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


amanda singing


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 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.


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.



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


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.




Thick Matcha, or Thin Matcha? Why No In Between?


Even the most cursory inquiry into the literature on matcha will bring up a reference to the basic two traditional Japanese styles of matcha preparation: usucha (“thin tea,” literally translated) and koicha (“thick tea”). We’ll first describe the traditional meanings of these, then serve up a blending of the two.

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Really, Really, Really Thick Matcha


I recently had what can only be described as a transcendent matcha experience: I drank the equivalent of about 12 servings of matcha, but did so in just three stunningly beautiful bowlfuls as I sipped a viscous, almost pudding-like manna that summarily blew out some neuronal pleasure circuits and launched me into alpha wave heaven .

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Making Matcha with David Gans



I recently had the pleasure of spending an afternoon at the home of musician, radio host, and deadhead extraordinaire David Gans and his lovely wife Rita. They were curious about matcha, so I brought some along and taught David how to make a cup, breakaway style. Great merriment ensued, David got out his iphone camera so that he could remember how to make it! And voila, a couple of hardcore matcha fans were born.


The All-New Breakaway Matcha Blog

Hello matcha fanatics! I finally got it sufficiently together to install this new blog, I’m very happy to announce. We’ll cover all kinds of matcha-related topics and news items, and I plan on keeping the posts short, and the tone conversational, even breezy. So I do hope it becomes at least of some use to everyone reading it.

Breakaway Matcha went live almost exactly a year ago, and I couldn’t be more pleased with our progress since then. Our matcha has been served in the White House, is on the VIP menu at The French Laundry, and has been featured on Daily Candy and Aha Life. If anyone has ideas for more media coverage, let us know!

We’ve worked out most of the logistical hurdles,and tried to automate as much as we could. The result is that orders are almost always shipped out on the day we get them (provided they come in before 2 pm–UPS pick up is at 3).

Thanks, thanks, and more thanks to everyone who has purchased this remarkable tea. I’m always around to answer your questions, so please take advantage of it!