoping to have! New clients are in agreement: this matcha really IS like a world-class wine.

I’ve talked about its similarities to wine in this space before, and thus won’t repeat myself, but I did promise to follow up that post with a short description of the health properties of matcha.

It’s a unique challenge for me to present something as both 1) an epicurean experience unlike any other, and 2) a superfood that is quite possibly the healthiest substance one can put into one’s body, bar none. To my knowledge, no food or beverage can make both claims.

Great wines are some of life’s finest pleasures, but anything more than small quantities can have adverse effects on health (not to mention make you drunk or bankrupt you).

Superfoods, including pomegranate, gojiberries, wild blueberries, acai berries, mackerel, sardines, fresh turmeric, ginger, cacao, avocado, dark winter greens, walnuts, pumpkin, and regular green tea — among others that make up the bulk of the bulk of the breakaway diet — are both healthful and delicious, but, even in the hands of very skilled cooks, they don’t really qualify as “transcendental” epicurean experiences in the way that, say, a glass of Romanée Conti does.

Drinking highest-quality artisanal matcha is like drinking Romanée Conti AND getting at least 10x the health benefits of the superfoods listed above. This has been a true epiphany for me: it’s as if my doctor told me that the greatest gift I could give my body and brain is have a few glasses of DRC with every meal, AND that it would result in better focus/concentration, weight loss, fresher breath, bolstered immunity, and an elevated mood that sure feels like what the Buddhists call satori, a kind of calm euphoria. Where do I sign?!

Some basic health facts about matcha:

*   It’s got boatloads of antioxidants, which act as anti-inflammatory and antiviral agents in the body. You can actually measure the antioxidant contents of foods, with something called ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) units. Here are some ORAC numbers for common superfoods: gojiberries 253, dark chocolate 227, pomegranate 105, wild blueberries 93, acai berries 60, broccoli 31.

*   You can break down the term “antioxidants” into lots of components, but one key antioxidant is actually a flavanoid/catechin called EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), and matcha is crazy full of EGCGs. It has roughly 140x the EGCGs of regular green tea, for the simple reason that matcha is consumed whole. It is not steeped or, worse, extracted (beware of health claims for extracted green tea — much of it is bogus). The soluble and insoluble fiber in matcha work in synergy, something that can’t happen in tea that is steeped. It’s this synergistic effect that is responsible for its off-the-charts EGCG count. Wikipedia lists a bunch of studies that have shown that EGCG in quantity can be beneficial in treating brain, prostate, cervical, and bladdercancers. Other studies have posited that matcha helps stave off dementia, promotes fat burning, aids digestion, improves oral hygiene, and helps bolster immunity.

*   Matcha drinkers have reported (to me, and to others) clearer and quicker thinking, improved memory for things like names and numbers, increased alertness and awareness, elevated moods, “calm euphoria,” and improved concentrative abilities for studying, working, or driving. These claims have definitely rung true in my own case.

Lots more to say about it but this post is already getting lengthy. In short, matcha is a bajillion (to use scientific language) times better for you than other teas because all the action is in the leaves, which are savored and swallowed.

Other exciting Breakaway Matcha news: the ceramics have, at long last, arrived! I can’t tell you how these cups and creamers elevate the experience of drinking matcha. I’ll post some photos and descriptions of them in the next entry, but if you don’t want to wait, email me and I’ll pass along some photos.

(photo by Wakeford Gong)

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