The word “matcha” may conjure up visions of ceremonial tea rituals, post-workout drinks, and silky green lattes. But while Michelin-starred chefs are only just beginning to explore its rich, earthy aroma and nutritional benefits, matcha has quite a history behind it, with everyone from samurais to Zen Buddhists finding the magic in it.
A Ritual Rooted In Tradition
Matcha has a history dating back to 12th century Japan, when the first saplings took root in a temple in Kyoto, planted by Zen monk Eisai. Following that little step, the region soon became the center of a flourishing matcha tradition as many Japanese took to the soul-nourishing tea. Loved equally by a diverse group of people – from the monks who began the tradition to the nobility, the legendary samurai warriors and, eventually, the tea-loving Japanese folk across the country, matcha has captured the imagination of the nation. You only need to peek into a Japanese family’s heirlooms, with their beautiful tea sets and ceramic, to see how central tea drinking and the unique tea ceremony Chanoyu – so intrinsically linked to matcha itself – have been to their lives.
Matcha For Meditation
Long-time drinkers of this fragrant brew may even compare the act of consuming matcha to a spiritual experience – and with good reason. Due to the intricate ritual involved in preparing the tea, matcha can be a fantastic meditative aid.
But consuming it can help you feel pretty relaxed, too. This can be attributed to the abundance of L-theanine, an amino acid that causes the body to generate alpha brain waves responsible for this meditative-like state.1
Destress With A Cup
Unlike a cup of coffee or an energy drink – both of which can raise cortisol levels – matcha works gently to ease the stress. L-theanine can actually lower levels of this stress hormone and regulate blood sugar, too, easing the load on the adrenal glands. After enjoying a cup of matcha, you’re likely to experience a nice balance, feeling alert yet relaxed.2
Sharpen Your Mind
While a lot of us are tempted to grab another coffee around that mid-afternoon slump, matcha is a much better option. While matcha contains some caffeine, the soothing effects of L-theanine can help balance out any stimulation from the caffeine, which means no energy crash later on. Researchers have found that drinking matcha can also make you more alert and boost your cognitive ability and performance.3
Strengthen Your Body
Rich in antioxidants, vitamins A and C, potassium, calcium, and iron, matcha tea can help boost your immune system. In particular, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), abundant in matcha tea, can fight free radical damage and potentially have protective effects against cancer. The polyphenols in a cup of matcha can also act as powerful probiotics, helping restore the balance of bacteria in the gut.4
Perform A Traditional Ceremonial Matcha Ritual
The mindfulness and attention that goes into creating each cup of matcha tea can make it a wonderfully meditative experience. Here’s a way to replicate the ritual at home. Simply follow these five easy steps for making a satisfying and soothing brew.5
- Gather good quality ceremonial matcha, made from the first harvest of the tea; hot water in a kettle; a bamboo tea whisk; a teaspoon; a tea strainer; and a wide shallow bowl for preparing the tea.
- Remove your footwear and sit down on your knees on a straw mat. Lean back so your weight is on your heels and bottom.
- Prepare the space and your mind. Place all the tea utensils on the surface where the tea will be made. Take a deep breath and focus.
- Place the tea strainer in the warmed tea bowl. Open the tea container and take out 1½ teaspoons of matcha. Sift the matcha through the strainer into the bowl. It should be evenly scattered at the base of the bowl. Put away the strainer, spoon, and tea box.
- Take another deep breath and then add two ounces of hot water (at about 180–190 degrees).
- Using the tea whisk, begin whisking gently. Draw clockwise circles in the bottom half of the tea bowl so the tea mixes into the water. Then, whisk faster but still gently, tracing circular patterns if you want tea that is thin and smooth. Trace an M or W shape to create more foamy tea. Finish with a final spiral circular movement ending in the very center of your tea bowl. Gently withdraw the whisk vertically, taking care not to disturb the foam.
How To Drink Your Matcha
Use both hands to drink your carefully prepared tea. Pick up the bowl with the right hand and place it in your left while lifting towards your face. Before you sip, bow your head in a show of thankfulness. Inhale first, then drink. After the first sip, hold the bowl at heart level, pause, and then continue drinking. Afterward, clean up carefully and mindfully.
If you’d like to take the ritual one step further, include some traditional Japanese sweets called omogashi to enjoy before the tea ritual. Lay out some fresh flowers to add a nice ambiance to the experience.
Channel Your Inner Zen
Done right, your ceremony will emulate the environment of a traditional Chanoyu where “knowledge can grow into wisdom.” During the tea ceremony, clearing up as you go helps to maintain harmony and purity. The precise movements are designed to show respect to the ingredients, tools, and people involved, and to create a deep sense of tranquility.6
A Modern Brew
While experiencing a traditional matcha tea ceremony can almost feel meditative, there are times when all you’re looking for is a good (and quick) pick-me-up. And that’s what has made a whole new generation of tea drinkers discover the pleasure of a tall glass of ice-cold matcha on the rocks. To prepare, simply shake up some matcha tea powder in a glass of chilled water and ice. It’s as simple and refreshing as that.
References [ + ]
|1, 3.||↑||Giesbrecht, Timo, J. A. Rycroft, M. J. Rowson, and E. A. De Bruin. “The combination of L-theanine and caffeine improves cognitive performance and increases subjective alertness.” Nutritional neuroscience 13, no. 6 (2010): 283-290.|
|2.||↑||Nobre, Anna C., Anling Rao, and Gail N. Owen. “L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state.” Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition 17, no. S1 (2008): 167-168.|
|4.||↑||Du, Guang-Jian, Zhiyu Zhang, Xiao-Dong Wen, Chunhao Yu, Tyler Calway, Chun-Su Yuan, and Chong-Zhi Wang. “Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG) is the most effective cancer chemopreventive polyphenol in green tea.” Nutrients 4, no. 11 (2012): 1679-1691.|
|5.||↑||How to Make Matcha, Japanese Green Tea, Step by Step, Bon Appetit.|
|6.||↑||Dubrin, Beverly. Tea Culture: History, Traditions, Celebrations, Recipes & More: History, Traditions, Celebrations, Recipes & More. Charlesbridge, 2012.|