White Chocolate Matcha Latte
Though matcha has been enjoyed in Japan for centuries, it’s only in the past five or so years that the powdery green tea has become popular in the U.S. Now, it seems like coffee shops on every street corner brew up matcha — often as a sweetened latte to cover up the sometimes bitter taste of the grassy tea. This matcha latte, though also sweet, is different: We make it using a subtly sweet, caramelized white chocolate milk. And, thanks to both the quality of the matcha and the brewing technique, there’s not even a hint of bitterness!
There are a few different grades of matcha, and whichever you use will determine the taste and overall quality of your brew. Culinary grade, which comes from the bottom of the tea plant, has the most astringent taste, making it well-suited for use in pastries, soba noodles, mochi, and more. There’s also premium grade matcha, which has a fresh, subtle flavor since it’s made from young leaves found toward the top of the plant. But the highest quality is ceremonial grade, meaning it’s considered suitable for the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. This grade of matcha brews up with a bright, emerald green hue and a delicate froth — and it’s richer, creamier, smoother, and far less astringent.
Gelson’s sells ceremonial grade matcha, which is what we used for this latte. However, thanks to the sweetness of the white chocolate, any grade of matcha will be just fine here — especially if you brew it properly. And we’ve got a couple tips for that: First, because matcha is so delicate, it should never be prepared with boiling water, which scalds the finely ground leaves and results in an overly bitter brew. The ideal water temperature for matcha is 175 degrees, but don’t feel like you have to fuss with a thermometer; just wait a couple minutes after your kettle boils so the water can cool down a bit.
Second, matcha doesn’t dissolve, but rather suspends in the water, so you’ll want to vigorously whisk it to break up all the powdery clumps and create a uniform cup of tea. Traditionally, this is done with a bamboo whisk, but any sort of whisk will do (though we suggest using a non-metal one so the matcha doesn’t take on a metallic flavor).
For the rest of the latte, we quickly caramelize some white chocolate until it’s a light golden color. Like its cocoa-y cousins, white chocolate burns easily, so you’ll have to stir continually and watch it carefully. But it’s well worth the wee bit of effort: the white chocolate will take on some nutty notes that mellow out its rich sweetness and give the frothy milk a toasty depth. We also added a teeny splash of vanilla, just to play up all that caramelization. (Even the white chocolate naysayers in the test kitchen could get behind this mixture.)
Poured over the matcha, the white chocolate milk is positively decadent. The caramelly nuttiness of the white chocolate tempers (but doesn’t overpower) the tea’s delicate grassiness, and the hint of vanilla brings out its floral notes. It’s a perfectly balanced sip: sweet but not too sweet, and so very smooth. We could drink a bottomless cup of this latte — especially in the afternoon when we need a jolt of caffeine but don’t want to be up until 2 a.m. with the jitters. It also makes a lovely, comforting addition to winter weekends spent curled up on the couch with a heartwarming book or a feel-good TV show.
Our tips: Make sure you use Ghirardelli white chocolate chips for this recipe as lower quality white chocolate won’t caramelize well. Also, if you notice any uneven browning or brown flecks when you’re caramelizing the chocolate, remove it from the heat or add the milk to cool it down.
2 Tbsp Ghirardelli white chocolate chips
1 ¼ cups milk
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp matcha, divided
4 Tbsp water, very hot, divided
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the white chocolate chips. With a small spatula, stirring continuously, spread the melted chocolate in a thin layer, then scrape it up. Keep working the chocolate until it is lightly golden in color, 7 to 10 minutes. Note: white chocolate burns very easily, so don’t leave it unattended.
Once the chocolate has melted, immediately add the milk and vanilla extract to the pan, scraping down the sides of the pan to make sure the chocolate is fully incorporated. Whisk until the white chocolate milk is warmed throughout, then remove from the heat.
Tip: Water temperature is important in the next step. If you boil some water, and then let it cool for about 2 minutes, it will be just the right temperature.
Measure 1 teaspoon matcha powder into each serving cup. Pour 2 tablespoons of the very hot water (not boiling) over each. Whisk vigorously in an “M”-shaped pattern for about 1 minute, or until the matcha is fully incorporated and frothy. Repeat with the second cup. Insert a milk frother at a 45° angle into the bottom of the reserved pan of milk chocolate and slowly move the wand around the pan for 60 to 75 seconds.
Pour the frothed milk over the matcha. Enjoy!