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Business of the Week: Breakaway Matcha

The quest for a perfect cup of matcha led San Anselmo resident Eric Gower back to Japan where he had lived for many years.

www.breakawaymatcha.com; (415) 462-3313

What do they offer?

Breakaway Matcha owner Eric Gower is an entrepreneur, academic, cookbook author, ghost writer, and private chef. He's also a tea expert. When it comes to matcha (ceremonial green tea from Japan), he’s a purist. He even compares it to fine wine.

“My online company offers the world’s highest quality artisanal matcha on the planet,” he boasts. “It is almost impossible to find. Much of the matcha sold for tea is cooking grade, meant for making green tea ice cream and confections, but not really suitable for drinking.  

“Matcha is an anti-oxidant powerhouse. It contains almost 140 times the amount in green tea,” said Gower. “For the higher grades of matcha, every tea leaf is picked by hand, and stripped of stem and spine, so you are getting only the tender part, which is then ground into a vibrant green powder. Grinding is labor intensive. It takes about an hour to produce 30 grams. For the lower grades of matcha, the entire process is mechanized. The whole plant, including stem and spine, is used.”   

From the website, customers can order three blends of hyperpremium matcha (100, 97, and 94), a sieve, frother, bamboo scoop, and also glazed pitchers and cups designed by Gower, and made by Aletha Soulé in Sebastapol.

Who are they?

Gower, who grew up in a rural community of Pennsylvania, graduated from UC Berkeley in 1987 with a degree in modern Japanese literature. “It prepares you for a life in academia and how to read in Japanese,” he said.  

In the summer of 1986, his hitch-hiking adventures in Japan were transforming. “Because the sign I held up said I spoke Japanese, everyone was curious and trusting. In the safety of their own cars, on a long drive, people would tell me the most personal things about themselves,” he remembers. 

Within two weeks of graduating from UC Berkeley, Gower moved to Japan, where he lived for three years. He came back to California to try graduate school at UC San Diego, but decided academia was not for him, so he returned to Japan for another twelve years working as a translator, writer and editor. 

In 2002, Gower moved to San Francisco. After marrying designer Delia van der Plas, they bought a house in Marin in 2008, where they live with baby daughter Daphne. 

Gower has authored four cookbooks and writes "The Breakaway Cook" column for The San Francisco Chronicle, and blogs at www.breakawaycook.com. Read his blog about combining “ethnic markets with farmers markets.”

His many media  appearances include being a judge on Food Network’s Iron Chef, where he met Masaharu Morimoto who will soon serve Gower’s matcha in his restaurants. You can also try it soon at Greens in San Francisco.  

How long have they been there? 

The San Anselmo business has been in existence since 2010, but the idea was planted twenty years ago. 

“In Japan, I was living in a picuresque farmhouse sanctuary built in 1865 with a view of Mt. Fuji and the ocean,” said Gower. “I was literally surrounded by green tea fields. 

“When I returned to the states, I never stopped thinking about the thick green foamy matcha I had there. I went on a quest and contacted every producer I could find in Japan and asked them to send their top stuff. I did a series of blind tests. It took about a year to find the product I am selling now. It's the essence of umami in a cup.” 

Why are they business of the week? 

The artisanal matcha, available online, ranges in price from $45-105 per thirty gram tin. Gower has customers all over the world. “I even have customers in Japan,” he laughs.  

Gower teaches at Tassajara and at the SF Zen Center and spreads the word with matcha tasting events around the Bay Area community. 

His thick matcha, topped by an espresso-like foam, has an aroma of green peas and asparagus. The first taste is, unbelievably, grilled mushrooms, followed by spinach. Like good wine, it has a long finish.   

“The health benefits of matcha are enormous. The average Japanese person drinks five to seven cups of green tea a day. Japanese researchers believe that health issues like obesity and glaucoma are reduced by drinking green tea.” Experts have written that it helps just about everything from cancer to cholesterol to diabetes to heart disease, while also providing clarity of the mind.    

“Matcha is one of the super foods, like dark chocolate, goji berries, açai, pomegranate and wild blueberries,” said Gower. “My goal is to bring maximum health to Marin. I believe that the demand will approach that of artisanal coffee once people discover how good it is and how good it is for them."

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