Matcha, the green tea popular for centuries in Japan, has crossed the Pacific Ocean. Tea sales in the U.S. have increased five-fold in 25 years, to more than $10 billion dollars.
Americans still consume coffee over three times more than tea for their caffeine fix, but matcha is poised to break through, thanks to its caffeine kick and health benefits, reports CBS News correspondent Vinita Nair.
Graham Fortgang was a daily coffee drinker. He needed the jolt, so he ignored the drawbacks.
"Espresso energy drinks make my heart race. I have little acid reflux issues, so I was looking for something that was not only gentler on my body but would result in, what I call, a more sustainable fuel," Fortgang said.
That's when he found matcha, ground up tea leaves harvested primarily from the Kyoto region in Japan. Matcha didn't upset his stomach -- it's low in acidity -- and left him alert and relaxed for hours without the jitters associated with coffee.
"Matcha has something called L-theanine in it," Fortgang said. "Not only do you have any extended-release caffeine, but you also have this calming factor which results in what we call a calm, focused energy."
Fortgang and his brother, Max, decided to open Matchabar in Brooklyn, becoming the first modern matcha cafe in New York City.
He said on the weekends about 60 to 70 percent of customers were having matcha for the first time.
"Weekdays, we have our regulars, people who respond nice to it, they're coming back every day," Fortgang said. "Instead of their morning espresso, it's their morning matcha."
Matcha is a lot more accessible these days, with cafes popping up from L.A. to Miami to Boston. But some customers are still skeptical.
"I wouldn't say it's just Japanese people, but we have tea experts come in, kinda like the 'hmm?' kind of look," Fortgang said.
Ippodo Tea has been preparing matcha in the same way for nearly 300 years in their Kyoto shop.
They opened a Manhattan store two years ago where tea expert Kathy YL Chan is a regular customer.
"It's become really trendy in the last two years, but it's not new at all. It's been around for centuries," Chan said.
To make traditional matcha, first the tea powder is scooped and sifted to make it more uniform. Then hot water is added.
"Make sure it's not boiling. You want water somewhere between 165 to 170," Chan said.
The tea master then uses a hand crafted bamboo whisk to stir, flicking his wrist without ever touching the bottom of the bowl.
Matcha was originally used by monks in Japan to center themselves during meditation. Over time, it became part of traditional Japanese tea ceremonies and then an everyday drink.
Since you consume the entire leaf instead of simply a bag steeped in water, matcha has more fiber and 10 times the amount of anti-oxidants than regular green tea.
"The tea leaves that are used to produce matcha are shaded a few weeks before they're picked, so you get lots of extra chlorophyll, vitamins, which is good for a detoxing, removing heavy metals from the body," Chan said.
While matcha's popularity is relatively new in the U.S, you can already find it cropping up in cutting edge restaurants, sprinkled on Starbucks green tea lattes or used by models during New York Fashion Week.
The growing matcha community is also taking to social media, sharing ideas, creations or simply beautiful photos.
"In this world of Instagram, Twitter, social media and blogs and everything, visuals are such a huge part of the appeal and matcha's just, it happens to be prettier than most tea," Chan said.
While Fortgang admits the flavor takes some getting used to, he believes green is the new gold.
"The proof is in the pudding, you know? New Yorkers are the biggest skeptics in the world, so if you can turn if you can turn them against coffee, you can turn anybody against it," Fortgang said.
Bringing matcha to the masses is the next goal for the Fortgang brothers. They're planning for a pre-made, mass-produced matcha drink like other bottled caffeinated beverages that could be bought in stores around the country.
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