I recently got a pretty delightful email that I can’t help sharing. It was from Tynan, with whom I sipped matcha in his incredible RV several months back.
Tynan and the ever-inspiring Leo Babauta (I also had the chance to sit down with Leo and talk about flow and productivity over matcha). and Leo’s wife Eva, did 5-way double-blind tasting of Blends 100, 99, 97, and two matcha that they picked up in Uji on a recent trip there. Without conferring before deciding favorites, they all picked 99, 97, and 100 in that order. Wow. My kind of afternoon experiment!
We were thrilled to find Breakaway Matcha on the cover of last weekend’s SF Chronicle! (Marin edition) Full article is below — click a panel to blow it up for easier reading. Thanks to Carey Sweet and everyone at the Chronicle who made this happen!
Most of us agree that we feel awfully good after drinking a thick cup of matcha. Part of the reason behind feeling good is surely a placebo effect: you have this creamy, electric-green drink made of 100 percent baby green tea leaves and nothing else. It looks delicious and tastes even better. We just know on some primitive level that something that green has got to be good. So I do believe we are almost predisposed to feeling good after drinking it, even if science was on the fence about its health properties.
Am I addicted to matcha? Probably. But what does this mean exactly?
The most common definition of addiction is probably something like: the continued use of a mood altering substance or behavior despite adverse consequences. The most obvious addictions that fit this definition for many people are abuse of drugs and alcohol, sex, gambling, and even exercise.
But what do you call the continued use of a mood-altering substance that brings about excellent consequences? Do we even have a word for that?
When we drink matcha, we’re actually drinking a plant. Not the extract of a plant, mind you: the actual plant itself.The leaves of this gorgeous plant are plucked by hand, then steamed to preserve their brilliant color, then dried, then finely ground using specially designed grooved granite wheels. We then simply combine this ground tea (the characters for matcha, literally mean “ground tea”) with hot water, whisk it up a bit, and drink it. We thus ingest the actual leaves, the actual tea.
For most of us, it’s common sense that tea is made with boiling water. Plonk tea bag in cup, add boiling water, steep, toss bag, drink.
How do we break free of fixed ideas like these? The brain has many ingenious ways of dealing with complexity, and a prominent one is to categorize information into easily memorable chunks. Tea equals boiling water.
But sometimes the rule is wildly off, and employing it gives highly undesired results. Matcha is one of the cases.
I recently had the opportunity to have a cup of matcha with the fascinating and inspiring Tynan, a young entrepreneur who’s obsessed with living a fulfilling and adventure-packed life. We hung out in his remarkable RV — parked behind a gas station in SF — which he has customized to an almost unimaginable degree. He managed to install some beautiful tatami mats, mainly because he likes to prepare and serve tea so much (tatami of course also makes a terrific flooriing for a futon). He’s also written several books, including one called The Tiniest Mansion: How To Live in Luxury on the Side of the Road in an RV. We talked for a few hours, and here is the tiniest slice of it.
I grew up with Red Rose tea bags, a blend of black and orange pekoe teas My mother liked to make a cup in the evenings, after dinner, and I felt sophisticated whenever I joined her for a cup. She bought the 100-bag box at our local grocery store, and couldn’t have (wouldn’t have) paid more than five dollars for it (and this was 1970s dollars). Pennies per bag was my frame.
I recently had matcha in SF with the inimitable Leo Babauta. This guy, despite having created an army of fans who love his musings on productivity, happiness, minimalism, frugality, vegetarianism/veganism, health and fitness, setting goals, and many other topics has clearly digested the concept of humility. He has a long list of impressive achievements, yet he’s one of the humbler and most self-effacing people I’ve met in a long time. Check out what he has to say below about “best practices” concerning concentration, focus, and flow. And by all means check out his delightful blog at Zen Habits.
Matcha is a special kind of green tea from Japan, mainly used in formal ceremonies. In the minds of most Japanese, matcha is linked to the tea ceremony.
Matcha neither looks like nor tastes like other kinds of tea. It looks like electric green cocoa, and has the mouthfeel of a well-made espresso. It tastes like baby green vegetables that might have been cooked by Ferran Adria or someone else into molecular gastronomy : perhaps blended microgreens, straight-up chlorophyll, young bamboo, and raw sugar.
We like to serve it in small cups, like espresso. When matcha is removed from its Japanese context, there is no need to replicate exact Japanese conditions of teamaking. One needn't wear a kimono, it need not be served on tatami mats, and one certainly doesn't have to study matcha for years on end to enjoy it. You could make it anywhere: at the breakfast table, at the office, at the yoga studio, on a hike (really!), or even in your car, especially if you've had a glass of wine or two.
Great matcha has many distinguishing features, but the top four are probably 1) Form of tea leaves. Unlike all other teas, including green teas, matcha is finely ground; 2) No steeping. Matcha isn't steeped, it's "eaten." You simply pour hot water over the powder, froth it (either with a special handheld bamboo whisk or an electric milk frother), and drink the thick tea; 3) Off-the-charts health properties. Matcha is full of naturally occurring antioxidants and amino acids; roughly 20 times those of regular green tea; and 4)It's A LOT like really good wine. Terroir (conditions in which it's grown) is massively important, it should have a balanced acid structure, a very long finish, and be full of umami. It should also froth up to a very fine crema, similar to espresso.