Tea Writings

A blog about tea from the desk of Cecilia Tan
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In Search of the Best Soy Milk Green Tea “Latte”

August 27, 2010 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Reviews

My obsession with soy milk green tea lattes started early this summer. On Sundays when my S.O. was off at jujitsu and errands and such, if I didn’t have to go somewhere else myself, I would often go to our local, independently owned coffee shop to get some writing done.

The shop is called Simon’s, and as I understand it has become one of the respected coffee shrines in the area for those who worship the trade of the barista. (The baristas have been in competitions and such.) They also have a light menu of soups and muffins, and of course they offer tea of various excellent kinds, served in the pot.

Of course, when it’s hot outside, a hot pot of tea might not be what I’m looking for. But I still want my hit of tea. And all too often iced tea, if not done right, is a waste of good tea anyway. So one afternoon I was staring at their chalkboard menu and it dawned on me, oh, green tea latte. That sounds kind of good.

But with summer come my seasonal allergies, and milk or dairy products pumps up my mucous production. So I asked. Can the green tea latte be made… with soy milk? Of course! replied the cheerful barista. And… can it be iced! Surely!

And a new obsession was born.

I didn’t watch carefully at Simon’s, but from what I can tell, they start with matcha powder (finely ground green tea leaves) and soy milk, and then some combination of using the steamer (hence the word “latte”) and blender, poured over ice, they serve a nice concoction that delivers a very good green tea flavor, naturally sweet because soy milk (like regular milk) has a natural sweetness to it.

I also tried the hot variation and liked it, too.

Then I tried it at a Starbucks. I was simply not expecting it to come out as sweet as a thai iced tea (which is traditionally made with sweetened condensed milk). It was almost too sweet to drink at all. Iced, the soy milk green tea latte at Starbucks is tolerable. Hot, it comes out sickly sweet and syrupy.

I’ve tried ordering it with no sugar, meaning they put no syrup in. I think they sometimes put a shot of the vanilla Torani syrup in. The vanilla flavor blends wonderfully with tea and soy, but gah. Too sweet.

Unfortunately, it appears that the soy milk used by Starbucks is presweetened, as I’ve never been able to get a soy green tea latte at a Starbucks that was not too sweet.

As summer progressed, I found myself wanting the soy green tea latte more and more. I finally gave in and bought some soy milk. This was no trivial thing, as the soy milk section of the Harvest Food Coop is enormous and dizzying. Not only are there multiple manufacturers of soy milk, there are sweetened, unsweetened, low fat, almond, vanilla, “original flavor,” and other variations within each brand name. Not to mention rice milk, almond milk, etc. all on the same shelf.

I ended up going home with two cartons of unsweetened, “original” flavor, one marked as low fat and one not. I knew I had a little can of matcha somewhere that we had used to make green tea ice cream once. I figured if I wanted to add a little vanilla flavor, a drop of vanilla extract would be better than a syrupy, sugary Torani shot.

I got home and discovered the can of matcha had decided to play hide and seek. However I had two packets of powdered green tea I had received as free samples when I bought some tea at the Ten Ren tea store in New York Chinatown. I opened one up, poured it in a tall cup, poured in about 10 ounces of soy milk, a drop of vanilla, and stirred it with a chopstick. The soy milk was room temperature so I added a few ice cubes.

Perfect.

The next day i did the same thing, trying the other carton of soy milk. Turns out whether it was low-fat or fatty, tasted the same. Then I read the side of the cartons. One serving of each was listed as 90 calories, despite the fact one had 3.5 grams of fat and the other only 1.5. And they tasted exactly the same. From now on, I’ll just buy whichever is cheaper at the time. Again the drink came out exactly as I hoped.

But now I was out of green tea powder. I knew it would be a while before I got back to Ten Ren and I didn’t want to wait to mail order, so I went over to Whole Foods and discovered that Rishi sells a matcha powder packet as well. The tiny box was almost $20 for 10 packets. That is $2 each. That seemed a bit steep given that there is barely a fraction of an ounce in each packet. But what the heck. I’ve enjoyed various Rishi teas before.

And on the box it even suggests using the packet as a base for a latte, or even just pouring it into a bottle of water and shaking it up, for an instant green tea drink. Great idea!

The problem, I soon discovered when I got to the bottom of my first attempt, was that the Rishi matcha is actually so finely powdered that it clumps like crazy. Their instructions suggest “dissolving” the powder in hot water first, with a whisk, and then pouring in the soy milk. The result was a lot of bitter clumps in the bottom, no matter how much I whisked. Matcha never really “dissolves”–there’s always some grit left even when you brew it hot, but not normally coherent BLOBS of unadulterated powder. I also tried mixing it without the hot water, just cold like the ones I had made with the Ten Ren tea which had come out perfect. No dice. The last inch or so in the glass was undrinkable because of the bitter powder bombs, and meanwhile I felt I was wasting a lot of very expensive matcha if so much of it was undrinkable.

Matcha is a lot like cocoa powder in terms of how it can be used in recipes. There’s a difference between making hot cocoa and chocolate milk, but ultimately you still have to get it to dissolve somehow.

Yesterday I brought out the heavy artillery, the stick blender. While this piece of machinery did reduce the number of clumps, even it still left blobs of 1-2 mm across.

I would say at this point the Rishi packets are a failure, especially at that price. Meanwhile, I just looked up the Ten Ren website and they sell an 8 ounce bag of green tea powder for a mere $9, and a box containing 20 single serve green tea packets is a mere $3.50. For just 90 cents you can get a sampler of 4 different green tea powder packets.

So, Ten Ren, here I come.

Soy Milk Green Tea Latte Recipe

Ingredients:
8-10 ounces unsweetened soy milk
1-2 teaspoons green tea powder
1-3 drops of vanilla extract

As described above, if your green tea powder is not excessively clumpy, just put it all in a glass and whisk or stir, then put in the ice cubes. If you want to make it hot, I’d just microwave it at that point, unless you have a fancy milk steamer.

If the tea is clumpy, do it in a blender. If you use an immersion blender instead, make sure your glass is twice as tall as the liquid, as it will spin up the sides and spill if not tall enough. A regular blender would probably do fine, as well. If it’s still quite clumpy, pour it through a strainer over ice or the lumps will be bitter and unpleasant.

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