Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Rishi's New Powdered Tealeaves

Rishi recently sent me some powdered tealeaves. I was inspired enough by one of them to use it in one of my three cocktail submissions to the World Tea Expo's Top Tea Cocktail competition. I thank you all for your votes and support, but, sadly, it did not win (nor did my other two). Still, there's always next year! (Now I have a better strategy -- realize that it is a popularity contest and act accordingly -- only submit one, warn fans about overvoting, submit far before the deadline (as voting starts upon submission), promote early, etc.) In the meantime, here's a review of three of Rishi's new powdered teas:

Matcha -- Matcha is traditionally made with hot water and a whisk. It's sweet and warming and vegetal all at once. It's shared as a way of connecting with other people and appreciating the temporal, imperfect beauty around you. Rishi's new matcha is made by pouring it into a plastic bottle and shaking it. Before anyone points fingers, I want to say that I don't blame them. They're not the first to make tea the new Crystal Light. (Kidding about CL... But seriously... In Japan, ITO EN has a bottled water with a special cap that releases matcha when twisted. Same idea, just more high-tech.)

Genmaicha -- Genmaicha is a toasted brown rice and sencha blend that is popular because it is economical, low in caffeine and sweet/roasty/nutty in taste. Strangely, it is also popular in the U.S. with a matcha coating as "genmaimatcha." Genmaimatcha is more expensive, has a more astringent taste and has a higher caffeine content, which would seem to defeat the purpose... yet it remains fairly popular. Well, if genmaimatcha can do it, why not genmaicha that's powdered (like matcha)? It smells great. Tastes pretty good cold. I let it reach room temp and like it much better -- more aroma, more taste, sweet, nutty, mildly vegetal. Very tasty!

Matcha -- Matcha is fairly widely available. The only thing that sets this one apart from others is the packaging (which is single-serving, but actually not unique to Rishi from what I can tell -- it looks like a standard single-serving import, complete with Japanese text). I prepared some of it hot using the traditional method and was left feeling lukewarm about it. The cold, plastic bottle preparation was OK. (Side note -- they aren't kidding when they say shake well! Whew! I knew from taking chanoyu classes how intense matcha clumps can be, but somehow I wasn't prepared to anticipate that from a beverage in a bottle. SHAKE. WELL.) This is a convenient way to drink matcha for travel, sport, etc. Otherwise, stick with the real deal.

Golden Oolong -- My favorite of the three samples I got. (Didn't get the fourth they offer, Sencha.) It's a unique and flavorful variation on green oolong, or pouchong. Light floral notes compliment a richer, deeper, sweet/vegetal flavor. It has the complexity of an oolong and the freshness of a green tea. It's no replacement for a great, fresh-brewed oolong, but it seems like it's sweet enough for concentrated tea shots and it makes for a great champagne tea cocktail (ahem).

I'm very glad to see these on the market for two reasons:

One, it's a fun way to experiment with tea in cocktails, cooking, baking, etc. I hope tea can reach a broader audience through these avenues.

Two, it's very easy to use (as in, easier than a teabag), but it maintains a quality standard not associated with flat teabags, dust and fannings or (yes, yes) Crystal Light. This is specialty tea. And it had the potential to reach people who are too lazy/busy/whatever to actually brew tea, even in bag form. With companies like Muzi, ITO EN and Rishi all making powdered tea, will it become the next teabag -- convenient, ubiquitous and ... well, tea-producing? Only time will tell, but I think it stands a fair chance.

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