The health benefits of matcha tea are just one of the reasons the beverage has been enjoying widespread popularity. Not only is matcha tea good for the body but it also has a distinct, flavorful taste that people love. In fact, the Japanese have known this secret for decades and have been making matcha-flavored candies and other consumables for domestic consumption and export. Only recently, however, has the West caught on to the trend.
With the advent of online shopping and the constant shrinking of the global marketplace, people in the U.K., the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Africa and elsewhere are discovering the wide range of Japan-sourced matcha candies. Some are chewy and soft with just a hint of the green tea’s flavor, while others are hard candies that pack a pungent burst of matcha essence. But the most popular, by far, are the matcha-flavored chocolate bars and bite-sized treats that are at the forefront of the phenomenon.
Oddly, there is a growing demographic of consumers who know matcha tea’s unique taste only as a candy, not as a drink. And to add to the confusion, many people who have a passing interest in Japanese tea ceremony have begun to think that matcha-flavored candies are somehow related to the ancient, formal ritual which includes a sweet food before the serving of the hot tea. To clarify the muddle, let’s take a look at some of the most popular matcha candies on the market and see how they are different from the authentic sweets that show up in formal tea ceremony.
Kit Kat from Japan
These mini-Kit Kat bars are made the same as the standard product but use white chocolate that has been flavored with matcha green tea powder. The flavor is not quite as sweet as a regular Kit Kat, but has a flavorful matcha taste that blends well with the rest of the ingredients. Expect to pay a bit more, per gram, than for store-bought Kit Kats, though there are some good seasonal deals every now and then on the major online sites. In Japan, retail stores have trouble keeping these things in stock, and they sell fast in online auctions and direct-buy sales. Do expect to pay a premium if you are outside Southeast Asia, and don’t forget to add shipping charges to the total cost.
If you are in Japan, or are willing to pay about two to three times the going price for good candy (who isn’t?), most of the big Japanese companies, like Meiji, offer matcha-flavored everything, from hard candies to soft, chewy “milk candy,” which doesn’t really contain milk but is more like a matcha-flavored tootsie roll.
Nestle makes a Japanese-licensed product called Crunch Matcha, which is a green-tea version of their standard Crunch bar. Amazon shoppers should keep an eye out for all these products if they are interested because many appear one day and are gone the next. A popular Meiji chocolate bar we tried to purchase was gone within 10 minutes of appearing on the site! If you live in a very large city in the U.S. or Europe, some of the Japanese food specialty stores are beginning to stock a limited variety of these products, which are usually priced well below what you’d pay online.
Chewy matcha taffy, DIY
Here’s an easy recipe for making your own green tea candy if you’d like to have a homemade product and save a considerable amount of money. In Japan, people often make candies and specialty treats at home, much as folks in the West did up through the 1950s. Throwing a few teaspoons of matcha tea powder (the food-grade kind, not ceremonial grade) into any sweet recipe is a Japanese tradition that is fun to try, especially with an old-world version of Asian taffy. Here’s how to do it.
You don’t need a candy thermometer but will need a small glass of water handy to test the consistency of the goop as it cooks. Into a small saucepan combine 1 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon of corn starch. 1 tablespoon of butter, a half-cup of light corn syrup, slightly less than a half-cup of water, and 1 tablespoon food-grade matcha tea powder.
As the mixture heats up toward a boil, thoroughly blend all the ingredients, stirring constantly. Maintain the heat at whatever level is needed to keep the paste at a slow, rolling boil. Continue to stir in order to keep the sides of the pan from burning the contents. After about one minute of boiling, remove a teaspoon of the candy paste and put it into the glass of cool water. If it congeals and forms a taffy-like substance, remove the pan from the heat. If the paste does not gel and remains fluid, leave the pan on the heat for another half-minute or so. Don’t remove it from the heat until you get the paste to form a solid in the cool water.
Stir the paste for a while after removing it from the heat and then pour it onto a large, greased cookie sheet after it has cooled a bit. Put on plastic gloves and knead the paste in order to get some air into it and enlarge it. This will take just a few minutes as the paste will naturally absorb air quite readily.
Cut up some wax paper into 3-inch by 2-inch pieces and put a bite-sized dollop of candy into each one. After letting the individual pieces dry and cool for about ten minutes, twist-wrap each one and store them in a large plastic bag in the refrigerator. If you can resist eating them for 24-hours, they will have achieved the perfect consistency, and you’ll be ready to enjoy matcha-flavored homemade taffy from your very own kitchen. Japanese children have been eating this stuff for centuries, so why not give it a try and see what really good matcha candy tastes like?
Matcha tea is a truly unique beverage with ancient roots and a long history as both a Buddhist and quintessentially Japanese cultural influence. Perhaps it is not all that surprising that the modern world has tried to imitate the tea’s flavor in the form of commercial candies. Considering the fact that so many recipes already use matcha tea as a core flavoring component, maybe green tea candy was the next logical step.