The Many Glorious Uses of Microground Tea
Have you tried microground tea yet? If you have, you know that it’s easy to use, delivers intense flavour, and is incredibly versatile. If you haven’t tried it yet, this is your chance to get ahead of the trend. Microground tea isn’t commonly used or even known all that well—yet. But I’m willing to bet that here in Canada, microground tea is going to be the next big thing.
What is it? Microground tea—also known as tea powder, superfine latte blend, and tea espresso—is not the same thing as instant tea (which is made from brewed tea). Also, it’s not always tea.
Like matcha, microground tea is a superfine powder, meant for dissolving into liquid, like you would cocoa powder. Like cocoa powder, microground tea is often made in milk, and is easiest made into a paste first. It makes for a much quicker tea latte than steeping extra strong tea to add to your milk. Nor is it as not as messy as extracting tea bags from a simmering pot. And it makes for a much stronger cup, since, like matcha or cocoa, the actual tea leaf is dispersed into your liquid base of choice.
For a little more detail, I asked Dave O’Conner of Genuine Tea how matcha is made. The dried leaf is slowly stone ground to Japanese specifications matcha specifications – around 10-16 microns. (A micron is one millionth of a metre, also represented as 1/1000 mm or 1/25,000 of an inch.) Real matcha is ground to 4 -16 microns. There are other subtle differences, though.
Real matcha does not require sifting, as Marina Porter of Sloane Tea points out, since the supple, shade-grown leaves are deveined before being ground into tencha. But a product like microground malasa chai will necessarily involve ingredients other than tea. “Hammer mills are used for spices with high oil content such as cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Milling machines (similar to grinders) are used for black teas, green teas and ingredients with low moisture and oil content. The ingredients then undergo a thorough sifting process.”
The use of the term matcha to refer to drinks made with botanicals rather than tea has always been a bugbear for true-tea lovers. And it can feel a touch disrespectful to the painstaking effort that goes into making matcha, which is a highly cherished, traditional Japanese delicacy. But this imprecise use of the word has been a handy shortcut to the consumer’s imagination. It has been borrowed to create products like red matcha (hibiscus), pink matcha (dragonfruit) and blue matcha (butterfly pea flower). But those same products, referred to as microground teas, are just as easy for tea lovers to understand. And easily avoids the casual cultural appropriation.
Isn’t it equally inaccurate to refer to powdered plants other than camellia sinensis as microground tea? Technically, yes, but it’s long been common parlance.
“It stems from the fact that we are accustomed to referring to any hot beverage that we consume like tea as “tea”. For example, peppermint tea is not technically tea, but we consume it as a hot beverage and so we often refer to it as “peppermint tea”. If you take our Blonde Chai, it features ingredients that in non-ground form, would be very similar to our Ginger Turmeric tea,” according to Johanna Martin, Director of Marketing for Tealish.
And indeed, Blonde Chai, also known as a Golden Milk latte or Tumeric Golden Latte, is one of the original non-tea microground teas. Tea vendors are also making some innovative blends. While the dominant microground teas are a classic Earl Grey or masala chai, there are some very tempting new tea lattes available now. Tea Squared offers Vanilla-Almond Matcha Latte, Decadent Chocolate Chai Matcha and everyone’s seasonal favourite, Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte. Frank Weber, owner of Tea Squared, offers both unsweetened and sweetened microground tea blends to allow for personal choice. “Let the consumer decide.”
At Sloane, they take the same approach. “When we created our microground teas, it was important to us that we ensure the authenticity of its true flavour. Tea lattes [ in coffeeshops] are often made from pre-made syrups and the sweetness level cannot be adjusted. We made sure that our microground was completely sugar free so that the flavour is at the forefront.” Both companies sell their teas direct to consumers and to restaurants. But many coffee shops make a tea latte with an intensely sweet syrup, meaning that the flavour of the tea is in competition with sugar to dominate your taste buds.
For Sameer Mohamed of Fahrenheit Coffee, the use of microground teas makes his tea lattes stand out among the crowd. “They are unique. Not many shops do ground-tea chai or London Fogs. It also allows us to create great latte art in the beverages.” It’s also a product that requires little tea knowledge to make: just whisk and stir. So whether you are skilled artisans, like the staff at Fahrenheit Coffee, or want to make a tea latte at home, microground makes a more hearty, flavourful drink.
Frank agrees that it’s that it’s a product that deserves a more prominent place in coffee shops—and in restaurants. “It’s a great item for coffee shops,” he says, “but it’s still not something that restauranteurs are capitalizing on. Just like in the early days of loose-leaf tea, it took time to build awareness. But they are starting to catch on.”
El Katrin in the Distillery District is now carrying a chocolate chai from Tea Squared, which can be had with a shot of rum for a big finale to dinner. “If the consumer is the same person, why wouldn’t you be able to sell them that product in a restaurant after dinner? Especially when so many restaurants still don’t have the great offerings when it comes to tea.”
At Tealish in Toronto, their Peppermint Matcha Green Tea is a local favourite from winter into spring, especially when made with honey and steamed milk. “Our Turmeric Chai Black Tea powder makes an amazing chai latte but is also perfect in a protein packed smoothie,” says Johanna Martin, Director of Marketing.
What does she see for the future? “We predict you’ll be seeing a lot more herbal microground beverages, with focus on plant-powered benefits as adaptogenic herbs and nootropics become more and more popular.”
The wellness market has already found an intersection with microground tea. Landish is a Canadian company that offers protein powders and powdered greens along with a line of latte mixes. Their Lion’s Mane Matcha Latte Mix mingles Lion’s Mane mushrooms with matcha, water lentils and coconut milk powder. The Maca Mate Beet Latte Mix contains organic yerba mate extract, organic fermented maca root, cordyceps mushroom and “upcycled” beetroot. There is no tea in the Reishi Chaga Chai Latte Mix, but there is a good dose of ashwagandha root, which is often used as a healing “tea,” and appealing for those who prefer to avoid caffeine. If Canadian tea companies wish to keep pace, they may wish to make a few more blends that feature such nutrient-dense plants and fungi.
Why is Canada braced to be a great host-nation for this up-and-coming trend? The weather. We drink more hot tea. In the US, iced tea is so much more common, except in the northern part of the country. And while in theory you can pop some microground into a glass of water, the resulting murky brown water is not pleasant to behold, and the tea will eventually settle at the bottom of the glass (like matcha or cocoa). A smoothie, however, is a fine place to add some microground tea, as is hot chocolate. There are fewer treats as lovely on a cold day as an Earl Grey hot chocolate where the intensity of the tea meets that of the cocoa powder. And if you’re in a rush, a protein-enhanced tea latte works well as breakfast.
There are culinary uses for this adaptable product, too. Microground teas are joyfully embraced by pastry chefs, sometimes for their flavour, sometimes for their colour. Beetroot and butterfly pea powder are both use to colour pie dough, for those who want to avoid the chemicals in artificial dyes. (It’s also much less work than massaging a fat-soluble dye into the butter, lard or vegetable shorting.) And microground tea is so much nicer in a tea cake than loose tea leaves; the flavour is more even, and there are no chewy or bitter leaves lodged in your tender, buttery crumb.
Microground tea is ideal for adding flavour to the kind of culinary concoctions that that don’t accept liquid easily; custards, meringues, and cream- or butter-based sauces. Have you ever noticed some cheesecake recipes for call for vanilla extract, and others for vanilla bean? It’s not just for the intensity of flavour; it’s also a way to ensure the success of your efforts. Any added liquid will loosen the texture of the aforementioned. Custards may weaken, meringues may collapse, sauces split. Sure, the small amount of liquid that you use in an extract is unlikely to ruin a dessert. But why take that chance?
Microground tea also offers a quick hit of flavour. In the past, I made my Banana Chai Cheesecake recipe with pan-toasted, hand-ground spices and tea leaves. Now I just add microground masala chai. Shortcut, anyone? And just imagine…Earl Grey Cheesecake. Can you taste it already?
Don’t forget cocktails and mocktails! Butterfly pea flower microground is often used to colour drinks blue or purple. Not as visually appealing, microground Earl Grey makes a thick, heavy simple syrup for a tasty tea-twist on a White Russian, especially with Canadian vodka; I call it an Earl Gray in Niagara. The Earl Grey simple syrup far more potent than when made with bagged tea. Not the prettiest looking concoction to have in your fridge, I’ll admit, but it is delightfully easy, and perks up my morning yoghurt as well, especially when adorned with chopped kumquats raw or roasted.
My favourite way to use microground tea is to add it to crème brulée—see the recipe below. I make my crème brûlée and cheesecake in jars with a sous vide device, although I’ve provided instructions for making it in the oven. You can add microground Earl Grey to your own recipe, although I challenge you to find one better than this. The original crème brulée was given to me by the incredibly talented chef Brent Leitch.
Earl Grey Crème Brûlée
sous vide device
mason jars, 125 or 250 ml
shallow rimmed baking tray
160g egg yolk (approximately 11 yolks)
3g salt (1/4 tsp)
10g microground Earl Grey tea (2 tsp)
600 ml 35% cream
1 vanilla pod, optional
Sugar for topping, as needed
If using a sous vide machine, heat your water bath to 80°C (176°F).
If using an oven, heat to 150°C (300°F).
Whisk together egg yolks, sugar and salt.
Heat cream gently in a small pot with microground tea and seeds scraped from vanilla pod, if using. Heat to 70°C (158°F).
Slowly temper cream into egg mixture.
Use a fine mesh sieve to strain mixture into a large measuring cup, then slowly pour into mason jars, stopping approximately 1cm from the top.
Seal jars fingertip tight. Carefully place into the water bath using tongs. Cook for 1 hour.
If using the oven, fill the kettle and set it to boil. Set ramekins into a shallow tray and fill. When the water is boiled, place the tray in the oven. then fill the tray with water until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 40 minutes or until just barely set in the middle.
Cool mason jars in an ice bath until fully chilled. (Or pop them outside in chilly November!) At this point, they will keep for a few days.
When ready to serve, remove the lid and sprinkle the top with a thin layer of sugar. Blow-torch the top until deeply caramelized. Let the topping set for two minutes before adding garnishes. Serve immediately.
If you don’t have a kitchen torch, maple syrup with a few flakes of sea salt makes a lovely topping. Or heat up some Earl Grey microground tea or simple syrup in orange marmalade thinned out, possibly thinned out with a splash of orange liqueur.
If you’re nervous about using a blow torch, it just requires a little practice.
Warning: Use of a non-kitchen torch can shatter the glass jars.
Chocolate Earl Grey Crème Brûlée
Add 20g or 4 tsp natural cocoa powder to the cream with the microground tea. The combination is divine! The tea lends the cocoa and cream a malted flavour. Chocolate sauce with makes a wonderful topping. Top with grated orange zest to candied orange peel for a little colour.