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Sarah Holloway of Matcha Maiden

The green tea guru on the A-Z of matcha, her favourite superfoods and how to differentiate between ceremonial grade, culinary grade and organic varieties.

So much has been said about matcha. Like how it contains a glorious amount of antioxidants. How it’s a healthier alternative to coffee. And how it can be consumed as tea, or incorporated into hundreds of other culinary and beauty uses. But there’s so matcha more to know.

As the market for the powdered green tea has expanded, one Australian brand, Matcha Maiden has remained a must-buy for those down under. And if the Aussies’ reputation for being the leading influencers of holistic living and healthy dieting is anything to go by, Matcha Maiden is the matcha brand to note in your Little Black Book of Conscious Beauty and Living.

Founded by couple Sarah Holloway and Nic Davidson, the duo is also behind Australia’s first matcha café, Matcha Mylkbar in Melbourne, with a second one opening in Sydney this year.

The ingredient behind the brand’s tremendous success sits somewhere between ceremonial grade (the best) matcha and culinary grade (second best) matcha so as to offer consumers an inexpensive option that doesn’t scrimp on quality. Matcha Maiden’s version is also organic, meaning the Kyoto tea farms from which they source from is “certified as using no pesticides or other nasties in the growing process”. All you have to do is whisk in and sip down.

With an overwhelming number of competitor brands on the market, quality matcha is a game-changer. And Matcha Maiden seems to have mastered the game.

Matcha has gained such a following in the west in recent years. Why do you think this is?

People are becoming increasingly interested in their health and longevity, and therefore a beautiful health and wellbeing boom has hit the market. Matcha has such incredible health properties and is so versatile that it ticks all the boxes for a health-hungry audience that is also looking for convenience and ease of use. With 137 times the antioxidants of regular green tea, but a much gentler delivery of caffeine than coffee, it’s no surprise that matcha has taken off!

Matcha Maiden Après Avant

How did you decide on the Kyoto tea farms from which you source your matcha?

Quality is our first priority and Kyoto is where matcha was born. We visited many different tea farms and sampled many different blends and we ultimately chose our final source based on quality control, accessibility of flavour, business ethics and relationships.

What is your response to those who believe that ceremonial grade matcha is the only kind we should consume?

Ceremonial grade is wonderful for special occasions but is prohibitively expensive for some people. I believe matcha and its benefits should be accessible and affordable to the mainstream market as it still bears the same benefits — even if not ceremonial grade but a high quality premium grade. It is true that tradition and rituals are such a valuable part of life to safeguard and acknowledge, but the modern day consumer requires affordability and convenience. So it’s nice to have a middle ground to make this vibrant green powder appealing to a wider audience across the globe.

Sarah Holloway Matcha Maiden Après Avant

What is the difference between ceremonial grade, culinary grade and organic matcha?

Ceremonial grade is handpicked, not machine-picked, so it is the purest blend of matcha and contains no broken parts of branches that the machine might sometimes pick up. It is purely leaves and since it requires so much labour, is obviously much more expensive. It is the most vibrant green of all the blends as it is made up purely of the green leaves with no other materials.

Culinary grade, by contrast, is much less attentively picked and therefore can contain some of the branches rather than only the leaves which lower the purity and quality. Culinary grade may also not be grown under the same shaded conditions for the same amount of time, meaning the benefits may not be as strong.

Ours is a middle ground between ceremonial and culinary as the former was too expensive but the latter wasn’t of high enough quality. Our preference was an organic premium blend instead.

Organic can cover both ceremonial and culinary, and simply means the tea farm is certified as using no pesticides or other nasties in the growing process. However, many Japanese tea farms that don’t have organic certifications still won’t use pesticides in their process as it can affect the tea quality.

What are some other prized superfoods you love, and why?

We also love blue algae for its vibrant colour and unusual tang. It has been a huge hit at Matcha Mylkbar where we introduced the world’s first smurf latte, adding a bright blue option to our latte menu which includes all colours of the rainbows according to each different superfood powder.

Turmeric is also very popular and medicinal mushrooms are on the rise, as well as a big superfood player. We are constantly bombarding ourselves with inflammation and stimulus, so these high-antioxidant, anti-inflammatory powders are increasingly sought after.

Please share with us the benefits of ginger, cayenne pepper, fennel and dandelion root, which you include in some of your products.

Ginger is very well known for its anti-inflammatory properties and soothing effects on the tummy. It can also help lower blood sugar and some research suggests that it can even lower cholesterol. As the weather is getting colder in Melbourne, I’ve started ramping up the ginger in cooking and in my hot drinks.

Cayenne pepper is great for giving the body a good boost and getting the internal temperature up, so I like them together and cook with both often.

Fennel is high in fibre which is great for digestion and is also packed with vitamins. Fibre helps lower the total amount of cholesterol and supports a healthy tummy.

Dandelion root is also well known for helping soothe the stomach, detox the system and boost your system with nutrients. It has a history of therapeutic use, particularly for the liver, so it packs a punch when combined with our matcha!

Matcha Maiden smoothies Après Avant

How do you take your matcha, and what are some other ways you use your powders?

I really enjoy my matcha simply with hot water as a tea. It’s important to dissolve the matcha in warm water first, NOT boiling water so as not to burn it, and then afterwards you can mix in hot water but only after it is dissolved. I also love a good matcha latte but I’m not very good at frothing my own milk, so I only have these when I’m out at cafes. It’s also really easy to add to smoothies, salad dressing, and we even make a green tea salt that we keep in the cupboard. So matcha to love!

What’s next for Matcha Maiden?

We’ve just been through a wonderful four months in the Chobani Food Incubator Program going through some intensive scale-up and transformation. We’ve only just finished a few weeks ago. It’s the first time in so long that we’ve been able to set aside time to spend ON the business and not just IN the business, so it’s been amazing to see fresh ideas coming out again! We haven’t yet decided what the next chapter will look like, but there’s definitely a lot of exciting stuff on the table!

Matcha Mylkbar Matcha Maiden Après Avant

“Ours is a middle ground between ceremonial and culinary as the former was too expensive but the latter wasn’t of high enough quality.”

What does conscious living mean to you?

I think awareness is the key element for me — just being aware of the provenance of your food, the nutritional properties of your food, what stage your body is at and what it needs under those conditions, what your environment is doing and how it’s impacting your life… Life is so busy these days that it’s easy to go into autopilot and live out your days “unconsciously” without making measured decisions that are suited to your current needs or the needs of the world around you.

We’ve become so disconnected with sustainability and longevity of both humanity and the planet, so I think conscious living just means bringing back awareness to all your actions and their consequences. A big part of that for me is mindfulness too. I tend to live so far ahead in the future in my mind that my body can’t keep up, but then what happens to the moment I’m in? It’s so important to remind yourself to come back to the present moment and enjoy it because life is just made up of a string of “nows” so you have to enjoy them each fully.

Images courtesy of Matcha Maiden