Friday 24 January 2014

The Matcha Variations


I like green tea: the thick, opaque stuff you drink in the ceremonies. But then I’ve been drinking my coffee black since I was a teenager and the more cocoa solids in my chocolate the better. I’ve got a taste for bitter things and matcha just floats my boat. What I don’t like, however, is green tea flavoured things.

Cakes, ice cream, chocolate: all these things are available in green tea flavour in Japan and they all taste quite simply wrong. Not awful or disgusting or vile you understand, just wrong – like they got halfway through making it taste like something proper and then got distracted by a squirrel – and in many ways this half-completed offness is worse than if these things tasted flat-out gross. It’s a slow-burn revulsion, where you don’t actually realize the thing you’re consuming tastes like shit until you’ve had about a third of it.

“This mouthful tastes a little… Well, like nothing much at all, really.

“And this second doesn’t really add anything to that. Might as well have another to check.

“No, there actually is a taste there, and it’s… I dunno. Maybe one more…

“Oh, it’s not nice at all is it? Is it? Let’s make sure though.

“Yes. Yes, that’s really bad. Take it away. Take it away now please. What do you mean I’ve had too much to get a refund?”


At this point I would usually pull the old ‘trendy vicar’ Thought For The Day bait-and-switch and tell you how this slow-reveal unpleasantness is very much like Jesus Japanese society, but the truth is I’ve got nothing on that score. Like the sad unadorned skeletons of amusement parks that dot rural Japan, standing ragged and incomplete since the bubble burst and construction ceased, this is half a metaphor: a vehicle in want of a tenor. I just don’t like green tea flavoured stuff.

I think, perhaps, the reason I don’t go for the matcha doughnuts and the like is that the conversion process from drink to other comestible usually strips away the one thing I like most about it: that mouth-puckering, astringent bitterness. I don’t know that this is inherent in the process or, more likely, a deliberate act on the part of the manufacturers in order to make for a more widely appreciable product. There’s your metaphor if you want it, I suppose, the homogenizing beigeification of consumer society.


Or we could talk about English, instead: how the utilitarian pressures on the language as a lingua franca inevitably strip it of all its more intricate elements such as ambiguity and beauty and poetry and reduce it to a dull code predicated on filling slots and ticking boxes; how the plurality of individual potential meanings is lost to the brute simplification imposed by the global marketplace.

Or maybe culture: how, in order to appeal beyond its originating locale, the transition from specialized local variants to widespread facsimiles of the same must as a matter of course remove the very aspect which made the original notable in the first place; how commodification axiomatically neuters that which it seeks to commodify.

Or we could even talk about thought and elitism: how the laudable desire to explain complex ideas simply tends to simplify both the language and the ideas themselves, and that specialized knowledge is by its very nature will always be at least partially unavailable to those with no taste for its acquisition, to those who are content with diluted versions of the original source and are, more importantly, incapable of telling the difference between the two.

Or perhaps it’s better if we just left it there. Looking at the bigger picture is all well and good but sometimes it’s OK to spend a bit of time concentrating on the trees and letting the wood take care of itself. At uni one of the guys who regularly colonized the same corner of the library as me used to go through his notes and highlight pretty much everything, which to my mind kind of defeated the point. If you highlight everything then that’s not a highlight, if you see meaning everywhere then it’s all essentially meaningless, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and I really, really don’t like matcha flavoured Kit Kats.

Hell No


  1. 'Adult flavour' Kit Kats are an improvement, however. And again, as often, in full agreement with the points metaphorical and concrete: matcha is a fine thing. Astringency in tea and coffee, and in wines with the body to carry it (Amarone!): delicious.

    Do you drink your British black tea with milk? With sugar (feh!)? Many of your countrymen do, and are wrong. A borrowed scorn, but more than once I've told a friend who ordered a latté or a milky tea thing either: "Did you want coffee/tea or did you want baby food?"; "Are you a %$#@ing little girl?" I don't have many friends.

    1. An exception for chai, but even then, not as much milk or sugar as most use.

    2. Yeah, I take milk. But then I have the excuse of cultural conditioning and while some of that is worth unlearning, this really isn't. I tend only to drink tea in places where I suspect the coffee will be awful. And if people are serving awful coffee, then asking for tea without milk is almost certainly going to be more trouble than it's worth.

      No sugar though. As you say, if I wanted an ice-cream I'd ask for an ice-cream.

    3. Read Orwell's essay on making tea, even if I cannot remember what he says about milk and sugar. First, because he's Orwell; second, because he insists on scalding water for black tea. N. American on this: fail.

  2. The worst is the free green tea you get in urns at cheap food places. It smells, and probably tastes, like bong water.

    My biggest beef with matcha is that I've been conditioned to see a green in connection with a chocolate product as meaning mint flavour. Then I realise it's matcha and I'm incredibly let down. Also, it tastes like shit.

    1. Mint. That's it. As I was writing this I couldn't shake the nagging feeling there was another reason this stuff pissed me off, and it's the hideous bait-and-switch matcha ice cream plays with my expectation. All I want is some mint choc chip. Is that too much to ask?

  3. The matcha frappucino at Starbucks is pretty good, I think. But, yeah, I'm not a fan of taking non-Japanese treats and making them tea flavored.

    I take a cube of brown sugar in my coffee but can still swing my dick around in one hand as well as you guys...