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I've spent a lot of time trying to improve my iced-coffee game, including conducting a blind tasting session that pitted the top methods against each other. (Our conclusion: Brew directly over ice if you're drinking it black, or go with cold brew, or basically any other style, if adding milk.) But I've slowly—and reluctantly—been coming to what feels like an inevitable conclusion: Black iced coffee, the way I drink it, simply doesn't taste as good as a hot cup.
I know there are a lot of people reading this who will want to tell me why I'm wrong, and how delicious iced coffee is. All I can say to them is: I'm glad you're still enjoying it, and may you always. I once was among you, but no longer, and where I am now is a sad place to be, especially in the middle of an awfully hot and humid NYC summer.
So, where does this leave me? Well, on a lot of days, I just drink coffee hot, and I enjoy it, even if I break a small sweat. On some very, very hot days, I cave and get an iced coffee, and I enjoy it less, but at least it's cold. But, during a recent trip to Japan (my travel and lodging were paid for by the Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau), I found a third option in iced matcha, the Japanese green tea that's ground into a talc-like powder. (If you're curious about how matcha is made, check out this tour of a production facility in Japan.)
The iced matcha that won me over was at one of the Tokyo locations of Tsuruya Yoshinobu, a famed confectionery where sweetened bean paste is transformed into unbelievably beautiful edible flowers. The tea came in a bowl with big ice cubes in the middle, and it was rich and frothy even though it was made with only matcha and water. It had matcha's unmistakable smell of fresh green grass and melon, which isn't anything like coffee, but behind it all was a backbone of bitterness that made me think, Yeah, I could definitely drink this in place of iced coffee any day, and I'd like it a heck of a lot more.
Back at home, the only question was how to mix it up to re-create that frothy serving from Tsuruya. Well, actually, the first question was which matcha to buy, but I'm sidestepping that one because it's a confusing labyrinth of grades and quality levels, which apparently don't always match up. On the high end, matcha can be prohibitively expensive for this kind of casual drinking, so I'd recommend exploring whichever affordable options you can find in your area and choosing a favorite that way.
To test mixing methods, I settled on a ratio of two teaspoons of matcha per eight ounces of water, then attempted to froth the drink using three methods: a traditional bamboo matcha whisk, an immersion blender, and vigorous shaking in a sealed container.
The whisk was by far the most difficult for producing a good foam. Granted, I'm not an expert in using one, so my technique may be largely to blame. But I suspect that my ratio of matcha to water, which is relatively light on the tea and therefore thin (for a more refreshing, less intense brew), meant that hand-whisking wasn't powerful enough to incorporate a sufficient number of tiny air bubbles.
The immersion blender did a better job, but it meant getting out (and then having to clean) the blender, and it had a tendency to splatter due to the low level of liquid. It produced a foam that at first looked impressive but then quickly collapsed, exposing the sea of green below.
The final method, hand-shaking, was by far the easiest and best. After about 15 seconds of vigorous shaking, the tea was incredibly frothy, and the foam held the longest. In fact, you can see just how much aeration is happening in the photo above.
The final question was one of flavor: Did any of these methods produce a better-tasting cup of iced matcha than the others>? Just as I set out my three side-by-side samples for a tasting, lo and behold, former Serious Eats editor and mega tea expert Max Falkowitz walked through the door to say hello. "Max!" I screamed across the office. "I need you!"
So we stood and sipped the teas together, with me knowing which was which and Max not. Neither of us could detect any flavor difference from one sample to the next, and, because it had the nicest foam, Max picked the shaken iced tea as his favorite. When I told him the method I'd used for it, he told me that's how he does iced matcha at home. (Mental note: Just ask Max next time.)
So, for the best iced matcha, just shake it. And leave the coffee for another, preferably colder day.