Anyone who has entered a coffee shop in the last two years will recognize the vibrant green hue of America’s new favorite tea. This is a tea unlike any other, and we know it as matcha.

But while the popularization of this Japanese specialty has afforded more mainstream tea drinkers across the country the opportunity to enjoy it, we should take care to appreciate the unique cultural origin that makes matcha so much more than just another sugary novelty (a la Starbucks’ Unicorn Frap).

Read on to learn the rich and fascinating history behind the drink we’ve all come to love. Then head out and find some for yourself! SpoonAU has reviewed all the matcha offerings to be found on menus near American University. The next time you pick up a steaming mug of matcha, we guarantee you’ll have a deeper understanding of what makes the contents of your cup unparalleled in the world of tea.

A Brief History of Matcha

The story of matcha began in the twelfth century when Japanese monks visited China to study Buddhism. As students today will appreciate, they found the need for a caffeinated pick-me-up to help them concentrate on their work.

In 1191, one monk brought back fertile tea seeds from China and introduced them to Japan’s farmland. His harvest began a long and honored tradition of drinking green tea in Japanese culture. Samurai consumed it to stay energized on the battlefield. Wealthy landowners found it in-vogue to invest in eclectic tea leaf collections to impress their friends.

Inside a Japanese teahouse, however, all patrons are seen as equal. Traditionally, the entryway to these establishments are small so that every guest has to bow in a gesture of goodwill before entering. The virtues of unity and equality are associated with matcha for these reasons.

Benefits of Drinking Match

It’s certainly fair to market matcha as a health drink based on the slew of bodily and mental benefits it provides. Before the tea leaves are picked, they are shaded from the sun in order to deepen their flavor, green color, and nutrients. Only the thickest, very top leaves with the most vitamins are picked for the tea harvest. (The lower-grade, more bitter leaves are also plucked to be mixed with sugar and baked into less nutritious desserts.)

Alongside an optimal shot of caffeine, matcha contains an amino acid that calms the brain. This makes it ideal for relieving stress and engaging in meditation. Unlike other teas, matcha leaves are ground for an hour before being whisked directly into boiling water for a healthful treat.

Where to Find It

Elliott Parrish

The best matcha to be found anywhere near American University is at the School of International Service’s Davenport Coffee Lounge. Served hot or cold, the barista uses a traditional rishi bamboo whisk to stir the powder into a frothy, steamy, milky (and slightly nontraditional) base. The foam on top is picturesque and reminiscent of a Chai Tea latte. The incomparable yet deliciously mild flavor shines through to elevate this truly marvelous beverage far above anything else the Dav has on its menu.

Craving a cooler, more refreshing matcha? The coffee giant Starbucks has just the beverage for you. Topped with a heap of whipped cream, the Matcha Creme Frappuccino is sweet and flawlessly flavorful without being overpowering. Even those who don’t usually enjoy tea will be able to appreciate the distinctive tang of matcha powder in this decidedly Americanized smoothie. If you like it, I would encourage you to give the tea a try in its original form to see where all this matcha popularity came from in the first place.

Elliott Parrish

Matcha and mango: an unlikely (albeit alliterated) combination? For a limited time, the Mary Graydon Center's Hisso Sushi joint is offering a Mango Matcha Green Smoothie. The tropical fruit is kissed by a light touch of matcha powder that adds a sophisticated depth of flavor sure to brighten your day. If it were up to us at SpoonAU, this specialized offering would remain on the menu year-round!

Not to be left out of the fun, Dunkin' Doughnuts had to try its hand at serving up matcha as well. Its Iced Matcha Latte can be enjoyed on the side of a matcha-powdered donut. As for that last confection, my review is lukewarm at best. Dunkin's plain yeast donut is coated in what looks like green powdered sugar, besetting it with a sharp and overbearing flavor which is unable to match the soothing sensation of the tea in liquid form. But if other diners enjoy dying their fingers green on this questionable pastry, far be it from me to stop them.

AU Embracing the Trend

Eagles have evidently taken a healthy liking to this, um, healthy green delicacy, as is evident by the immense demand for the Davenport’s matcha offerings.

“I want to say one out of every three customers orders a matcha,” said Talia, a barista at the Dav. “I know a lot of people like it."

Aside from serving it in the classic style, many cafes such as the Dav also offer their own spin on matcha.

“Everyone here likes it with vanilla,” continued Talia. “For Valentine's day we also do a raspberry matcha. That was a big hit. I really recommend it.”

The options are endless. Dunkin' has since premiered a Blueberry Matcha Latte, and Starbucks debuted an Iced Matcha Tea Latte as well. Moge Tee has even created a Crème Brûlée Uji Matcha beverage, proving that while endless variations can bring it to new heights, they all honor the original Japanese delicacy that has earned the respect of the greater world.

The bottom line?

Whether you aim to enhance your wellness, take part in a phenomenal cultural tradition, boost your energy, or simply enjoy a tasty treat, matcha should be at the top of your list.