Matcha, the brightly hued powder made of green tea leaves, is the latest flavor from Japan that has found deep resonance among American audiences. Matcha noodles? You can slurp them at trendy restaurants from coast to coast. Matcha lattés? As common as a cappuccino in coffee shops. And Matcha soft serve? It’s practically ubiquitous.
It was only a matter of time before matcha made its way into beer.
Matcha beer has been popular in bars in Japan for several years, and it typically comes in two forms: First, matcha that is brewed directly into the beer, added at the same time as all of the over flavorings before it is fermented and bottled. The second is a varietal in which beer is poured directly into the matcha, a la minute. The former yields a more subtle, lingering matcha taste; while the latter results in a brighter, more in-your-face effect.
A number of Japanese beer companies, including Kinshachi and Yebisu have developed their own bottled matcha brews. But recently, this trend has migrated over to the U.S. Ichiran, the Japan-born ramen shop with its famous “flavor concentration booths” brews its own matcha beer, MatchaBar in Brooklyn at one point offered matcha-infused beer as a late-night special, and 29B Teahouse in Manhattan serves a matcha brew made with ceremonial-grade matcha.
The most obvious appeal to matcha beer is that vibrant shade of green. “I hate to make it that simple, but people just absolutely love that color right now,” says Stefen Ramirez, owner of 29B Teahouse. There are other draws as well. “As a microfine powder, it thickens the beer itself, giving it a quality like a stout without the taste of the stout.”
While the process for making a beer brewed with matcha is relatively similar to adding any kind of flavoring into beer during the brewing process, making matcha-infused beer in a bar setting is a bit more complicated. It’s not as simple as dumping a lot of matcha into any old glass of beer.
To make his, Ramirez uses the traditional technique for making matcha tea—with a tea bowl and a bamboo whisk—except instead of whisking matcha into water, he uses a small amount of beer. Then, he pours the beer on top of the matcha mixture, which “allows you to keep as much of the carbonation alive as possible,” Ramirez says.
He uses light beer—his favorite is a rice lager—to make sure the subtleties of the matcha shine through, and emphasizes the importance of having good-quality matcha. “Don’t get it from Amazon,” Ramirez cautions. “Get it from someone importing directly.”
Max Fortgang, the co-founder of MatchaBar, also uses a rice lager—he loves the toasty flavor with the earthy notes of the matcha—but he says matcha also pairs surprisingly well with IPAs. Matcha is more versatile in beer than one might think, he says, especially when you are using the ceremonial-grade powder.
The matcha-infused beer concoction is a top seller at 29B Teahouse, and that most people who try it do like it, only “about 10 percent don’t,” according to Ramirez. This is because the matcha flavor in the beer can be much more potent than other matcha-based creations. Matcha soft serve and matcha lattés, “hide the qualities of the matcha,” while the beer does not. “When people taste the amino acid and greenness they are shocked—they thought they knew what matcha tasted like,” he says.
Iori Hanai, of Ichiran ramen shop, says that, despite the strong flavors, the combination of matcha and beer works because “beer is simple, but matcha is complex. Matcha has a flavor that spreads throughout one’s mouth when consumed, but the aftertaste of matcha beer is actually the beer.” Basically, you get both tastes without one overpowering the other.
Matcha-infused beer also has the added benefit of functioning like an energy drink, according to MatchaBar’s Fortgang—think an all-natural alternative to a Red Bull. Plus, he says, the carbonation of the beer “enhances the aroma and the flavor of the tea.”
It reminds Maiko Kyogoku, the Japanese-American owner of Bessou in New York, of another of-the-moment beverage, kombucha, with its fizziness and slightly offbeat flavor. Kyogoku tried her fair share of matcha-brewed and matcha-infused beers in Japan and admits, “I like regular beer more. There are certain matcha products that are trendy just for the sake of being trendy.” Though, she adds, she is fascinated by the way the brew has the potential to make beer drinkers even out of health nuts.
“Matcha is a superfood,” Kyogoku says. “Drink anything that is matcha infused makes you feel like you are doing something good for your body—even beer!”