Ordering iced matcha lattes is the layman’s leisure. Baristas often prepare subpar teas in a decent but subpar manner, with an overwhelming potential for drink problems. (Unless, of course, you order at the one premier coffeeshop, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.)
The signs of poor craftsmanship are easily identifiable. An unacceptable iced matcha latte is either too watery or too sweet. Bad quality matcha powder lends a disheartening flavor reminiscent of lawn clippings. Clumped powder bits float in the green silk-like slimed popcorn kernels, providing tiny detonations on the palate with bursts of concentrated bitterness. Worst of all, the drink fails the aesthetic test.
Very few in-store iced matcha lattes pass my meticulous evaluation. Because I recognize their divine promise, I hold lattes to a much higher standard. I found that the most reliable method for enjoying the ideal tea is making it myself.
I have been perfecting my tea techniques for years. My ever-evolving tea cabinet at home currently accommodates 11 disparate matcha powders, sourced from Tokyo to Torrance.
The first step in crafting an iced matcha latte is finding the right powder. Matcha powder is like an essay thesis: its strength derives from its complexity, and its arrangement permanently affects how the final product is developed and perceived. For those reasons, the proper selection of matcha powder is crucial, and the best advice for finding good matcha powder is knowing which ones to avoid.
Immediately I reject powders with additive flavorings––pumpkin, vanilla, sugar. These hybrids will taste saccharine and artificial. Sweetness sensitivity, especially, is unique to each individual and therefore necessitates independent refinement.
I also examine the color to select the correct shade of green. Vibrancy indicates a robust flavor. The powder should not look sun-blanched, dull or dark. If the powder is chartreuse or olive, the matcha will taste weak and appear flat. Matcha is the pulverized powder of the green tea leaf––think of the shade you most associate with healthy leaves and select that corresponding powder. My highest recommendation extends to Grand Cru Matcha from boutique seller, DAVIDsTEA.
Water is the largest component of tea, so justly should it receive great attention. Unfortunately, however, water is often overlooked in the preparation process, and the idea of boiling water as a one-size fits all approach to tea-making is a tragedy passed down through the generations. Contrary to widespread practice, water brought to boil (which is 212 degrees Fahrenheit) is best suited for hardy, stout black teas such as Earl Grey or English breakfast. By contrast, the matcha tea leaf is accustomed to a more refined upbringing and expects to be treated accordingly. Boiling water scorches its delicate nature, smoking the flavor and flattening the water. In my experience, the optimum temperature for matcha and other green teas is 175 degrees.
This lower temperature allows the water to coax the leaf into releasing the ideal matcha taste. (An additional side benefit is that, looking ahead, a cooler matcha will keep ice melting to a minimum.)
With the matcha chosen and water heated, the next step is the fusion of the two. Of critical importance here is to ensure that the matcha dissolves completely without leaving clumps of clotted powder.
The traditional method of mixing the water and matcha involves a bamboo whisk and tea bowl. By beating the matcha-water solution against the sides of the bowl, the whisk eliminates clumps. This method works fine, but I prefer instead to shake a “matcha maker,” a contemporary tumbler with a caged ball that rattles within a shaker attachment to fully integrate the water and powder. At this point, the water-matcha mix should be a bright, cheerful kelly or emerald green liquid.
I found that whole milk is the best creamer. However, for the health-conscious, I have also found success with almond, oat and hazelnut milk. Most importantly, the creamer must be able to froth and should be cold or room temperature.
I spent years steaming whole milk to achieve the desirable, thick texture of a latte. The fat in whole milk weighs down the liquid into one body, thickening it uniformly rather than into a foamy top layer and large, hot, bottom register. Although the texture was ideal, the milk made the iced matcha latte taste––yes, taste––sluggish and tired. Milk is a trusty companion, but it’s no athlete. Subjecting it to the rapid temperature extremes of refrigerator to steamer and then to ice wears it out.
As a solution, I suggest first pouring cold milk and a sweetener into a jar. The sweetener can be pure cane sugar, honey or simple syrup, but my personal favorite is Coffee Bean’s French Deluxe™ Vanilla Powder. This powder has dehydrated milk as a thickening agent, and it gives the final product a professional taste. Holding the lid tightly closed, vigorously shake the milk mixture until it is foamy and the sweetener is completely dissolved.
The benefits of this method are threefold. First, the milk maintains the same relative temperature. The milk does not become wearied during the process, giving the matcha latte a crisp taste. Second, the milk is cool and will not melt the ice. The more the ice melts, the more watery the latte becomes. Third, combining the milk and sweetener provides for spectacular aesthetics.
Layered lattes are characterized by stripes of distinct ingredients. These layers separate in part because of the densities of the ingredients. The two homogenous ingredient levels in the iced matcha latte are the water-matcha liquid and the milk-sweetener liquid. Because sugar is heavier than water, the milk-sweetener liquid is denser and more inclined to sink.
To encourage this process, I take a clean glass and initially fill it with milk-sweetener. I then place a rather generous helping of ice into the glass. Slowly, I pour the water-matcha liquid. The iced matcha latte separates into a distinct ombre of brilliant green and creamy white. Properly done, it is a thing of beauty. I highly recommend using a clear glass to admire it from all angles.
The last step in the process is its enjoyment. What I love most about the layered latte is its fragile temporality, like a sandcastle at the beach. You have to swirl the glass, and thus merge the layers, so that the flavor will be evenly dispersed. There is something profound in crafting an intricate piece of art, knowing it is not made to last.
The end result is a stunning, delectable, homemade iced matcha latte that is consistently better than an in-store purchase. The best part, however, is enjoying iced matcha lattes with friends and family. Such an enlightening latte cannot be enjoyed alone––that is why my recipe is for two lattes. I never make just one.
For 2 Iced Matcha Lattes
3 tsp matcha powder (suggested: Grand Cru Matcha from DAVIDsTEA)
1 cup water (suggested: 175 degrees)
2 cup milk of choice (suggested: whole milk)
3 1/2 tbsp sweetener (suggested: Coffee Bean’s French Deluxe™ Vanilla Powder)
1 cup of ice cubes (approximately 14 ice cubes)
1. Place matcha powder into a matcha maker. Pour in heated water.
2. Screw on cap and shake vigorously for at least 25 seconds.
3. Twist off cap and set aside.
4. Place milk and sweetener into an open jar.
5. Close jar and shake vigorously for at least 25 seconds.
6. Pull out two clean, tall glasses.
7. Pour 1 cup of milk-sweetener liquid into each glass.
8. Place 1/2 cup of ice cubes into each glass.
9. Pour 1/2 cup of water-matcha liquid into each glass.
10. Stir to combine.
Optional: Place three spoonfuls of foamed milk on top of each glass. Sprinkle matcha powder to finish.