“Going Quiet” with Matcha

There are lots of metaphors about the incessant chatter going on in most our heads, that datastream of conversations, impressions, admonitions, and other mental events that seem to occupy most of our waking moments, but I like one best. The most awake zen guy I’ve ever met, the great zen teacher and artist Kakinuma Ninsho

calls it “the movie”: it’s one big chaotic cinematic stream that basically doesn’t shut off; the best we can do, says Ninsho, is just to note what’s playing, without identifying with or liking/disliking the characters and scenes. Once you know it’s a movie, he says, it’s a lot easier to hit the power button. The movie will likely go blank for a few seconds, and then simply restart. What then? “Just watch for a while, and shut it off again whenever you feel like it.”

For me, making a cup of matcha is a good way to hit the power button. It starts with turning on the kettle (I use this lovely art-deco-ish kettle from Krups), which requires me to literally push the power button. Off goes the movie. While it’s heating up, I gather my tools — a sieve, bamboo scoop, and frother — which sit conveniently on my countertop, always ready to assist:

So far I’m a good 10 seconds with a blank movie screen. Onward to getting the tea tin out of the fridge, grabbing a creamer from the cupboard, placing the sieve over it, scooping out a gram or so (about half a teaspoon) with the bamboo scoop, gently shaking the sieve and pushing the electric-green powder through with the perfectly shaped scoop (it is designed for this purpose).

The power’s been off for at least 30 seconds now.

When the water boils, it turns off automatically. I take a second creamer from the cupboard and pour a few ounces of hot water into it, so that the cold ceramic can absorb some of the water’s heat and cool it down slightly. I want the water to be about 175 or 180 degrees farenheit (roughly 80 celsius), which it will be by the time I actually pour it into the creamer that contains the matcha.  I also take a matcha cup from the cupboard and pour in about an inch –less than a shotglass — of hot water. I want to warm the cup with the hot water, but I also will use this water to thin out the rather thick pour of matcha that’s about to go in.

It’s been a  minute now, and no movie has played on the screen except the one right in front of me.

I then pour in about two ounces (two shotglasses) of the slightly cooled water, and gently mix the hot water and matcha with the frother, but it’s not yet turned on; the unfrothed tea gets swirled around like a glass of wine, then manually stirred with the tip of the frother. The idea is to have no clumps at all when I turn the device on. Once I can see that the powder has been well incorporated into the hot water, I tilt the creamer and turn on the frother, and watch, with amazement every time, how green the liquid becomes once it starts to oxygenate and aerate. Frothing only lasts five to seven seconds, which is plenty to create a creamy, delicious crema. A few more wine-glass-type swirls, and it gets carefully poured into the cup.

At this point the movie has been turned off for about two minutes. It’s just me making tea,  no movie, no soundtrack. As I settle in to drink it, my mind often wanders off toward thoughts of the day, my to-do list, lunch thoughts, family thoughts, work thoughts . . . .  Sometimes I can keep the movie on pause while I drink the tea, sometimes not. But I’ve became reasonably proficient at turning it off for two minutes.

Sometimes I call this “going quiet.” It’s a powerful practice, and daily cup of matcha is a tasty little vehicle that takes me there.

May we all have a fantastic and meaningful 2013!

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