At a quiet, little tea shop in Omotesando, Tokyo, I uncovered the secret reason why drinking matcha is so good for you. It’s one word I actually know how to pronounce. To learn more, I sat down with organic matcha expert, Masahiro Nagata, CEO of The Matcha Tokyo. His newest shop will open in Osaka on February 28, 2020… my birthday. 😉
photo of Suisouen brand organic matcha (by eyesandhour)
Matcha Green Tea – Why is it Healthy?
A few years back, I even went through a phase of adding matcha powder to my regular green tea. This was my insurance that would live past age 93, like the kimono-wrapped Japanese women I saw hosting the tea ceremonies I attended.
When you drink green tea that is steeped, the tea leaves are soaked in hot water. This means not all the nutrients in the leaves actually end up in your cup of tea. The green tea that you drink, steeped from a teabag, is something like 99.9% water.
Really, what you’re drinking is green tea-infused water. The rest of your loose-leaf tea, or tea bag, gets tossed in the garbage.
Matcha is made from the exact same green tea plant, Camellia sinensis, but the leaves are ground up into a fine powder. When you drink matcha, you’re actually consuming whole tea leaves in powdered form, mixed with water.
Makes sense, right, why matcha has a much higher concentration of antioxidants?
But like a said earlier, this post is not about the nutrients inside matcha.
The secret to matcha’s power to heal has nothing to do with what’s in the tea.
Matcha – Infused into Japanese Culture
In Japanese, the tradition is called sadō (茶道), “The Way of the Tea”.
As a green tea-lover, I always appreciated the matcha tea at every tea ceremony I’ve ever been to. After my third and final sip, I only wished they had served me a Starbucks’ size of it.
The cup is big. Why is the amount so small?
As a foreign guest living in Japan, I never really understood why they made such a big deal out of serving one single cup of tea.
Now I finally get it.
I have to laugh at myself for not seeing it sooner!
photo of Suisouen organic matcha (eyesandhour)
More Than Just a Healthy Drink?
Green tea drinkers also have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Yes, Western doctors and nutritionists rave all about the higher concentration of antioxidants in matcha. Rightly so.
However, in Japan, there’s more to the story than matcha’s nutritional value.
Remember, correlation does not imply causation. Correlational studies do not prove that consuming green tea causes good health.
After my ‘aha moment’, I’m convinced that the real reason green tea drinkers in Japan live longer, healthier lives is not only about what they are drinking.
What matters, potentially even more, is how they are drinking what they are drinking.
It’s so obvious to me now.
In Japan, drinking tea is meditation.
photo credit: The Matcha Tokyo
Matcha for Meditation
Thích Nhất Hạnh (93 years old), a world-famous Zen Buddhist monk in Vietnam, spends one hour every day to drink one single, small cup of green tea.
Compare that to the last time you went through the drive-thru at Starbucks!
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future”.
-Thích Nhất Hạnh
The antioxidants in green tea may reduce inflammation in your body, yes.
But chugging down a tall matcha latte so you can rush back to your high-stress job, what does that do to your health?
It’s not just what you drink, it’s how you drink.
He takes an hour to drink one cup of tea. One hour.
Thích Nhất Hạnh, age 93.
photo credit: The Matcha Tokyo (by eyesandhour)
The Origins of Matcha Tea
I read that in the 12th century, a Japanese man named Myōan Eisai was studying in China. When he returned home to Japan, he brought back two things with him that would shape the culture of his home country for centuries to come.
One, he returned with him a new way of making green tea, where the tea leaves were dried, ground by stone into a fine powder, and mixed with hot water using a whisk.
And second, he brought back with him what he had been studying in China: Rinzai Zen.
Eisai (1141 – 1215), a Buddhist priest, was Japan’s first Zen master.
He wrote the book Kissa Yojoki (in English, Drinking Tea for Health)
Aha! Before my eyes, it was so clear. My body had felt the connection– my mind had just caught up.
The knowledge of how to make matcha and Zen came to Japan together…
Eisai is credited for bringing the seeds to grow green tea in Japan for the first time.
After I unearthed the history of growing green tea in Japan, all the dots connected.
Making a cup of matcha tea is Zen!
I continued my research. It turns out that monks in Japan have been preparing matcha tea the same way for over 500 years.
Next, I discovered that sadō, Japanese tea ceremony, originated as a Zen Buddhist ritual. It’s a practice.
Sen Rikyu, the most revered tea master in Japan’s past, is quoted saying,
“The most important purpose of tea…is… to arrive at spiritual enlightenment.”
I don’t know if you are as excited to learn this as I was–
For me, it was an awakening!
photo credit: The Matcha Tokyo
What Japanese Tea Ceremony Teaches Us About Life
Forget about the past and the future–
We must learn to fully appreciate the present moment. Each moment of life is unique and will never happen again.
By being fully present, you’re able to find beauty in something as simple as making one cup of tea.
There’s a well-known story about Sen no Rikyu, the founder of the Japanese tea ceremony. It exemplifies how we should be fully awake in the moment, with our heart fully open.
When asked by a student to say something about the most important teachings of the Tea Ceremony, Sen no Rikyu responded,
“First you must make a delicious bowl of tea; lay the charcoal so the water boils; arrange the flowers as they are in the field; in the summer suggest coolness, in the winter, warmth; do everything ahead of time; prepare for rain; and give those with whom you find yourself every consideration.”
The student was disappointed with this response and said he already knew all that. Rikyu told him if he could do all that well, then Rikyu himself would be his student.
Why not try it for yourself? Believe me, it’s not as easy as it would first appear.
Watch your thoughts. Are you really fully present when you’re making your delicious cup of tea?
Recently, I’ve incorporated my own Japanese tea ceremony as part of my morning routine on the weekend and my days off work. It’s a practice of concentration that results in mindfulness, being in the present moment.
This is still brand new for me. I’ve only been meditating regularly for less than two years.
Learn more about my “Morning Matcha Meditation” below the recipe. Start your morning with a sacred ritual, the same as what monks in Japan have been doing for centuries.
Make your morning sacred.
A Mindful Recipe for Matcha Green Tea
How to Make Matcha Green Tea (for beginners)
Boil water in a kettle.
Gather together your tools.
Pour the water into an extra cup and let it cool down for a minute or two.*
Add 1-2 tsp matcha into a chawan, "tea bowl".
Pour 2 oz. of hot water into the bowl.
Whisk briskly in a back-and-forth motion with a bamboo chasen.
Once bubbles begin to form, whisk in the shape of a "M" or "W" (about 15 times).*
Finally, sweep the whisk across the top of the matcha in a circle to settle the froth and bubbles. Gently lift out the whisk from the center of the bowl.
It's ready to drink. You can drink directly from the cup or pour it into another cup.
*Pour the water into an extra cup and let it cool down for a minute or two. The recommended water temperature for matcha is 175°F (80°C).
*The bristles of the chasen shouldn't brush against the bottom of the bowl.
This is the simple way to make matcha, not the "proper" way to make it during a Japanese tea ceremony.
DID YOU TRY OUT THIS RECIPE?
My “Matcha Tea Meditation”
Most importantly, give every step in the ritual your full concentration.
If you witness your thoughts drifting to your problems from yesterday or worries about tomorrow, acknowledge it, and gently bring your awareness back to the present.
“We drink tea to forget the noise of the world.”
Step One– After gently scooping the matcha powder into your tea bowl, take time to admire the brilliant green color and texture of the powder. Lift the bowl with two hands to smell the matcha. You may like to imagine the tea farm where it was grown, the farmer, and other people who worked hard to make your tea powder. Growing organic green tea must be hard work. Breathe in, with a deep sense of gratitude for those people…the farm…the leaves… sunlight…the clean water.
Step Two– When mixing the matcha powder and hot water together with a bamboo whisk, give your full attention to the mixing. With one hand, gently hold the tea bowl in place on the table. In your other hand, hold the whisk gently with your wrist completely relaxed. Notice how effortless you mix when your wrist is entirely limp. Exhale, letting the rest of your body release all its tension.
Step Three– When you finish whisking, slowly pick up the tea bowl in both hands. Pause. Feel the warmth of the bowl. Take some breaths. In your mind or out loud, say thank you for the tea. Feel the warmth and gratitude inside of you. Feel your heart opening.
Step Four– Raise the tea bowl up to your nose. Take in the smell. Lower the bowl, appreciate the beauty of the tiny bubbles and froth on top. I like to look for patterns or signs in the bubbles, or constellations from the sky. Appreciate the sacredness of this moment.
Step Five– Raise the tea bowl to your mouth. Slowly, slowly take your first sip. Bring your awareness to the taste: sweetness, the mild bitterness, the frothy bubbles.
Step Six– Continue to slowly appreciate it sip of matcha tea. If you catch your mind going through today’s to-do list, acknowledge it, and gently bring it back to the present.
Step Seven– Once you finish your last sip, say thank you again.
Step Eight– Wash and rinse your tea bowl and bamboo whisk when the same attention and presence that you had when preparing and drinking the tea. Give your full attention during the whole process. Complete it to the end.
photo credit: The Matcha Tokyo (by eyesandhour)
What You’ll Need to Make Matcha Tea
If you’re first time making matcha, all you really need is matcha powder, a chasen (bamboo tea whisk), and a small bowl. You don’t need to go buy an expensive chawan just to enjoy a humble “tea ceremony” in your kitchen at home.
Even Sen no Rikyu himself said,
“Tea is nought but this: first you heat the water, then you make the tea. Then you drink it properly. That is all you need to know.”
If you really get into making matcha, I would definitely recommend buying a bamboo tea ladle and a pretty Japanese bowl to get the whole experience. For a first-timer, I rather you first invest in some decent quality matcha powder.
With lower quality matcha, you’re better off making a latte or dessert.
This is the organic matcha I drink at home:
THE MATCHA TOKYO Organic Japan Premium & Kyoto Uji Matcha (best quality, organic)
SUISOUEN Matcha *(affordable, good quality organic matcha)
*Sorry, this website is in Japanese. See the dark green package in the pictures at the beginning of this post.
A Taste of Zen– Where to Find High Quality, Organic Matcha Tea in Japan
Last month, I met with Masahiro Nagata, CEO of The Matcha Tokyo. Before opening his first shop, he traveled the entire country in search of the best quality, organic matcha and sencha green tea.
Mr. Nagata is so passionate about matcha. Last year after opening his first organic matcha-themed cafe, he quit his job at Sony to pursue his passion full time.
If you’re shopping in Omotesando/Harajuku, and looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, you’ll find your Zen in his shop.
Their “Japan Premium” Matcha is a blend of organic green tea grown in Kyoto and Kagoshima in Kyushu.
THE MATCHA TOKYO
Omotesando/Harajuku (This is my favorite location.)
Shinjuku (inside NeWoMan Department Store)
Osaka (opens this week!)
Full disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for promoting either of these businesses. My recommendations are only my honest opinions. I go to The Matcha Tokyo often.
Until I wrote this post, I couldn’t explain my strange attraction to green tea. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
The question I’ve been asked a million times, “Why Japan? What brought you here in the first place?” –
My canned answer used to be: “I love Japanese food, obviously, drinking saké, hot springs, the nature, people are polite and nice.”
I knew it wasn’t really the answer. The truth was, “I don’t know. Somehow I ended up here.”
“I don’t know” isn’t the most polite thing to say when a Japanese person asks you, “What made you want to come to Japan?”
Now I know what I’ve been looking for.
The next person who asks me why I moved to Japan, I can finally tell the truth.
Zen. I came to Japan to find inner peace.
I just didn’t know it for the past 16 years.
Finally, I understood. Zen is the way in “The Way of Tea.”
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nutritionist, dietician, or Zen master. I have no medical training at all. The information I shared in this post is based on my own experiences and and information I learned during my own research. For Education and Informational Purposes only. Any product mentioned in this post is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please consult your diet before changing your diet in any way, especially if you have a sensitivity to caffeine.