Matcha. The new green kid on the block.
Truth be told, matcha has been around longer than you or I.
Matcha comes from the China native, Camelia Sinensis plant. The leaves are normally cultivated and dried – bringing us what is commonly known as green tea. However, matcha is different from your standard green tea.
The seeds of Camelia Sinensis were transported to Japan, from China in 1191 by a Zen Monk, Eisai. He planted the seeds under shade to maintain and preserve the benefits of the leaves. Taking the infant leaves, steaming them to preserve their bright green colour, drying them, then grinding into a fine powder. Bringing matcha to life whilst introducing the Zen philosophy to Japan. In turn, creating the link between the two.
Matcha is known to stimulate and calm the mind, bringing awareness and creating a somewhat meditative state, hence its roots in the tea ceremony.
Matcha literally translates into powder tea. With ‘ma’ meaning powder and ‘cha’ the word for tea.
By the 13th century matcha was being used by samurai warriors, with the tea ceremony becoming widely known and accepted, developing as a “transformative practice”. The tea ceremony itself is a form of meditation, bringing awareness to all around you, and the focus drawn to something so simple and mundane, becoming elaborate and intricate.
The ritual of the tea ceremony is that of patience and detail.
Sweets or dessert are served prior to the tea, traditionally, guests carry their own kaishi (a type of paper) to eat the sweets from. Not so traditionally, some Japanese restaurants will serve matcha in a ‘mini’ tea ceremony after the main course and dessert.
Back to the roots.
Each utensil is carefully cleaned and placed down in a precise order and arrangement. The tea bowl (chawan), whisk (chasen), and tea scoop (chashaku). Once all items are washed and arranged, the host will use the scoop to place a precise measure of matcha in the tea sieve, pressing the powder through and into the bowl. This important step breaks up any clumps and allows for a smoother matcha.
The host will then add a measured amount of hot (not boiling) water and use the whisk to mix the matcha, moving the whisk in an ‘M’ pattern swiftly for around 1 minute until a light foam layer appears.
The bowl is then handed directly to the guest of honour, bows are exchange, the bowl is lifted in a notion of honour/thankyou, the bowl is then rotated to the left to avoid drinking from the front. The guest then takes a sip, nods, takes another sip, then wipes the rim, turns the bowl back to it’s original position and passes to the second guest.
Occasionally guests will drink from separate bowls, but the order of serving and drinking remains the same, with the guest of honour first, and so on. While guests keep quiet and conversation kept to an absolute minimum.
Afterward, the utensils are cleaned and often handed around for a closer look from guests, given that they are often irreplaceable antiques.
And there you have it, the traditional Japanese Matcha ceremony. Next time you’re feeling like you need a little focus or meditation, try the patient practice of mixing your matcha.