In middle school, I was content with living a matcha-free life. I knew that the adults around me liked to drink a cup of matcha tea in the mornings, but the greenness deterred me. “What if it tastes like grass?” I always thought. It probably didn’t help that a friend also told me that it tasted like alfalfa hay.
But during this season of life, I was also lucky enough to be surrounded by college students from my church who treated me like their little sister. One day, one college student wanted to take me out for dessert and she wanted it to be a surprise. We drove to a Japanese grocery store called Mitsuwa near my house, and I remember looking up at her curiously. Although I had been to Mitsuwa before, I had never gone for dessert, so I asked my friend if we were actually getting dessert inside the store. “The best soft serve is right here,” she replied, grinning.
We went inside and she led me past the aisles of colorful rice crackers and soda candies to an unassuming bakery in the corner. My friend then pointed to a slightly crumpled paper behind the cashier, which, sure enough, listed out the soft serve flavors: matcha, vanilla and swirl. “I get the matcha every time,” she said. “It’s the hidden gem here.”
I wasn’t sure what to do. I had never had matcha soft serve before, so naturally I was apprehensive at the thought of a green dessert that might taste like alfalfa hay. But I admired my older friend — so much so that I wanted to be like her in every way. If she liked this matcha soft serve, I wanted to as well.
“I’ll get the matcha too,” I declared. I was all in. I didn’t even elect for the swirl, which would have given me a little vanilla safety net. My friend nodded excitedly in approval, but as I watched the cashier fill my cup, I fidgeted anxiously. What had I done? “I should have just played it safe with vanilla,” I chastised myself.
Regardless, we grabbed our soft serve and sat down to eat. When I took my first bite, I was blown away. The matcha flavor was deep and earthy, and the soft serve was sweet — but not too sweet. I kept eating, realizing that I was not getting overpowered by the sweetness as I had with virtually all other desserts (which often made me pause in between bites).
“Do you like it?” my friend asked. I nodded earnestly. “It’s different but so good!” I replied. This experience marked a shift in my middle school palate; with my new love for matcha (and thinking that I was cool like the students at UC Irvine) came my new appreciation for sweets that were not too sweet.
I kept eating and I noticed that my friend was looking at me intently. She asked me if I had “found” anything yet, and then suddenly, my spoon hit something hard. I looked back up at her, puzzled. “I didn’t add any toppings,” I said.
“Try it,” she nudged. “What do you think it is?” I took another spoonful of the soft serve and this time noticed two squares peeking out under the icy goodness. They were crunchy and sweet. I looked back up at her. “Cereal?”
“Cinnamon Toast Crunch!” my friend declared. “What a combination, don’t you think?”
I chuckled. This was truly a full-circle dessert experience. It expanded my middle school palate with supposedly sophisticated college-student-loving matcha, then brought me back to a nostalgic childhood cereal. And my friend was right. Though unexpected, the combination of the two worked incredibly well.
The beautiful thing about food is that our palates can evolve as we discover new flavors, but there is always a nostalgia that food brings as well. Matcha soft serve with Cinnamon Toast Crunch is a reflection of how I am growing up — how with age I can appreciate earthy flavors and find beauty in the greenest of green desserts. It is also a reflection of how I still have my childhood tastebuds with me, and how those things can exist in harmony with each other, sometimes even creating the most serendipitous combinations.
So, maybe there is a new food that you have particularly enjoyed in this season of life. With that item in mind, I challenge you to dive into your past and search for a childhood favorite as well. Maybe it’s a plant-based milk latte and a frosted cookie. Maybe it’s veggies prepared a certain way, eaten with boxed mac and cheese. Whatever it is, the combination may surprise you, simultaneously reflecting your maturing palate while still celebrating the flavors of your childhood. There is truly nothing better.
Emily Kim PO ’25 is from Irvine, California. She loves baggy sweaters, YouTube karaoke and banana bread.