The scope and scale of “energy” drinks on the market today never cease to amaze me. They’re everywhere, in local markets, gas station minimarts, supermarket chains, department stores, even in vending machines.
The Japanese tea ceremony is a thing of unquestionable intrigue, beauty, and sheer historical awesomeness. It is triply so when performed and enjoyed within the context in which it arose: in some lovely wabisabi spot in Japan, ideally at a zen temple, which is where the whole thing really started.
It was an extremely simple affair in the beginning: a homely little hut, built expressly for making and enjoying tea. Nothing fancy, no excess anything, just four and a half tatami mats, a small charcoal brazier to boil water, a kettle, some matcha, a few basic tools. That’s it. You drank the tea and it was all about being in the moment, that moment, and noticing things. Noticing the surroundings, noticing your breath and palate, noticing the beauty and simplicity of the matcha and whatever else was in view, including the good fortune of being alive at that moment.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
The Japanese tea ceremony as it is practiced in Japan can be a thing of beauty. The tradition is roughly 830 years old. Like so many other traditional Japanese arts, the formal study of tea can take decades to “master” and get right, and must be done according to the many and varied rules of the particular school of tea one practices. . Practitioners are expected to learn elaborate choreographies of movement and timing, all done with as much grace as one can muster. Full-on tea sessions, all extensively choreographed, can unfold over two and three hours. One can take the practice very seriously and deeply, and benefit from participating in this ancient and rarefied art/craft form.
Plenty of people consider matcha to be a new trend. In reality it’s been a trend in Japan for roughly 830 years, started by those crazy trend-setting zen buddhist priests. But in a sense, “plenty of people” are right: It is matcha’s introduction into the American and European palate that constitutes the current trend.
By now, most people with even a marginal interest in food and food trends have heard of matcha.This is a good thing, and its overall popularity continues to climb.
The confusing issue is that many people consider matcha to be in essence a kind of exotic spice, to be used as an ingredient for cooking and desserts (think green tea ice cream, matcha tiramisu, matcha macaroons, matcha truffles, and all manner of smoothies and blended drinks). I love how creative many chefs are becoming with it, and its color and health benefits seem to make everyone happy.
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 .