8 Key Reasons to Drink Matcha for Optimal Health

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While we enjoy quality matcha primarily for the incredible epicurean delights it gives us, it’s a truly happy coincidence that it happens to be good for you in lots of different ways.

Here are what we feel are the top eight reasons why it makes sense to incorporate matcha, in whatever form (hyperpremium, coldbrew, or culinary), into your diet, solely for health reasons. There are many more reasons to drink matcha, but these eight are pretty powerful. As always, check with your doctor first before embarking on any new diet regimen.


1) Powerful Anti-Cancer Ally

Matcha contains massive quantities of an especially beneficial catechin called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, a flavanoid that has been studied extensively in labs across the world. EGCS are effective “scavengers” of reactive oxygen species in vitro, meaning that it’s one of the most powerful antioxidants found in any food. EGCGs exhibit powerful antioxidant effects against free radicals, unstable molecules that can damage healthy cells and lead to cancerous growths as a result.

According to a 2011 paper published in Biochemical Pharmacology , EGCG has proven to inhibit tumor growth in several test-tube studies involving cancer of the stomach, lungs, liver, breast and colon. In addition, EGCGs promote apoptosis, the spontaneous death of cancer cells. The authors conclude that EGCG presents a promising cancer treatment, along with other therapies. Wikipedia lists another 30 studies on EGCG here that have been shown EGCGs in quantity can be beneficial in treating brain, prostate, cervical, and other cancers.

Matcha has vastly more EGCGs than regular green tea (some studies put the figure at 140x) for the simple simple reason that, unlike regular loose-leaf green tea or bagged green tea, which is steeped and thus only the soluble fibers are extracted, matcha is consumed whole. The soluble and insoluble fiber in matcha work in synergy, something that can’t happen in tea that is steeped. It’s this synergistic effect that is responsible for its off-the-charts EGCG count.


2) Probiotic Powerhouse: Increases Good Bacteria, Decreases Bad Bacteria

Matcha has huge quantities of polyphenols — the naturally occurring compounds found in the tea plant that are thought to be responsible for some of the health effects conferred by a diet rich in fruit and vegetables. These polyphenols get broken down by our gut bacteria into bioactive, polyphenol-derived metabolites.

Not only do polyphenols increase counts of beneficial bacteria, they also inhibit growth of potentially pathogenic bacteria. And they do something similar to the bacteria in the mouth that cause plaque, which brings us to:


3) Oral Health Aid

Matcha supports healthy teeth and gums by both inhibiting and killing the bacteria that cause dental plaque and bad breath. The catechins in matcha have antibacterial effects, and in essence they act as microscopic plaque scrubbers that can help prevent cavity formation and periodontal disease.

Ever experienced coffee breath? Matcha breath is its opposite: sweet, grassy, tingly, clean.


4) Weight Loss Accomplice

There is quite a bit of research on matcha and weight loss, much of which shows that the combination of catechins and caffeine is linked to reduced BMI and body weight. A 2005 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined green tea catechins and their effect on body mass index, body weight, and waist circumference; men in the study who consumed catechin-rich green tea lost nearly twice as much weight as men who consumed tea low in catechins.

Matcha can increase thermogenesis (the body’s own rate of burning calories) from a normal 8% to 10% of daily energy expenditure, to be between 35% and 43%.

Weight loss seekers should especially try coldbrew matcha — cold beverages require your body to work harder, burning more calories.


5) Liver Cleanser

Researchers at the University of Maryland have shown that men who drink more than 10 cups of green tea per day — that is to say, one cup of matcha, nutrition-wise — are less likely to develop liver problems. Matcha also seems to protect the liver from the damaging effects of toxic substances such as alcohol. A tall glass of coldbrew matcha after a night of alcohol consumption has been shown to reduce the effects of hangovers and rehydrate and re-energize.

Animal studies have shown that green tea helps protect against liver tumors in mice. Results from several animal and human studies suggest that catechins may help treat viral hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver. Moreover, a 2009 Journal of Medicinal Food study tested the effects of matcha on rats with type 2 diabetes. The researchers found that treating the animals with matcha led to decreased levels of cholesterol, blood sugar, and harmful blood fats. What’s more, matcha appeared to protect the rats from liver and kidney damage.


6) Blood Sugar Stabilizer

Matcha helps stabilize blood sugar levels, making it ideal for diabetics. There appears to be a direct connection between antioxidant activity and hypoglycemic activity. The natural sugars (polysaccharides) in matcha help to stabilize blood sugar levels, and to protect against insulin spikes thus stabilizing blood sugar levels. Polysaccharides from green tea in concentrated form are used in the treatment of diabetes in China.


7) Caffeine + L-Theanine: Productivity Cocktail

L-theanine is a natural amino found in matcha. As it crosses the blood-brain barrier, L-theanine interfaces with neuroreceptors and stimulate the production of certain neurotransmitters. It promotes GABA production, which blocks excessive stress messages, and generates alpha waves, electrical impulses that accompany a calm, extremely relaxed state. When L-theanine is absorbed into the bloodstream, dopamine and serotonin levels tend to rise, which often produce yet more alpha waves, which typically result in feelings of well-being, a sense of satiety, relaxation, alertness, and an overall feeling of contentedness.

And yet: when l-theanine binds with caffeine, the l-theanine acts as a “timed release” on the caffeine, so there is none of the jittery anxiety associated with coffee consumption. The two molecules actually synergize to bring you a clean, calm and lucid focus that is unparalleled by any other “energy drink.” Matcha drinkers have repeatedly reported clearer and quicker thinking, improved memory for things like names and numbers, increased alertness and awareness, elevated moods, “calm euphoria,” and improved concentrative abilities for studying, working, or driving.


8) Hydration Enabler

Drinking a lot of matcha (coldbrew matcha in particular) keeps you hydrated. Yes, the small amount of caffeine in matcha (about 25 mg, or roughly a quarter of a cup of coffee) can dehydrate, but this tiny amount pales in comparison to the actual water in the drink. We recommend two or more 16-ounce servings of coldbrew per day to keep hydrated, alert, and feeling sated.

Profiles of Hardcore Matcha Drinkers: Michele Wilkerson of Grown-N-Gathered

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Hardcore matcha drinkers in Quincy, Illinois? The town is on fire with matcha drinkers, and their leader is Michele Wilkerson.

 

 

Michele is the dynamo behind Grown-n-Gathered, a thriving storefront, yoga studio, and farmers market rolled into one. She has done an astounding job introducing concepts concerning wellness to the community of Quincy, mainly through sourcing and providing better, healthier food to the people of Quincy.

 

We were curious as to why so many people in Quincy drink so much matcha, so we asked her a few questions; her responses are below.

  

What is it about the demographics of Quincy and its thirst for great matcha? How do you explain the amazing success of your matcha sales?

Quincy is small Midwest town with a population that can be described as having a strong work ethic; we have an extremely caring and generous community. We are located in the middle of a food desert, meaning we have poor access to healthy foods.

While our downtown is charming and rich in architecture, our main street is lined with typical American fast food chains and drive thrus. Our large chain grocery centers still cater to the food habits of 20+ years ago. Old habits die hard. Surrounded by large scale rural farmland, our nutrient-rich soils have been largely depleted by agrochemicals for big business farming. Smaller vegetable producers are rare.

 

When I mentioned to a friend who grew up in Quincy (and who lives here in northern CA now) that there’s a thriving and sustainable eco-friendly grocery store slash farmers market slash yoga studio that sells lots of primo matcha, she was incredulous. Has Quincy changed that much over the years? Can you see your model of success being replicated throughout the state and beyond? Do you see people everywhere just wanting better food and wellness in their lives?

The seed for Grown-n-Gathered came from my own Mom, while I was living in Chicago. She would often say something like, “I want to make better food decisions, I just don’t have access to options you do in the city.” And it was true: I had unlimited access to healthy food options. I had plans of moving back home to open a yoga studio; GnG was not on my radar. I drank matcha, not with the understanding of how it affected my health, but knowing it gave me energy as I was teaching yoga.

I opened Yoga7even in Quincy in 2013. I still had a full-time corporate job at the time and started the new business in my “off hours” — you can imagine how depleted I felt.
I was far from adequately fueled, for the exact same reasons my mom had explained earlier. We just didn’t have sufficient organic options readily available. I was schlepping food back with me during my corporate business trips to Chicago and kept telling myself “someone needs to open a mini healthy food store in Quincy.”

Little did I know it at the time, but in retrospect it seems inevitable; just a year after opening the yoga studio, I opened GnG because, at the end of the day, I was hungry.

I knew there was a market, within the stereotypical Midwest population, that thirsted to make better decisions. Ask anyone in Quincy, and they will readily acknowledge that we’re about 20 years behind the coasts, maybe more. We are a slower paced, vibrant and “great place to raise kids” type of community that hasn’t caught up with the concept of truly living. We made a top 20 list of great places to retire. Vegetarians and vegans find this Quincy extremely difficult to visit. We are at a tipping point here: GnG is leading the charge in offering healthier alternatives.

The store attracts all the out-of-towners and their response is almost always the same: “I cannot believe Quincy has a yoga studio and health food store!” They seem stunned by the vibrancy of both our offerings and how busy we are, and their follow-up is always “How are you doing, business-wise?”.

There is a HUGE opportunity in these small to medium-sized communities, especially in the Midwest, to offer a healthy lifestyle. People in these communities want to make better decisions, and they want to feel good. Most people just don’t know where to start.

 
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Can you describe a few typical customers of GnG?

GnG’s customers, specifically matcha customers, are the hard working 12-hour swing shift laborers who want to go home and play with their kids and grandkids. The person that knows their past habits haven’t been the best choices and wants to make a change. The ones fighting chronic disease and find GnG soon after a diagnosis or treatment. We are a small store, offering 1 on 1 service and consultation. We introduce customers to things such as matcha, quinoa and kefir, among many more superfoods, for the first time. Several ask for matcha by asking “I’m coming in for that magic tea.” When something is that natural and magic, word travels fast.

 

What is it about matcha that you especially like so much?

I love Matcha because I love hearing how it’s helped so many find a healthier version of themselves; helping with migraines, chronic fatigue, weight loss, and more. I love hearing how people “just know” when they don’t drink it they feel it. I am a green tea connoisseur and love having someone try it for the first time. Their scrunched face as they smell it, look at it and say “Here we go” then surprisingly respond “That’s actually pretty good.” Its been an amazing staple within the superfood line-up at GnG. Specifically I love the generous and impeccable customer service at Breakaway; it never gets old.

 

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Meet Jonathan Braun, Local Artist and Master Ceramicist

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I first met Jonathan Braun about 12 years ago while he was playing hauntingly beautiful classical guitar at a friend’s house. Soon afterward I saw some examples of his exquisite finish carpentry and prowess with all things mechanical, including some shockingly beautiful copper handrails that have become rather coveted and appreciated here in Marin County. There’s almost nothing Jonathan can’t build with economy and grace, including this beautiful updraft kiln made of insulating fire brick, hand-built in 1982, with six natural-gas burners for accurate temperature control.

 

 

Jonathan has been perfecting his functional and minimalist ceramic art for nearly 40 years, to the delight of many people who collect his work, just up the street from Breakaway Matcha in lovely San Anselmo, CA, where Jonathan has lived his entire life (in the same house!).  It’s unlikely you’ll ever meet a more careful, methodical, and artful ceramicist. We consider ourselves lucky to be his neighbor!

 

 

We’ve commissioned Jonathan to create his version of the matcha bowl, which Jonathan calls Tea Dust, an ancient glaze first used in kilns in Shaanxi and Henan during the Tang dynasty. The stoneware bowls are high-fired (2400 degrees F). The clay mixture is three different clays (fireclay from the Midwest, stoneware clay from Ohio, and ball clay from Kentucky), and the primary ingredient in the glaze is called Albany Slip, a discontinued material that he still has a good supply of. The firing of the bowls takes about eight hours, and a cool down period of about 48 hours.

 

We have an extremely limited quantity of the Tea Dust bowl and we expect them to soon be gone.

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How To Blind Taste Matcha

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Matcha is one of those beverages that invites lingering of all sorts.

If it’s good, the taste lingers on the palate for 30, 60, even 120 seconds and beyond. The longer the finish, the better the quality.

But matcha also invites a less-literal lingering. It’s almost impossible to be in a rush when you’re sipping good matcha, because it, somehow, perforce, slows you down. Your brain begins to process new and altogether alluring taste sensations that scream, “Whoa, pay attention! What IS this? Tune everything else out while we make some sense of this!”

That’s one way to tell you’ve got good matcha, and we’ll get to a few others in a minute.

But the best way to taste *anything* (wine, food, tea, anything) is to taste it blind. “Blind” meaning you have no idea what the packaging or label look like, you know zero about it, something just appears before you and you taste it purposefully, paying attention to all the taste sensations with as much concentration as you can muster. This forces you to articulate what it is that’s pleasant, and what it is that isn’t pleasant. This is how it’s done for wine, and the exact same procedure applies to matcha.
 
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So it was with delight that we recently welcomed a very special guest, Mr. Hiroyuki Sugimoto, winner of the all-Japan blind matcha tasting championship! Sugimoto-san and his right-arm man, the remarkably informed, delightful, and matcha-knowledgeable Noli Ergas, dropped by to taste some excellent matcha, and we had a blast. So I thought it might be useful to share some tips on how to taste.

Color is almost everything in determining quality matcha. What you’re looking for a is a brilliant, almost fake-looking vibrant emerald green. There should be no hints of yellows. Army green is the sure sign that you’ve got a terrible matcha. You want an electric, almost hallucinogenic bright green. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell the color of matcha just from looking at the packaged product. The packaging can be beautiful and alluring (much as wine labels can) but you won’t have ANY idea how good the matcha is until you actually see the powder.

tasting03-700pxNext is texture. You want a finely ground powder, not a roughly ground one. This can really only be achieved by traditional stone mills. Ceramic and other grinders are vastly more efficient, but the resulting texture, typically around 100 microns or more, feels grainy in the mouth. Granite-milled matcha grinds it down to 5 or 10 microns, and the result is a smooth, creamy brew that tastes amazing in the mouth in that the tea seems to just melt in the most deliciously creamy way. You can get some idea of how fine the grind is by placing a small pinch of matcha on a piece of paper and, with your finger, dragging the matcha downward into a “tail.” The finer-ground matcha will “paint” the paper with a solid trail, and a coarsely ground matcha won’t — it will just be grainy and bunched-up.

Umami is the dead giveaway for determining the quality of matcha. Does the matcha fill the mouth with a brothy, heady feeling, not unlike miso soup? Does it send the salivary glands into overdrive? It should. Big umami means pleasantness, not off-notes or bitterness. Big umami is in fact seems to me like a primal craving, as if foods rich in glutamates (umami-rich foods) somehow somewhere along the way promoted saliva production and cravings for protein-y / amino acid-y foods.

At the end is the finish. Good matcha “sings” throughout the palate, meaning the nasal cavity, roof of mouth, sides of mouth, and complete tongue, for a long time, much longer than other teas and rivaling great wines in complexity and pure pleasure. The sensation of still tasting the matcha sometimes a full five minutes (and indeed longer in some cases) after swallowing it, is an excellent sign that you’ve got yourself a very good matcha.

Good matcha tastes what I imagine pure light tastes like; lots of chlorophyll, brothy but bright, somehow evocative of tasting “stem cells of plants.” Its joys are contagious — the multivaried health benefits are just a happy side effect.

Why Do We Call Our Matcha Blends “Blends?”

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A number of people have recently asked me why we refer to our matcha as “blends.” What, exactly, is blended?

 

First, there is nothing in any of our matcha except matcha green tea. No fillers, no sweeteners, no additives of any kind. It’s 100 percent green tea, and nothing else.

 

So what’s blended?

 

We find and develop relationships with obsessive matcha farmers. LIke many farmers in Japan, these farmers typically operate are part of agricultural cooperatives that “bundle” their matcha harvests with other coop members, most of whom are very nearby. But it’s remarkable how different the “terroir” of matcha fields, even just hundreds of meters from one another, can be. We thus will blend tencha (leaves that are destined to become ground and turn into matcha) from different terroir into our signature blends.

 

We also combine and blend harvests from different “vintages.” Each year in May the new harvest takes place, and those newly harvested leaves will get combined with leaves from previous harvests. Obsessive artisanal farmers only harvest once a year, in contrast to matcha farmers who are trying to maximize yield and thus harvest two and even three or more times annually — much of those subsequent harvests are destined to become culinary matcha or even what I call “agricultural” matcha, which is the lowest end of the quality spectrum (it makes fantastic chicken food, however; the eggs are marvelous).

 

It’s important to blend previous vintages with current vintages for a few reasons: mainly consistency and taste. We want our signature blends to taste similarly year in and year out, so we blend accordingly. Matcha also develops deep flavor profiles that tend toward the sweet and umami laden when harvests are artfully combined.

 

So why are the blends numbered? When I first started the business, I employed a naming firm to come up with some cool names for the blends, but in the end they all felt kind of odd, so it seemed like a simple numbering system would work better.

 

It’s a lot of work to do what we do — it would be so much easier to simply purchase teas directly from farmers (or go-betweens, for that matter) and declare victory. But we can’t help it! It’s the pursuit of the ideal bowl of matcha that drives us, not the short-term gains to be had by not bothering.

 

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Matcha — The Anti Cortisol

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I’ve found that physical energy — the “fuel” that allows us to ignite our emotional and intellectual skills and talents — is, in the end, what we all crave. We absolutely need physical energy to be at our best.

 

And there’s no way around it: we have to somehow access pleasant and positive emotions, including joy (aka enjoyment), challenge, and adventure, to be at our best. Emotions that manifest via fear, anger, frustration, and sadness have a certain toxic quality to them. All are associated with the release of a specific stress hormone called cortisol.

 

Cortisol is actually a steroid hormone, produced and released by the adrenal gland (where adrenaline comes from) in response to stress and low blood glucose. It functions to suppress the immune system (by lengthening wound healing time), to inhibit collagen formation needed for bone strength, and to prevent proliferation of T-cells. It also decreases amino acid uptake required by our muscles.

 

In short, cortisol has helped human beings throughout our evolution through the creation of the “flight or fight” response. As the great Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky has written, ”

 

In the short term, stress hormones are “brilliantly adapted” to help you survive an unexpected threat. You mobilize energy in your thigh muscles, you increase your blood pressure and you turn off everything that’s not essential to surviving, such as digestion, growth, and reproduction. You think more clearly, and certain aspects of learning and memory are enhanced. All of that is spectacularly adapted if you’re dealing with an acute physical stressor—a real one.

But non-life-threatening stressors, such as constantly worrying about money or pleasing your boss, also trigger the release of adrenalin and other stress hormones, which, over time, can have devastating consequences to your health. If you turn on the stress response chronically for purely psychological reasons, you increase your risk of adult onset diabetes and high blood pressure. If you’re chronically shutting down the digestive system, there’s a bunch of gastrointestinal disorders you’re more at risk for as well.

 

So: cortisol was extremely useful for early homo sapiens, but far less useful today for most of us.

 

Matcha, it turns out, is a sort of anti-cortisol.  It helps stabilize blood sugar, and reduces stress on the adrenal glands.Specifically, the L-theanine in matcha is thought to reduce levels of cortisol by creating alpha waves in the brain to produce a state of calm and serene alertness.

 

Coffee, in contrast, does the opposite: it causes an adrenaline and cortisol spike.

 

So if you needed yet more reason to introduce matcha into your life, there it is!

 

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Swirling Matcha — What the Traditionalists Are Missing

 

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Swirling matcha makes it taste a lot better.

 

This observation is a lovely discovery, and it’s a genuine addition to the venerable history of matcha.

 

Matcha isn’t swirled in the traditional method — it’s whipped up in the bowl and consumed. No swirling.

 

But swirling releases all kinds of wonderfulness.

 

Just as swirling a glass of wine makes it taste better — every sommelier knows this — it’s the same with matcha. Swirling — or what physicists call “orbital shaking” — actually churns liquid as it travels along the glass or ceramic, drawing in oxygen from the air and intensifying artisanal matcha’s delightful aromas. It tastes completely different — vastly better — when it’s swirled versus not swirled.

 

So swirl your matcha, people!  You can’t swirl too much — the more your swirl it, the better it tastes. But you need the right vessel, it’s hard to swirl matcha in a bowl. Our creamers were designed for this very purpose. Whip it up with the frother in the creamer, swirl like a madperson, THEN pour that swirled matcha into your heated bowl or cup.

 

 

 

Matcha, Zen, and Beginner’s Mind

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I’ve talked about the origins of matcha and its deep connections with zen buddhism on this site before, but I thought I might share a personal story.

 

When I was 19 years old I stumbled, quite literally, into the Mt. Baldy Zen Center, a working zen monastery in the San Gabriel mountains, east of Los Angeles. I was hiking around Mt. Baldy and spotted some sparse-looking small buildings, and decided to go check them out. Inside were a bunch of bald people in black robes cooking. They were incredibly nice to me, and invited me to lunch. It was a simple lunch of brown rice, miso soup, and pickled vegetables, none of which I’d ever had before (I grew up in rural northeaster PA, and no one ever served brown rice, miso, or pickled vegetables). It was an extraordinary day on many levels, and it’s fair to say that it led to a life-long involvement and fascination with Japan, the Japanese language, Japanese food, and zen buddhism, including a 16-year stay in Japan.

 

I was deeply interested in the lives of the monks; why did they elect to sit there for a few hours a day in zazen (sitting meditation), shave their heads, wear black robes, and cook the way they cooked? What led them there? (A dozen years later, Leonard Cohen began practicing zen there, which really put Mt. Baldy on the map.)

 

One of the monks, an exceedingly kind New Zealander named John, would patiently put up with my incessant questioning over a bowl of very strange tea, a viscous and VERY bitter brew he whipped with a weird-looking bamboo whisk. He called it “matcha.” He was in retrospect using very inexpensive, very bitter matcha, but I couldn’t know that at the time, and it couldn’t have mattered less; what mattered was sitting with him in a tiny room and absorbing his remarkable energy and knowledge about zen.

 

Monks in 12th-century (and onward) Japan did something very similar. They prepared bowls of matcha, as both metaphors for mindfulness in preparation and body movements and to simply enjoy one another’s company over tea in the simplest environment imaginable: a tiny, unadorned hut made just for enjoying the simplicity of a cup of well-made tea.

 

Matcha was also used by monks as a meditation aid: it was much easier to stay awake during meditation after a bowl of matcha.

 

The simplicity of monks preparing tea for one another caught the attention of Japan’s aristocracy, many of whom took their social cues from Buddhists (zen monks had a great deal of cachet at the time). The upper classes rapidly took to the art of preparing a beautiful bowl of matcha, but the movements in making the tea gradually became more stylized and ornate, which served to distinguish them as cultured, sophisticated —  in stark contrast to the people of the lower strata of the caste system, who, presumably, slurped down their tea in far less-polished ways. The tea ceremony was born from this distinction.

 

There is a lovely phrase in Japanese called shoshin: “beginner’s mind.” It refers to the zen practice of letting the mind rediscover a child’s sense of wonder about how the world works. It’s an open mind that includes both doubt and possibility, to consciously choose to see both everyday and uncommon things and thoughts as new and fresh. It is to be cultivated in all aspects of life, from routine tasks like making breakfast or putting gas in your car to more complex activities like raising a child or nurturing a business. Beginner’s mind is the essence of what John and most zen monks throughout history were trying to cultivate.

 

I try to practice beginner’s mind with every bowl of matcha. There’s always something new to notice. Sips of matcha can trigger all kinds of strange and long-forgotten memories and experiences, all of which float by like a fragmented movie playing in the background. But the joy and simplicity of just noticing its color, texture, taste, and very long finish is such a pleasure, such a welcome and delicious pause from the demands of contemporary life here at the end of 2014.

 

Shuryu Suzuki wrote beautifully on this subject in his classic, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (Weatherhill, 1970). HIghly recommended reading for anyone even remotely interested.

 

(The monk in the photo above is the great teacher, painter, chef, and all-around amazing human being Ninsho Kakinuma. I took the photo on a walk with him several years ago at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center)

 

Profiles of Hardcore Matcha Drinkers — Amanda Lee Peers

 

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A little while back I got the most delightful email — it was from Amanda Lee Peers, a singer/songwriter from Rochester, New York who was really into matcha. She mentioned that she was a contestant on the hit TV show The Voice, and that Gwen Stefani, one of the judges on the show, had taken Amanda under her tutelage. Amanda didn’t quite make the finals on the show, but she wowed millions of people, including me, with the raw power of her voice and stage presence. I asked this matcha-sipping wonder if she’d mind being interviewed here,and she graciously agreed.

 

1) You had a fundamentalist Christian upbringing, your girlfriend is your muse and inspiration, and you’re a matcha addict. That’s quite the path! Us matcha addicts would love a summary of who you are, as told by you and not a publicist!

 

I’m a singer, songwriter currently living in Rochester, NY. I recently appeared on NBC’s Season 7 of The Voice as a contestant on Gwen Stefani’s team – which was an amazing experience! I’ve been playing guitar for 16 years and singing (outside my bedroom) for about the last 5 or 6 years. I played with a band called The Driftwood Sailors a couple years ago. We released an album, opened for Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers as well as 90’s band the Spin Doctors. We had a lot of fun. Now I perform solo and am working on a solo album to release in spring/summer of 2015.

 

Besides all that music stuff, I love to travel, am an avid matcha drinker, old moped enthusiast, and lucid dreamer. I recently decided to take up surfing Lake Ontario — yes, there are waves on The Great Lakes.

 

2) Not a question per se but we can’t wait till the word MATCHA makes it into your lyrics. OK a question: tell us about your method of writing a song from scratch. Lyrics first, or music first? Or neither?

 

I don’t really have a go-to method for songwriting. Sometimes I’ll hear a melody and make up words to it, then sometimes I’ll just write a whole bunch of stuff down then start singing the words and the melody will come naturally. I’ve found that the best way to come up with songs is just to write every day, even if it feels forced or sounds terrible. Sooner or later you’re bound to come up with something great!

 

(editor’s note: this is true with just about any art; it’s the everyday-ness of it that produces something great)

 

3) Do you like caffeine in general when performing and just working, or is it the special matcha buzz you like? Do you drink coffee?

 

The only thing I’m drinking while singing at a show is water. It’s the only sure fire thing that won’t affect my voice or dry me out. I love drinking matcha while working though. I used to be a big coffee drinker. While working on The Voice I wanted to do everything I could to keep my voice healthy, one of which was to stop drinking coffee, the other was to stop taking allergy medicine every day. I’ve successfully done both! Once I discovered matcha, I was hooked. I’ve also always been a huge regular green tea drinker so I made the switch from coffee to matcha no problem. My favorite is to make a couple of cups of matcha in the morning and get to work on my music. I love the focused, clean energy matcha gives. And it doesn’t give you that awful rot-gut feeling coffee does if you drink too much.

 

4) When are you bringing your music to the west coast? Where/how can we buy your music?

 

I’d love to bring my music to the West Coast! I’m actually looking to move to a larger city sometime in the next year and California is on my list of places I’m considering. But until then, right now the best thing is for people to join my mailing list at www.amandaleepeers.com and to link up with me on social media to hear what my latest music releases are. I’m working on recording solo material in hopes of releasing for spring/summer 2015. However, I did release an album with a band called The Driftwood Sailors called “White Horses & Black Jeans.” That has a bit more of a rock vibe compared to my solo material, but if while you’re waiting for my solo album to come out, check that out! It is available on iTunes as are the two songs I performed on The Voice.

 

5) What’s your favorite way to enjoy matcha? Any rituals?

 

My favorite way to enjoy matcha is to get up early when it’s quiet and make a few cups of hot matcha. No TV, just peace and quiet and matcha. It’s funny, drinking matcha is almost like a lifestyle change. I would never do that with coffee. Coffee was something I needed to survive the mornings. Now, matcha is something I have to enjoy the mornings.

 

Thank you Amanda! Here’s a video of our favorite matcha-obsessed musician doing one of her favorite original songs, “Songs of Freedom.”

Hara Hachibu, Umami, and Matcha (Plus a Recipe for Matcha Truffles)


matcha truffles

 

Human beings crave the sense of being satiated. It’s a delightful feeling to be “full” in the best possible sense of the term. For many of us (including greedy-monster me), we keep eating AFTER reaching that optimum place where it feels just right to be perfectly full and not excessively full. How to hit that sweet spot of just-right full, and avoid going over?

 

There’s a wonderful expression in Japanese that captures one way to think about this: “hara hachibu” literally means “stomach 80%,” but, more accurately, it means “you should stop eating when you’re 80% full.”

 

How do you know when you’re 80% full? By mindfully checking in every time you put something in your mouth. And you keep up the mindfulness throughout the meal or snack. You basically keep a “how full am I?” mindfulness meter running throughout the meal.

 

This is impossible if we wolf down our food. Some deep-DNA autopilot takes over with the message, “don’t stop! get your maximum calories while you can!” and it tastes great and you just keep going. You don’t stop and ask yourself, “how full am I?” and assign a percentage, you just don’t.

 

In the beginning I might suggest just two mindful interventions, one at 50% full, and the other at 80% full. After some conscious practice, you can begin to notice subtler percentages like 10% full and 25% full.

 

But 80% is the main one. The same deep-DNA / limbic system / reptilian brain doesn’t want you to stop at 80%, it’s going to insist you keep going. But food in an 80%-full stomach continues to expand, and if you simply put the chopsticks down when you think you’re at 80, five minutes later you’re likely to feel 100% full.

 

You can always eat more if you’ve misjudged, and still feel peckish at what you thought was 80%. But stopping when you think you’ve hit 80 is a wonderful practice, as is the mindful practice of assigning a percentage fullness AS you eat.

 

And no, it doesn’t ruin the pure animal pleasure of eating great food. In fact it adds to it, because turning on the mindfulness “how full am I?” meter has a wonderful side effect: everything tastes better, and you notice more flavors and textures. You notice everything in great detail. It’s like taking a food-pleasure bath.

 

So where does matcha come in?

Matcha has a very special satiety property. It’s one of matcha’s more interesting and pleasurable aspects (one of many).

 

Because the tea is so rich in amino acids, it absolutely pops with umami, that brothy, meaty, mushroomy, oceany flavor that’s packed with glutamates. When you drink a cup or bowl of matcha, you feel sated and happy. You’re not jonesing for anything, you’re just …. sated. You rarely feel and kind of between-meals jones to snack or to mindllessly eat something.

 

This is in stark contrast to coffee, for me at least — i NEED to have nibbles of coffee-friendly foods when I drink coffee. So for anyone looking to cut overall calories, there are many worse ways than a daily, or twice a day, matcha practice.

And on that note, and speaking of tempting nibbles, try these matcha truffles sometime. They’re easy to make and disappear rather quickly wherever they make their appearance.

MATCHA TRUFFLES

These little gems take only a few minutes of prep time, then some cooling down time in the fridge, then a few more minutes to shape the chocolate into balls. They make beautiful gifts for friends, wrapped up in a pretty box. Makes about 50 truffles.

 

  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely
  • 8 ounces heavy cream
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • ½ cup or so Dutch cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon matcha
  • pinch of fleur-de-sel, Malden, or other fine sea salt

 

1) Using a large sturdy knife, chop the chocolate finely and place it in a large mixing bowl.

2) Bring cream to a simmer over gentle heat, add the maple syrup and brown sugar, and stir until dissolved, about one to two minutes.

3) Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate, mix thoroughly until smooth, and pour/scrape into a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat (silpat), and smooth it out with a rubber spatula. Cool in the refrigerator for about an hour.

4) On a cleaning cutting board or other large surface, spread several tablespoons of cocoa out.

5) Using a spoon, scoop out about a heaping teaspoon of the cooled chocolate, roll it around in the cocoa with your fingers, and make a chocolate ball, using the palms of your cocoa-dusted hands. Repeat until all the chocolate is used – you should wind up with about 50(ish) truffles. Smaller tends to be better than larger.

6) Line them up on a tray or plate, and, using a fine sieve, dust them generously with the matcha. Roll around some more in the matcha, and dust them again. Top with a very light sprinkling of good salt (Malden-type salt works well here).

Profiles of Hardcore Matcha Drinkers: Jeff Jacobson

Jeff scooter

One of the greatest pleasures of the matcha business is getting to know the people who make it all possible — our illustrious and fascinating customers. I’m not exactly sure what I expected when I started this business, but I continue to be bowled over by how interesting and unique this group is. So I thought it would be fun to introduce a few them here from time to time.

It’s hard to summarize Jeff Jacobson, but let me try: he’s a Beijing-based American life and businesss coach, hell-bent on improving the lives of just about everyone he meets. He’s a master storyteller — I once had the pleasure of seeing him perform a monologue live in San Francisco–and a polyglot with what seems like an equal mastery of both Chinese and Spanish. He’s on the faculty of the San Rafael-based Coaches Training Institute, and trots around the world leading workshops helping people first define, and then achieve, what they most want out of life.  He just published his first novel, a young adult story, on Kindle: The Boy Who Couldn’t Fly Straight

Here’s the short version of our email interview.

What is a life coach, exactly? Mentors have always been around, so what’s the difference between the two? 

Both mentors and coaches help you to achieve what you want. Mentors have more experience than you, and show you how to accomplish what they already have. Coaches teach you how to be your own mentor, basically making sure you heed your own advice. I’ve used both coaches and mentors throughout my career, and both have been really helpful.

Why China? And how did you get so damn fluent in Chinese? 

I fell in love with Mandarin while studying in college in ’88. I studied it for years, including living in Taiwan. In ’95 I started coaching, so for a long period of time, Chinese was more like a parlor trick. But in ’08, right before the Beijing Olympics, the Coaches Training Institute sent me to China to teach coaching to managers in a multinational corporation. Since then, I’ve been able to wed two of my greatest passions: coaching, and Chinese culture. I’m currently in Shanghai training local talent to do what I do.

What’s the most powerful thing about storytelling for you? 

You can listen to a story on so many levels: just the plot, or the arc of the story, or the deeper messages worth pondering. That’s why so many people love stories: no matter your mindset at the time, a good story draws you in, entertains you, and teaches you something.

Any good matcha stories? 

A Chinese airport official once searched my bag. She held up my chashaku (bamboo scoop), my frother, and my traveling tin of matcha, looking at me with great suspicion. Panicking that she might not return my beloved matcha to me, I used what seemed like mind control, looking into her eyes and saying, “It’s delicious, quite healthy, and, and, (trying to remember the benefits from the Breakaway Matcha site), it gives you good breath.” She started laughing, handed everything back to me, and said, “Enjoy!”

 

5 Reasons to Drink Matcha Instead of Coffee

raw and as tea

I’ve said it many times before, but I’ll say it again: I have always loved good coffee, still love it, and will likely always love it. But I don’t love it nearly as much as I love matcha. Here are five reasons to kickstart your day with matcha:

1)  Matcha has a better caffeine high. By “better” I mean that coffee’s caffeine high wreaks more havoc on the body. It starts off with a blast, and ends in a crash. Coffee causes spikes in adrenaline glucose and insulin levels, which in turn create jitteriness, nervousness, and, at least for me, often crazy hunger pangs.

Matcha, in contrast, does a better job of creating a calm alertness, with just a quarter the caffeine. There are no spikes and crashes, it just comes on gently and leaves just as gently. No adrenal weirdness, no glucose spike, and no need for pastry; it satiates like nothing else, making it the perfect treat for anyone worried about their weight. The 25 mg (or so) of caffeine bind with matcha’s phytonutrients (especially L-theanine) in a way that slows the body’s absorption of the caffeine; it typically lasts at least three hours, though some people report feeling it for as long as six or seven.

2) Better breath. There really is no comparison here. Matcha is also better for your teeth: it thwarts the bacteria that causes plaque, making it a powerful ally for everyday oral hygiene. Coffee breath and enamel staining? This is a no brainer.

3) Better skin. Ever notice the skin of hardcore coffee drinkers? Matcha helps clear up acne, and has been used for centuries by Japanese women as a facial mask. Matcha’s antibacterial properties help to give skin a natural glow.

4) More antioxidants. Matcha is ridiculously full of catechins, flavonoids, and polyphenols, especially the mighty epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which has been linked to so many health benefits and has therapeutic applications to the treatment of so many disorders, including cancer.

5) Great matcha is WAY easier to make than great coffee is.

Matcha has the reputation of being difficult to make, but seriously: scoop sifted tea into cup, add hot water, froth. All of 30 seconds to perfection (assuming you’re starting with great matcha, of course). Great coffee should be measured (20 grams seems to be the most common weight), freshly ground, then steeped or steamed, using a variety of complicated and expensive machinery. And then there’s the waiting for the machine to do its thing.

Needless to say, matcha is not intended to prevent, treat, or cure any disease; it’s just green tea, albeit a very special one that has all kinds of interesting health properties. And because there are no known downsides or side effects to regular consumption of matcha, there is little to lose in making the switch from coffee to matcha, at least some of the time.

You needn’t give up coffee altogether (unless your doctor tells you to, of course) — I sure don’t plan to. But do give matcha try; you have nothing to lose but stained teeth, bad breath, and heart-pounding jitters. And you might have a whole new world of wellness to gain.

7 Ways Matcha Will Change Your Life

 

matcha white bowl 3

People are constantly asking me what matcha can do for them. Here are just seven benefits of regular matcha drinking.

 

bway-tinDRAFT

Fights fatigue. Matcha is a powerful ally in fighting fatigue. The combination of naturally occurring amino acids plus small amounts of caffeine tend to give an instant boost to personal energy levels. Most people feel the stimulative effects of a cup of matcha for at least two hours, but they last as long as six hours for some people

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Matcha — Drinking a Plant

tea fields

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.

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Matcha and Water Temperature

 

matcha in parchment creamer

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.

The end.

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.

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Matcha With Tynan

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.

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From Red Rose to Rarefied Matcha

matcha-blue

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.

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Leo Babauta on Focus, Flow, and Matcha

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.

 

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