Maybe you’re curious about matcha green tea because you know it’s really healthy. This post is not at all about the high concentration of disease-fighting antioxidants found in this Japanese superfood. It’s not about catechin polyphenols, L-Theanine, or epigallocatechin gallate.
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