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The Mindfulness of Matcha

Updated: Jun 1

For much of my life, I have been fascinated with the Japanese tea ceremony, specifically matcha tea preparation. But it wasn't until last month that I finally purchased all the necessary implements:

  • Matcha powder

  • Matcha bowl (chawan)

  • Matcha teaspoon (I use a metal one instead of the traditional chashaku bamboo scoop)

  • Matcha sifter (chakoshi)

  • Matcha whisk (chasen)

  • Matcha whisk stand (kuse naoshi)

Why drink matcha? The health benefits are numerous and heavily researched. A query on PubMed reveals over 80 medical studies on the properties and effects of matcha (and matcha specifically, not even counting research on "green tea"!)

But here are the big bullet points:

  • Brain health. The moderate level of caffeine found in matcha (50-70 mg, compared to 100-200 mg for coffee) can enhance alertness and cognitive function. One study found that consuming two grams of matcha daily for three months improved brain function in older adults.

  • Stress reduction. Matcha contains L-theanine, an amino acid that has been shown to promote relaxation and improve mood. This can also help counterbalance any potential "jitters" from the caffeine.

  • Cardiac function. Matcha has been shown to lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.

  • Blood sugar. A growing body of research shows matcha can stabilize glucose levels and increase insulin sensitivity.

  • Weight management. The polyphenols (a type of antioxidant) in matcha can boost metabolism and may help with weight loss.

  • Cellular defense. Matcha contains a high amount of catechins (a sub-group of polyphenols), including EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), which are known to protect against cell damage and may lower the risk of certain diseases.

  • Liver health. Matcha has been shown to help protect the liver, and may help reduce damage caused by toxins.

  • Bone strength. According to recent research, the combination of bioactive ingredients found in matcha may alleviate the discomfort of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis and help build stronger bones, lowering the risk of bone fractures,

But just as important as the health benefits is the ritual of it, the mindfulness of the meticulous preparation.

Japanese culture is well known for the Zen approach it brings to many aspects of daily life. The single-minded purity that the Japanese apply to work, family, academics, food, art, martial arts, etc., is enviable.

It brings to mind some special moments from The Last Samurai (my favorite Tom Cruise movie), beautifully edited into these two YouTube videos:

  1. "What does it mean to be samurai? To devote yourself utterly to a set of moral principles? To seek a stillness of your mind, and to master the way of the sword?"

  2. "They are an intriguing people. From the moment they wake, they devote themselves to the perfection of whatever they pursue. I have never seen such discipline..."

I like substituting the word "reverence" for "discipline" here. To me, the word "discipline" implies there are times when you need to force yourself to do something. Which is not a bad thing — sheer will and determination are essential to repetition and mastery. But when it comes to my matcha ritual, I never need to force myself to do it — I look forward to it too much!

Reverence is... the devotion to — and welcoming of — the ritual. To enter into the sanctity, spirituality, and sacredness of the rite. Even before I do any preparation, my mind has already entered a state of calm.

What I do:

  1. Measure out 3 oz. of filtered water into a glass measuring cup, and pour it into a small saucepan.

  2. Fill the glass measuring cup with hot water and place the whisk in it, to soften the tines.

  3. Perch the sifter atop my matcha bowl, and measure out 1 tsp of matcha powder into the sifter. (And immediately put the canister of matcha back in the refrigerator!)

  4. With a gentle circular motion, press the matcha powder through the sifter with my metal teaspoon.

  5. Heat the 3 oz. of water in the saucepan to just below boiling, then pour it into the matcha bowl.

  6. Whisk for 30 seconds or more, with both zig-zag and circular motions, until the entire surface is frothy.

  7. Place the whisk back into the measuring cup of hot water, to clean it.

(Afterwards, for cleanup, I place the whisk on the whisk stand to dry; rinse off the teaspoon; rinse hot water through the sifter using my fingers to get out any matcha powder stuck in the fine mesh; rinse out my matcha bowl and immediately dry it.)

For the act of drinking the matcha, I stand outside on my back patio, or at the very least face my patio door from inside, viewing the outdoors.

Cupping the matcha bowl with both hands, I align and settle my body as if I were doing standing meditation: feet grounded, knees and hips bent, shoulders relaxed, back of my neck open, feeling my nasal breathing in my abdomen (which also serves as my initial intake of matcha aroma!).

  1. I take my first sip and say, "Thank you to Nature and Mother Earth for growing these tea leaves and producing this matcha powder."

  2. I take another sip and say, "Thank you to the workers who picked these tea leaves and ground this matcha powder."

  3. I take another sip and say, "Thank you to the artisan who crafted this beautiful matcha bowl."

I continue sipping until all the matcha is gone. And not too slowly, either — I usually finish the 3 oz. within 1-2 minutes, lest the tea cools off too much.

I call my matcha "liquid clarity," because after I go through my devotions and absorb all of the matcha's nutritional and spiritual values, I feel...

Alert, alive. Yet calm and serene, eyes wide open, seeing everything. Feeling every bit of another line Tom Cruise says in The Last Samurai:

"Life in every breath."

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