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 .
We’re doing it again: another workshop at one of my favorite places on earth, the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, in the Ventana Wilderness, southeast of Carmel, taught by myself and the delightful Ikushin Dana Velden. It’s from May 31 to June 3, and will be all about cooking with tea. Or at least morning and afternoon sessions will be all about tea, but there will be plenty of time to explore Tassajara, to sit in the zendo with the monks, to get personalized meditation instructions if you’d like them, to take long soaks in some of the finest baths in the country, to take walks, read, and relax. The vegetarian cuisine is legendary. How could it not be when you’ve got a kitchenful of monks mindfully preparing each dish?
We have just two spots left (we like to keep it small). We tend to have pretty magical experiences there — do join us if you can! Email me if you have any questions about it.
Discover and explore an entirely different culinary universe through the lens of fine teas.
Enjoy the taste, health benefits, and ritual of tea by learning to cook with it! We’ll explore all kinds of unusual uses of favorite teas, including matcha, rooibos, genmaicha, oolong, jasmine, hojicha, and lapsong souchong. We’ll learn how to make flavored tea salts and sugars, tea sparkling waters, tea crusts for proteins, tea infusions in soups, and much more. We’ll also introduce the notion of mindfulness while cooking and preparing tea, and discover the focused, yet relaxed, energy brought on by good tea.
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.
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!