Much Matcha Green Tea Desserts: Japan and Seoul, South Korea

Maybe we were a tad crazy during our two week trip, in Japan and Seoul:  it was almost a matcha tea dessert every day.   Yea  –in addition to sipping sometimes a lovely cup of medium to high grade matcha or at least green tea.  There is a sublime difference.

Bowl of matcha tea with apple shaped light green tea mochi ball. Plate of green tea jelly squares dusted with roasted soy powder. Teahouse, Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong.
Pouring a lightly sweet syrup over green tea jelly squares rolled in kinako or roasted soybean powder. To be eaten with chopsticks as the norm. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong.

Birthplace and Hub of Japan’s Centuries Long Fine Green Tea Production
How could we resist?  We were in Kyoto city, the heart of Japan’s famed tea farms nearby and the birthplace of matcha tea centuries ago.  We certainly didn’t plan nor know this historic significance until we were there.  I was initially just drawn to Kyoto wonderous heritage of shrines, temples and Japanese gardens that were spared from American bombs during WW II.

A long-time teahouse which we nearly missed our first Japanese teahouse drinking experience. Kyoto 2018. Photo by J.Chong

What distinguishes matcha tea is it appears as a green powder, which certain types of green tea leaves are steamed, rolled, then dried and ground into a powder. It is this technique perfected by Uji tea growers over centuries that renders a rich vibrant green colour, unlike other green teas.  One whips up the matcha tea in the tea brewing process.

Green tea ice cream with matcha tea light syrup to serve over ice cream. High grade machta tea has a faint bitter finish which suits with many foods during a meal. Seoul, Insadong district. South Korea 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Tea fields were established in the Uji area 1185-1333, after monk Myoe introduced seeds to villagers from a trip in China. Tea leaf steaming,  curing and grinding dried leaves into its brilliant green powder,  was introduced by Nagatani Soen during the Edo era.

Different green tea and matcha tea ice and hot lattes from this shop. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong. I had the middle one.

In our Tokyo hotel room for first few days, I enjoyed my free green tea for breakfast, much better than green tea I’ve had in Canada.  It wasn’t matcha tea, but still quite good and soothing.  Uji area produces for Japan, the 3 grades and types of green tea:  sencha, matcha and gyokuro.  Based on the brand packaging I saw in various stores in Japan, we get a lot of the low to mid-grade Japanese green teas in Canada.

Selection of fine matcha and other green teas from Uji area, Japan’s prime heartland of green tea farms. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Nearly Missing Historic Teahouse
In Kyoto, while wandering streets near Gion, a historic area, we did stumble across a long-standing teahouse, I had googled on the Internet in advance.  We nearly missed it because there was barely any script to indicate any teahouse. Maybe we should have clued in with the doorway hanging fabric banners.

Inside the cool teahouse interior, picture windows looked out to garden of stones, artful bushes and trees.  Some people had bowls of ice soba noodles with slightly sweet syrup to cool off the humid summer heat.  Jack had a small plate of green tea jelly squares dusted with roasted soy powder.

Popular shop specialized in traditional hand-pounded mochi –which is glutinous rice and in this product with green tea. Nara, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong.
Experienced mochi turner nimbly wetted and turn-slapped lump of mochi in between 2 mochi pounders. Skill surely very few people have left. Nara, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong.

I settled for a bowl of frothy match tea and a little artful green mochi shaped like a little green apple with a sweet centre.  Mochi is pounded rice until it’s elastic, glutinous and molded quickly in round shapes. Mochi originated in Japan and later, adopted by Korea and China as a dessert.

Green tea mochi dusted in roasted soy powder –ready to buy and eat, soft and moist. Nara, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Joy of Warm Soft Green Tea Mochi:   Hand-Pounded
In downtown Nara, we dropped by a well-known mochi store that pounded out warm green mochi rounds.  Freshly pounded mochi is warm, soft and  yummy  slight sweet goodness. It’s a rare experience.  Unfortunately I forgot at our hotel, my package of handmade soft mochi I bought from the mochi-pounding store  –along with a large pack of local sencha tea bags.  Hand-pounded mochi places don’t exist in North America.

Fox Stamped Rice Cracker in Green Ice Cream:  Pausing below 1,000 Tori Gates
Throughout our trip, we had variations of green machta ice lattes, hot matcha tea, green machta tea baked desserts and ice cream.  We took a short train ride from Kyoto to Inari-Fushima, site of famed Shinto shrine with over 1,000 vermillion orange Tori gates along a pilgrimage route up sacred Mount Inari.

Rice cracker with fox holding key, in our ice cream, is tribute to fox in Shintoism. Foxes are messengers for Inari, rice god. Mini shrines are scattered on rock ledges during hike along 1,000+ large vermillion red tori gates up  forested, sacred Mount Inari. Inari-Fushima, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong.

The shrine is dedicated to Inari, god of rice and prosperity. After our hot hike up and back down, of course, we dropped by a green ice cream café in the park.  We licked our green matcha tea ice cream cones topped with a rice cracker imprinted with a fox, carrying a key in its mouth. There are stone fox sculptures by tori gates and shrines along the mountain route here and all over Japan. Foxes were believed to be messengers of Inari.

Matcha green tea cake roll for Jack’s birthday. Store automatically provided a free serrated plastic knife to cut properly at home. Traditional Asian home cooking doesn’t require a serrated knife. Seoul, South Korea 2018. Photo by J.Chong

In Tokyo and Kyoto, high end European bakeries would feature at least a green matcha tea pastry as part of their diverse pastry offerings.  So there were green buns with lightly matcha flavoured toppings or custard centres.  Even Starbuck’s in big Japanese cities offered green matcha pastries. Just make you choose pastry that’s light in taste.

Even Starbuck’s in Japan offers some green tea pastries. Tokyo Narita Airport 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Green tea parfaits may be combined with sweetened red beans, a cracker or mochi balls –all commonly found in many Asian ice cream based desserts.

One of our various matcha green tea drinks and desserts. Some contained mochi, tea jelly cubes and sweetened red adzuki beans –latter used in desserts all over East Asia. Arashiyama, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

We celebrated Jack’s birthday with a green tea cake roll from a high end green tea café in Seoul, South Korea.  Too bad he didn’t choose the green tea multi-layered torte.

To this day, I dream of warm large green tea mochi, I forgot at the hotel.

Green tea cake variations. Left is green tea tiramsui while right is green tea torte. Seoul, South Korea 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Green tea mochi, pastries and other dessert variations at a high end shop. Tokyo Rail Station 2018. Photo by J.Chong
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20 Comments Add yours

  1. OMG! How does the mochi pounding man not get hit with the hammer? Also, I want to eat all of this right now!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      It sure is something to actually see him lightning fast flip and moisturize the lump of mochi. Warmly, just pounded mochi is luscious and soft. It’s like eating gluey form of Asian “chocolate” or fudge..if that makes sense! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. moonchild says:

    Beautiful photos! I absolutely love matcha anything.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      For sure, you would enjoy yourself there.

      Like

  3. Mabel Kwong says:

    It does sound like a lots of matcha consumed over your trip in Japan. I’ve always wondered why matcha is so popular…never got into it myself. I’ve had eaten at high class Japanese establishments here in Australia and just can’t seem to get into the flavour of matcha. Looks like the mochi dough is pound very hard with a big hammer like that. Love chewy mochi and it does make a nice dessert or snack and these days they can be filled with so many kinds of flavours, but I really like the ones with bean paste.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      In retrospect it probably was enough consumed. For certain the quality of matcha flavour of how it was rendered in some cases in Japan, preserved a tinge of the bitter finish at the end, is the way how it should be. I have not yet come to know of any high class Japanese restaurant that’s serving their version of matcha..other than Kobe beef (which I don’t care for marbled /fat in beef.). Other times, it’s just too much sugar thrown to mask the true matcha tea flavour. Glad I tasted true mochi, freshly made. Not like the stuff sitting around in stores on shelf for months.

      The bean paste flavour is ok..the flavour becomes a bit tiring after awhile. That’s the biggest with European desserts..alot of different flavourings, fruit based used, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lani says:

    Mmmmmm. Matcha, green tea goodness, and mochi! Growing up in Hawaii meant having access to a lot of Japanese food since the majority of Asian Americans on the island are of Japanese descent. Fast forward to Thailand, well, Thais do love their Japanese food, too. We eat it weekly, but I’m sure once I actually get to go to Japan it will be a radical difference! Jealous! 😛

    Happy Birthday Jack!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Yes, Japan would be quite different for you, from Thailand. I didn’t know that the majority of island folk were Japanese based (if they aren’t Hawai’ian original islanders)! There will be more posts to come..when I get around to it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lani says:

        “Original islanders” are very rare indeed. Most people who are “from” Hawaii are not Native Hawaiians. Most natives have died and a fraction of the population today boasts/claims to have Native Hawaiian roots.

        Looking forward to more posts 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Marta says:

    I like drinking matcha, but I’m not a big fan of the matcha desserts! When we went to Kyoto I also had the matcha icecream and I wasn’t too excited, haha. I prefer sweeter sweets!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Ah, your original ancestral roots are probably influencing the sweet tooth, Marta. As you know, Asian palates prefer less sweeter stuff. Best of luck with baby soon.

      Like

  6. Stop it, Jean! I LOVE anything and everything green tea and macha. Now I want to prepare a dessert:)
    Your photos are mouth-watering.
    I’ve never been to Japan but I already know that I would fall for the cuisine. Totally my jam!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      🙂 Sorry for these photos and descriptions. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Forgot to add that I make a pretty good matcha green tea cheesecake:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      I’m sure you must get enough uptake on this unique cheesecake…if you’ve made it several times already, Evelyne.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow I love matcha 🍵

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      May this inspire you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Sue Slaght says:

    The video of the mochi turners is incredible Jean. Looks like you had a wonderful holiday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      The mochi pounding and turnin’ looked exhausting. We had a fabulous vacation– it started a few days after Osaka (we weren’t there) had their earthquake and then 1 day after we left Japan for Seoul, it flooded with landslides in a section of Japan.

      Liked by 1 person

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