black tea matcha starbucks tea weird

The Tea on Starbucks

What happens when you marry matcha & black tea powder?

– Care Elise, in Questions I Wish I Had Never Asked Myself

I think Starbucks makes a half decent matcha latte. Hold up tea purists, and let me explain.

Lactose doesn’t sit well with my stomach and I like the milk choices that the ‘Bucks offers (particularly the coconut, since it’s sweetish and I rarely add syrup to drinks). When I’m onsite with a client for long hours, it’s not like I have the facilities to steam or froth my own milk, and sometimes I like to break my fasts with a latte. *shrug* It just happens that one of my biggest clients has a Starbucks downstairs from their office.

You can get plain steeped tea at Starbucks, but most people don’t realize that Starbucks doesn’t use loose leaf tea in its lattes. Their mixed/blended drinks are either made from tea powder or tea syrup/concentrate. The one exception is the Royal English Breakfast latte, which uses a steeped tea bag. 

Starbucks’ chai comes in a carton. Their ice teas are pre-made concentrate too, unless you order one of their few loose leaf blends and request it over ice.

PRO TIP: Order a venti cup of ice alongside your grande steeped tea and DIY your iced tea, otherwise the tea bag probably won’t be left in hot water long enough to steep properly.


Starbucks black tea and rooibos are both tea powders, and obviously so is the matcha. In case you were thinking it was its own thing, the blossoming rose latte is just rooibos powder and rose syrup. 

I’m not going to get into the marketing brilliance of Starbucks using tea powder (the lowest commercial grade of tea) in milk and syrup concoctions (because really once you steam some milk and add flavoured sweetener, who can tell?). It makes sense that Starbucks, with drive thrus, a to-go clientele, and long line ups at peak times, needs to get customers’ drinks ready FAST. Tea powder and concentrates that mix directly into hot water mean that baristas don’t have to worry about steeping times. Their staff don’t have to babysit most of their tea menu to make sure they’re steeped properly or at the right temperature.

Considering Starbucks’ business model, it makes a lot of sense to treat tea this way. Even though they bought Teavana, they are a coffee company. Even though it seems like their tea latte options have expanded, coffee is their baby. That being said, the tea purist in me rebels every time my client offers to buy Starbucks. But it happens frequently enough that I’ve got some go-to favourites.

Unsurprisingly, all of them involve matcha. I feel like it’s the only tea that should be a powder.

My go-to’s are: 

  • matcha latte (non-sweet, sub coconut milk), 
  • matcha slushie (non-sweet frappucino, sub almond or coconut milk, no flavour base/milk base, add two extra scoops of matcha and argue with the barista that yes, you know it’s not going to taste sweet and the texture will be different and that’s kind of the point),
  • Their summer iced matcha drink thingy with coconut milk and pineapple ginger syrup (half sweet).

Do you see a pattern yet?

Granted, with tea powders, you’re getting a lot of the insoluble nutrients that you wouldn’t get without eating the leaf, like fiber, protein, chlorophyll, Vitamin E, antioxidants, beta carotene, crude fat…(keeping in mind that some of these are in extremely small quantities). But I have a hard time getting past the flavour of black tea powder – it’s just… different.

So today, I thought I would be adventurous. I would be a self-experimenting tea adventure scientist. I would try blending two flavours and see what happened. 

I ordered this.

I joked with the girl that I was working with that I was getting the tea version of swamp water.

I had hoped there might be layers of flavour, and that the extra vanilla powder on top would help to smooth over any weirdness.

Instead, I had more of a Shoukugeki no Soma (Food Wars) experience. The not so good kind.

I was expecting the delicate nutty umami of matcha gliding across my palette like an airy green gown followed by a billowing train of rich black tea undertones. It would greet my taste buds with a tiny royal wave and a friendly coconut smile. 

Instead, I got a matcha that didn’t waste time with formalities. It stormed into my mouth and punched me in the tastebuds without stopping to say hello.

Then came the black tea, too rich when drenched in coconut and following matcha. Like sand washing up on beach it left a slight gritty texture in my mouth.

Rich, strong. Definitely matcha dominated. It tasted a bit better once it cooled down. It felt like the flavours had time to settle and then it was a bit more mild.

It was the best of teas, it was the worst of teas…”

– Care Elise, reflecting on her life choices, 09/23/20

Overall, not the greatest marriage of flavours.

TLDR: Maybe next time I want to try something weird, I won’t get a venti.

Fasting Tea Theory

Intermittent Fasting and The Book of Tea

or the value of a vacuum in the face of cheap abundance

Today is the 30th day in a row of my intermittent fasting lifestyle change. Most days I fast 18-22 hours with a 3-6 hour eating window. It’s up to how I feel that day. On weekends it’s a little harder to do with a kitchen full of food at my beck and call, so I fast around 15 or so hours. I’ve lost around 12 pounds in the past month. I’ve noticed increased energy, focus, brainpower, and a greater appreciation for the food on my plate. And every day, I burn a few calories more and inch a little closer to my ideal body weight!

I could still clean up my diet by eating some healthier stuff more consistently during my eating window. While I won’t touch a drive thru, I haven’t been restricting myself at home, and have had snacks of chips and carb heavy dinners fairly frequently, which are less than ideal foods for my body. Oh well, I am perfectly imperfect. I am totally willing to admit that my life is a work in progress.

I’m happy that I’m progressing and that I made it this far. It takes 30 days to make a habit, so it’s day 30 and I’m keeping it up! 

I wanted to mark this habit anniversary by reflecting on a philosophical aspect of intermittent fasting. I recently read Kakuzo Okakura’s The Book of Tea, and it struck me that there is a Taoist quality to this practice.

In The Book of Tea, Okakura discusses Laotse’s favourite metaphor, the vacuum. The vacuum, or emptiness of space, has a great deal of utility in this context. 

In Laotse’s imagination,

“The reality of a room…was to be found in the vacant space enclosed by the roof and the walls, not in the roof and the walls themselves. The usefulness of a water pitcher dwelt in the emptiness where water might be put, not in the form of the pitcher or the material of which it was made. Vacuum is all potent because all containing. In vacuum alone motion becomes possible.”

(III – Daoism and Zennism, Book of Tea, Okakura).

Wow. Perhaps this allows us to better understand the origins of Marie Kondo’s art of tidying up. For what use is a room if it’s filled up? If it can’t really be used, what good is it?

To me, the image of the water pitcher spoke strongly to the realities of intermittent fasting. A stomach or a digestive system is not too unlike that water pitcher. The stomach needs space to take in and process nutrients. This is not only about avoiding overstuffing oneself to leave the body space to do its work, but also the reality of the stomach needing some space and time to reset itself between digestion. In an overstuffed world, it craves the vacuum where it can work to its true potential. The empty space, Laotse’s vacuum, gives the stomach its much needed rest.

In my case, experiencing the vacuum of intermittent fasting has allowed me to enjoy some of the things that I couldn’t previously. The occasional wheat laden treat. Emphasis on occasional. If it’s too often, my stomach has no rest and my whole body gets angry at me.

How often do we leave empty space in our bodies, in our lives? I know I wasn’t brought up this way. Lack is bad. Others have nothing. Being grateful means eating it all. Finish everything on your plate. All you can eat is the best value for money. 

But I wonder how much of this empty/full rhetoric had more to do with feeling empty inside, and less to do with the body truly lacking what it needed?

Keep the body full of fuel, so you don’t have to experience fear of the vacuum. Lack and starvation, not having enough, has been one of my biggest fears. Based on watching how others behave, I suspect it’s a subconscious underlying fear of many. From a food perspective, I suppose it speaks to a deeper spiritual starvation that paradoxically comes from being overstuffed. Stuffed with abundance.

Abundance is somewhat different in the Western ideation. We think of it somewhat as having it all, but to the Japanese imagination, one masterpiece is greater than a room full of trinkets.

“A collector … forgets that a single masterpiece can teach us more than any number of the mediocre products of a given period… We classify too much and enjoy too little.”

(V – Art Appreciation, The Book of Tea)

This is incredibly apt when it comes to food. I have personally been guilty of being enslaved to the collector mindset. My kitchen and my belly both overstuffed with a strange assortment of foods, with no space left for a single culinary masterpiece. I think this is the essence of what fine dining is about, and why many of us don’t appreciate it. The fear of the vacuum, of the empty, of lack. “There’s not enough food on the plate!” might be the complaint about a nutritionally balanced meal that is exactly the amount merited for human consumption. We are so accustomed to overstuffing ourselves with abundance, we would rather have large portions, and cheaply made food, but what value is there when we trade our health for a cheap facsimile of true abundance?

Tea is like this. 

I believe that there are only three types of teas. Great teas, good teas, and bad teas. Yet, I will not give any of these categories a specific characteristic, and leave them up to the individual’s taste. 

We know when we try something that’s truly great. The feelings that conveys need no explanation. 

I say good because if there is enjoyment, it’s good. If there isn’t then it’s bad. 

I think there are few things in tea that anyone is really neutral towards. Generally neutrality is a moniker for politeness. “It’s alright…” really means, “it’s tolerable, but I would have preferred something different.” So from that individual’s preference, it’s bad. This is what I mean by there is only the existence of bad, good, and great.

A great tea may also cost a great deal, or it may not. Let’s say it does. Let’s say you drink tea every day, but you only drink cheap teas that are “just alright”. This way your cup overflows with an abundance of tea bags, daily. You tolerate them, but obscure their aroma with cream, their bitterness with sugar. Every day you have an average or sub-par tea experience. Fine. But you are paying for that experience financially and in health. Your subpar tea may not have the benefits of a good cup, particularly if it’s laced with white death (sugar).

If money prevented you from buying enjoyable tea, what if you saved aside that money and stopped purchasing bad experiences? What if, less frequently, you purchased a good tea, or even a great tea instead?

You would taste a masterpiece, and experience what tea truly can be.

I use tea as an example because, well, this is Tea Crazed, and because this whole diatribe was sparked by The Book of Tea. But really, this applies to all aspects of life. 

Quality over quantity.

Intermittent fasting has taught me the wisdom of this maxim in a world where we’re taught to consume unceasingly.

It applies to everything.

But let’s keep it to food for the moment.

What if you could have the best potato chips, an amazing crunch, explosion of flavour, just perfection, but they were more expensive, so you couldn’t pick up chips every grocery trip. What would be the result?

Probably a boon to your health from consuming less. Probably a boon to the environment from creating less disposable waste.

I’ve come to realize that our Western culture has this curious ingrained notion that our bodies should be treated like garbage dumps where we unload cheap abundance. We consume too much, physically and materially.

When your body’s systems are not overflowing with excess, but can enjoy a sensation of emptiness, they can self-sustain and self-regulate. With the presence of a vacuum you can learn to truly enjoy the masterpieces of the culinary world. 

There’s also something in Laotse’s ideals about growth. “In vacuum alone, motion becomes possible.” To me, this speaks to the value of meditation and stepping back in order to move forward, but also to physical improvement of the body. Through vacuum, whether as a regular practice or occasional reset, we allow the body to repair itself to move forward.

I mean this all, rather tongue in cheek, as food for thought.

We’ll finish with a beautiful sentiment which has less to do with fasting and more to do with life: 

“One who can make himself a vacuum into which others can freely enter would become master of all situations.”

Truly, that is a role of the tea master.

Japanese Tea


In my humble opinion, fukamushi sencha (深蒸し茶) is the most rich green tea of the Japanese tea family. When made with premium sencha, it has a depth of flavour that makes you feel like your taste buds are swimming in a pool of buttered nuts. This is my absolute favourite green tea. Fukamushi means deeply steamed, referencing the longer steaming process that this tea undergoes compared to other senchas. But what even is sencha?! This video talks about the history of fukamushi and why it’s so damn buttery and delicious, with special guest Fukamushi Sencha from Lucas Teas in Squamish, BC. Welcome to Sencha DE-CLASSIFIED.