“What is in?” “Why so many Japanese green tea flavored products?” As we passed by the beautifully displayed sweets in Shinjuku’s ‘depachika’ (located in the basement of a department store where they sell food), avoiding the deadly Tokyo heat, the building was rather soothing. Gradually we regained our appetite, tasting away at each booth. The client noticed that there were matcha flavored sweets everywhere. For me, who grew up in Japan and the United States most of my life, I have maneuvered around the city mostly on autopilot. Going to one destination to the other, paying attention to trends in sweets has not been on my radar. Why has this product become so popular?
As a child, I remember going on fieldtrips to the tea room, where we kneeled on the floor, resting on our heels as we patiently waited during the Japanese green tea ceremony to be served freshly ground tea with a traditional sweet on the side. To see matcha outside of the traditional setting has caught me by surprise the past few years too, but as a matcha lover, I was thrilled and never questioned it.
Historically, the Japanese have been drinking a type of green tea, known as “matcha”, for over eight hundred years. Traditionally, drank, now it is sold in many pastry and dessert products regardless of whether the origin of the dish was Japanese or not. You can find matcha flavored products everywhere. Matcha flavored rice cakes and Kit Kats can be seen in grocery stores, as well as matcha flavored cupcakes and rolls in bakeries. On our way back from our tour with the American clients, we even discovered that Krispy Kreme Doughnuts makes matcha flavored doughnuts! According to Yomiuri Newspaper, Haagen-Dazs Japan first set this trend by releasing a matcha flavored ice cream. It was a wise decision on their part, as it soon became the second best flavor after vanilla.
There is much speculation as to why matcha flavored products have been a huge success in Japan. Currently, the majority of the Japanese people do not consume matcha on a regular basis, and it is still considered to be a high quality beverage. To have sweets that contain matcha at arms length attracts the many consumers that enjoy the taste. Some matcha flavored products advertise the quality of the matcha, by mentioning the matcha brand they use, and also labeling it as an“adult taste” and “kodawari”, making it appear premium but affordable at the same time.
Matcha also is a flavor that has a sense of bitterness to it. The bitterness attracts consumers who are not so keen on very sweet products, as well as sweet lovers. Unlike fruity flavored products, matcha is a great option for the bitter lovers.
Though the majority of the consumers may purchase matcha flavored products because of the flavor and availability, matcha itself also contains many health benefits. The benefits from consuming tea, have been continuously brought up by health blogs and magazines. Since Japanese beverage of choice has been green tea for hundreds of years, a lot of focus has been on this. While all tea leaves are rich in nutrients, matcha allows the consumer to intake the most because it comes in a powder form, so one consumes all of the powdered tea leaves instead of only tea leaves dipped in hot water.
Matcha itself holds powerful antioxidising agents that help slow the ageing process. The tea contains roughly 130 times more antioxidants than other green teas. It is also said to help restrain the increase of blood cholesterol, and has been used to help treatment for diabetes. In addition, studies have shown that mortality rates from cancer are low in regions with high consumption of matcha because it contains catechins, an acid known to reduce cancer rates.
Zen Matcha Tea, a Northern American company explains that matcha did not reach the North American market for quite a while because of its elite reputation and high price. In part because of the health benefits and because increased competition saw a decrease in prices matcha became much more accessible. This has helped companies to jump start their business and ride the trend with everyone.
In the United States, green tea has become popular, as well as Kombucha. Becoming more health conscientious, many Americans started to look elsewhere for answers for healthier eating. Japan is one of the countries that many Americans are fascinated with the because of the nation’s health. There are many articles on the web discussing the Japanese diet in comparison to American, with the biggest difference being that the American diet relies heavily on processed foods, whereas the Japanese diet is focused on fresh products. Ann article by Live Strong states that the United States has 28 percent of their population considered to be obese, whereas Japan has only three percent, and has one of the highest life expectancies. This alone is enough for many to concerned about their health to rethink their diet regime.
Now that Matcha has become more affordable, it has started to make a scene in North America as well as Irish cafes as they recognize the benefits. While being aware of the health benefits may encourage more and more Americans to drink matcha, perhaps it is a bit of stretch trying to imagine Americans indulging themselves in the wide variety of matcha flavored sweets that the Japanese people love.