tea

The Importance of Ritual and Making Matcha

I believe in the power of ritual. Most of modern life seems to be collection of leaping from one event to the next, often while doing something else like texting or checking one's schedule, preventing us from being present to the moment, missing our transitions and goodbyes. 

I am so appreciative that my daily morning ritual begins with matcha. While much shorter than a traditional ceremony, I still manage to practice patience and presence. I don't use a kama or a furo to hold the water. I don't use my hishaku to pour the water into the chawan. However, my process is still meditative, reflective and intentional. I sift the matcha slowly, pushing it through the strainer rather than scraping. Yes it takes time, but I try to be with the matcha. While whisking, I silently recite my morning intentions and prayers, infusing my elixir with meaning and purpose. Then I arrive at the rich and complex sensations which come from the first sip. Meditating on the physical sensations of taste is a wave that lasts for several minutes. Then I sit. 

How much of our day is spent mindlessly moving from one event, task, conversation or connection to the next without honoring the process or the people involved? Make some matcha, have a cup of tea. Take your time and savor the moment. Practiced daily, perhaps it will change your world. 

Matcha Mike & BYOH Matcha

The moment I decided to visit Copenhagen, I knew a trip to BYOH Matcha was on my itinerary. How it could it not be? After all, BYOH is the “No 1 Leading Supplier of Matcha in Scandinavia.”  Of course I was going! 

Commuting by bike, as is the way in Copenhagen, I discovered the storefront when my eye caught a glimpse of the pinkish-purplish sign on the sidewalk, which on the one side read, You had me at matcha, and on the other, Choose happyness and drink matcha! This was obviously a place for me.

 Photo Credit: Richard L. Tso

Photo Credit: Richard L. Tso

 Photo Credit: Richard L. Tso

Photo Credit: Richard L. Tso

Just a few steps down and I found myself in a small space, which immediately conjured up memories of Holy Matcha in San Diego, a space decorated in millennial pink and white, with large green leaved flora print covering the walls. Matcha Mike, the founder of this establishment, said he was inspired by their aesthetic, yet his walls are more purple and thankfully, given the size of his space, the floral pattern is only used as background for the wall menus. The Holy Matcha space is much larger and can use such bolder themes.  

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Michael Kristensen, aka Matcha Mike, stood behind the counter and graciously answered my barrage of questions, eager to share his venture into the world of matcha. His initial spark occurred while on a trip to California in 2013 as an elite tennis player. At the time he was consuming coffee and energy drinks, like Red Bull, but suffered from fatigue, poor sleep, energy crashes, and general aches and pains. That all changed when someone introduced him to matcha. Surprisingly and suddenly, he had more energy throughout the day, his body ached less, and he slept better. That was all it took to create a lifestyle shift. With improved vitality, he gave up all of those other vices, returned to Denmark and embarked on a path to bring matcha to the people.

Currently he distributes his matcha to over 100 outlets in Denmark, and in his small shop he sells three different grades of organic matcha, as well as individual packets of instant matcha (unfortunately while only minute amounts, these do contain soluble fiber for water absorption). Currently, plans are in motion to sell matcha drinks to none other than 7-11 in Denmark (if you are from the States and like I, you would never have dreamed 7-11 would carry healthy food items like chia seed pudding, paleo salads with quinoa and fresh salmon, and more, but it does. I actually bought a few prepackaged meals to take back to my flat and they were satisfying and rather tasty - keep in mind, my expectations for 7-11 are quite low). 

At BYOH, Matcha Mike makes his own homemade cashew milk, so I was eager to try a hot matcha latte, and it didn’t disappoint. It was delicious, and perhaps one of the best cashew milks I have ever tasted. Smooth and rich, it did not overpower the matcha. Not wanting to overindulge, I returned the following day to try the cold version over ice. I have never been a fan of cold tea. Over the decades, friends, including teahouse owners, have tried to change my opinion by offering me their favorite iced tea, yet rarely have I been won over, even during hot summer afternoons. I find cold tea lacking in flavor and depth. Since this concoction was primarily cashew milk, I thoroughly enjoyed it and consumed it all too quickly.  

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Mike prefers cashew over almond, and even cow, milk due to its lower calcium content. According to Mike, too much calcium makes the matcha bitter and prevents absorption of nutrients. Calcium and caffeine have an interesting dynamic, as well. First, caffeine causes your body to excrete calcium, so the more caffeine you consume, the greater your calcium excretion. Second, caffeine further blocks your body's ability to absorb calcium. If you are hoping to get your daily dose of calcium via your matcha latte, this is most likely not going to happen. A 2007 study showed that the proteins in cow’s milk bind with the catechins in tea, thereby blocking their absorption. In a 2013 European study the impact of dietary proteins in soy milk was shown to also block absorption of catechin in green tea. The recommendation then is to use a milk substitute that is low in calcium and protein (such as cashew or coconut milk), or at the very least select one without any added calcium, in order to obtain the benefits of the phytonutrients in matcha, if that is the goal. 

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I did not have a simple bowl of matcha at BYOH, or any of several matcha items on menu, so I am unable to speak to those. I did, however, purchase a few packages of the highest grade organic matcha to take home. Today I opened the resealable bag and transferred the powder into one of my air tight containers and let it breathe for a bit. Both the color and aroma were much flatter than anticipated. The powder was quite fine, sifted well, and whisked easily. However, a slight bitterness is the note that lingers, and any umami flavor was not very pronounced. While I am pleased to find another organic matcha source, even this premium grade is one I will probably use for lattes or cooking. 

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Still, for all you matcha lovers out there, when in Copenhagen, please visit BYOH and Matcha Mike for one of the most delicious matcha lattes you can find, hot or cold!  

 Photo Credit: Richard L. Tso

Photo Credit: Richard L. Tso

Matcha Shiba - Organic Matcha from Japan

 Ushucha of Matcha Shiba's Diamond Class

Ushucha of Matcha Shiba's Diamond Class

I am always on the quest for organic matcha, so thank you Matcha Shiba sending me both your Diamond Class and Everyday Class Matcha for tasting. For the record, I may be biased here. I have always wanted a shiba inu dog, so I smile every time I see their logo! 

Matcha Shiba is certified organic in Japan (JAS - Japanese Organic Agricultural Standard, a fairly new certifying body established in 2000) and the US (USDA). The Diamond Matcha is bright green with a very slight, but fresh, vegetal aroma. Whether I made ushucha or koicha, it whisked easily and fully. With more water I could create a lovely thick frothy creama. The koicha had a wonderful consistency. I could detect a subtle umami flavor, but it was lighter than other brands I have had of late. To me, the Diamond Class was a bit more bitter than I prefer, and that note overpowered the umami finish initially. However, a minute or two later, the bitterness faded and a pronounced sweet and savory note came forth. Still, since this was organic matcha, I am pleased by the Diamond Class overall.

 Sifting the Diamond Class Matcha

Sifting the Diamond Class Matcha

It is harder for me to critique culinary grades unless an overwhelmingly bitter taste comes forth in the food or lattes. After opening the Everyday Class package, which came in a resealable bag versus the metal, vacuumed sealed tin in which I received the Diamond Class, I was struck instantly by the contrast of color. The Everyday matcha was was flatter, duller and more on the yellowish side of green. The smell was less pronounced as well. After making a latte with pure organic coconut milk (from the can), the bitterness was fortunately minimized, and I will use it for my almond flour, paleo waffles and pancakes, as well as lattes and smoothies.

 Everyday Class versus Diamond Class - definite difference in vibrancy, color and smell

Everyday Class versus Diamond Class - definite difference in vibrancy, color and smell

Thank you again, Matcha Shiba. As a daily matcha drinker, I am excited to have more sources of worthy organic matcha from which to choose.. 

 Between a koicha and ushucha of the Diamond Class - 4 scoops to 1.5 oz of water

Between a koicha and ushucha of the Diamond Class - 4 scoops to 1.5 oz of water

Making Matcha - from tools to types to preparation

Modern day matcha making knows no limits. From electric whisks to shaking mason jars, people make matcha in as many ways as creatively possible. However, I wanted to mention some more classical methods to matcha making.

Matcha is different from other types of green tea for the simple fact that you are consuming whole plant material, the actual leaf, rather than steeping leaves to extract flavor and chemical constituents. Simply pouring boiling hot water onto ground up tea powder would yield a clumpy, bitter beverage. Such a creation would more closely resemble the original brew created by Eisai, the Zen monk credited with the invention of matcha. To make a delicious and enticing bowl of matcha, however, requires attention to several factors, regardless of whether you prefer more classical or modern methods. You must pay heed to such details as hardware, water temperature, and of course, matcha quality. While the traditional Way of Tea ceremonies, called chanoyu (茶の湯) or chadō (茶道) in Japanese, outline numerous required steps, what I discuss below is a simplistic take on a rich and complex ritual. 

Let's start with some basic equipment you will need:

  • chawan, or matcha bowl
  • chashaku, or wooden tea scoop/spoon
  • chasen, or bamboo whisk
  • metal sieve or strainer
 The setup - matcha, sieve, chashaku, chawan, chasen

The setup - matcha, sieve, chashaku, chawan, chasen

 Chawan

Chawan

Chawan 茶碗 or Matcha Bowl


I have written about the chawan in a previous post. Chawan can be found in a wide array of shapes, sizes, colors and materials. My preference leans toward more traditionally shaped clay bowls, but as I experiment more and more with matcha, my interests have expanded. As a chawan collector, I find myself reserving certain chawan for specific situations or occasions. I have a few I will easily use for my daily morning ritual, yet use more expensive and artistically designed chawan when serving friends or guests. I will select some other chawan when I wish to engage in a deeper meditative experiences.

The shape and size of the chawan can also dictate the type of matcha you wish to make as well - thicker or thinner matcha (read below). Regardless, each chawan has its own energy, its own particular way it rests in your hands or distinct way it feels when your lips touch the lip of the bowl. For a complete experience, selection of the chawan is part of the overall process.

Chashaku (茶杓), or Bamboo Tea Scoop

 Chashaku

Chashaku

The chashaku (cha - tea; shaku - ladle/scoop) is the wooden scoop used to measure and transfer matcha. In the traditional chado ceremony, matcha is kept in a tea caddy, called a chaki (茶器), and a large chashaku is used to fill it. This chashaku, however, remains unseen by those being served. The chashaku used to scoop the matcha during the ceremony and for our purposes here is smaller, about 18 cm in length, and has about a 48° angled curve at the flatter and slightly wider base. Depending upon the amount of matcha you can place on your chashaku, one scoop is typically about 1/3 - 1/2 tsp of a teaspoon of matcha.

Originally from China, the chashaku was made from ivory, metal or a combination of the two. Between the 14th and 15th centuries, Japanese tea masters began carving their own chashaku, usually from a single piece of bamboo. I had a few glass chashaku, which were extremely delicate, and I broke them within weeks of purchase. Needless to say, I find myself always returning to those made of bamboo.

Chasen (茶筅), or Bamboo Whisk

 Chasen and naoshi

Chasen and naoshi

The whisk, or chasen (cha - tea; sen - whisk) is an essential item in the process of making matcha. Simply adding hot water to matcha powder and stirring with a wooden spoon, as was originally done, will yield an elixir that is bitter and full of clumps. Hence the creation of the chasen. Bamboo was used due to its durability (can withstand repeated, daily use), flexibility (retains shape even after all the whisking), and the fact that it does not alter the flavor profile of matcha. 

Carved from a single shoot of bamboo, the typical chasen is about 10 cm in length. On the one end is the handle, which looks like the bamboo shoot, and on the other the curved prongs, ranging from 60 - 240. The process for making a chasen is elaborate, with numerous steps - from harvesting the bamboo during the proper season to boiling the wood to drying it to splitting the tines, and so forth. The curvature of the fine, thin prongs of the chasen allow for it to slide across the base of the chawan in a gentle and easy manner, without causing damage to either whisk or bowl. Due to size and shape of the prongs, the whisk helps suspend the matcha in the water, as well as helps create the creamy texture, thick brothiness, and delicious foam. 

 Chasen and naoshi - allowing for proper drying to prevent mold

Chasen and naoshi - allowing for proper drying to prevent mold

Your chasen should be given proper care and attention. Unless following the practices and dictates of tea traditions that require a brand new chasen each time a tea ceremony is performed, most of us will continue to use the same whisk for many matcha preparation. The chasen must be properly dry to prevent mold growth. Made of glazed ceramic, the matcha chasen holder, or naoshi, allows for proper air drying, separating the inner from outer tines for maximum aeration. 

A fairly new trend in matcha preparation involves the electric whisk. If not used properly, as I have learned by accident, you run the risk of having more matcha on your table than in the bowl. Electric whisks are excellent at mixing the matcha with the water, and can create a creaminess to your beverage that is hard to master by hand. To prevent massive spillage, I have found it is best to use smaller chawan without such a wide base, matcha tumblers that are tall and narrow or even mixing the matcha in any taller vessel prevents massive spillage. The more you can suspend the matcha in the water, the creamier and richer the taste, and the less bitter your elixir will be.

That said, as a meditative exercise, I find myself returning to the chasen time and time again, which provides me with more practice. I do not receive the same sense of completion and fulfillment from using the electric whisk. 

 Chasens and electric whisk

Chasens and electric whisk

 

Now that we have our tea utensils, it is time to prepare the matcha. But first you have to decide, what type of matcha do you want - thick (濃茶 koicha) or thin (薄茶 usucha)? The difference involves the ratio of matcha and water.

Usucha 薄茶

Usucha, or thin tea, is traditionally served in the Way of Tea ceremonies. Here, more water and less matcha is used than in the preparation of koicha, Typically approximately 1.5 - 2 heaping chashaku scoops (1/2  - 1 tsp or 1 gram) of matcha per 50 - 75 ml (2 - 3 oz) of water is used per chawan. This ratio yields a lighter flavor that tends to be a bit more bitter than koicha. The matcha for preparing usucha usually comes from younger tea plants, meaning less than 30 years old. For this reason, many matcha aficionados have claimed that the matcha used in usucha is of lesser quality. 

 A chashaku of matcha

A chashaku of matcha

Many people use a sieve (burui) to strain the matcha into the chawan for both thin and thick preparations. But before doing so, give the chawan a rinse with warm water. Then, press, do not scrape, the powder through the sieve with the flat end of the chashaku to further separate the powder, breaking up any potential clumps and allowing for more thorough whisking. I recommend only pouring a small amount of water into the chawan at first, roughly 25 ml of water, then using the chasen to remove lumps and create a thick paste before adding the remaining water. 

A note about water temperature. Do not use boiling water! This will burn your matcha and extract more of the catechins and caffeine, causing the resulting brew to be bitter and astringent, loosing its natural sweetness. Acceptable temperatures range from 70°C (158°F) to 80°C (176°F), but never above. This range allows more of the umami flavor to be detected (umami is considered one of the five basic tastes and has been described as a savory, brothy or meaty taste). And of course, you want to use clean water sources - filtered or purified water. 

 Using the chashaku to press matcha through the sieve

Using the chashaku to press matcha through the sieve

 Pressing matcha through the sieve

Pressing matcha through the sieve

Now you are ready to whisk. Whisking, as I have mentioned above, is an art that takes practice. The bottom of the tines of the chasen should never touch the base of the bowl. Instead you are keeping it above, in the water, and move the chasen back and forth in a W or M motion to create a rich, fully, creamy, frothy viscosity. I have read accounts that describe the consistency of an usucha to that of an espresso, but as a life-long non-coffee drinker, this has no significance to me. 

 Matcha pressed through a sieve

Matcha pressed through a sieve

 1.5 oz of water covering matcha

1.5 oz of water covering matcha

 Whisking with the chasen

Whisking with the chasen

 The finished prodcut

The finished prodcut

 

Koicha (濃茶)

A koicha is the stronger of the two preparation, and is by far my favorite. Before sitting down for meditation, I like to make a koicha. This is a matcha meditation experience of the highest caliber in my opinion. Here, more matcha and less water is used than in the preparation of usucha. The typical ratio is about 4 (or 5, if you dare) chashaku scoops (~4 grams or 1 1/2 - 2 tsp) to only 30 - 40 ml (1 - 1.5 oz) of water. You still use the chasen, but rather than whisking, you gently, attentively and mindfully knead or massage the matcha. This yields a concentrated elixir with no foam or bubbles, and with the consistency of warm honey or melted chocolate. Due to its concentrated nature, only the highest quality matcha should be used and the flavor should be full, vegetal, sweet and with minimal amounts of bitterness. 

Let the entire process be a meditation for your senses. As you select your chawan, observe it fully. Hand made chawan are never completely smooth, even and symmetrical, so allow your eyes to drink in the contours and colors. Notice the lines. Run your fingers over the texture and feel its weight in your hands.

As you prepare the matcha, notice the intensity of the green. Does the color jump out at you? Is it bright, electric, and vibrant, or flat and dull? What aromas tickle your nose? Can you smell a hint of fresh cut grass or young vegetables, like baby asparagus? 

Transferring the matcha into the sieve with the chashaku is an exercise in balance and patience itself. Why hold your breath and tighten your body? Breathe freely. Using gentle pressing motions, relaxing your shoulders and arms, take your time sifting the powder. You are not in a rush. Slowly pour the water into the chawan without disrupting the matcha and causing it to splash about. Whether making usucha or koicha, hold your chasen lightly in your fingers, never gripping it too tightly. Proceed to whisk or massage the matcha with love, care and intention. Rinse your chasen and return it to its stand, allowing it to rest until its next use.

Find a seat and prepare for the next stage of the experience. Bringing your chawan toward your face, observe once more with eyes and nose. Is the brew before you creamy and rich, fully of frothiness? Are the bubbles of the creama in your usucha small and tiny? Is the consistency of your koicha thick and viscous like melted chocolate? Is the smell even more pronounced now - very fresh and vegetal, not dull and dry? 

And the taste... What are the first notes you detect as the matcha hits your tongue? Are you filled with a rush of sweetness (due to theanine content) or umami (due to theanine and glutamic acid)? Do you note any bitterness (due to caffeine and catechin) or astringency (due to catechin)? Excellent matcha should have a finishing or lasting note that remains on the tongue for 20 - 30 seconds, causing you to smile.

Now sit back and ride the waves of sensations that arises. Unlike the buzz from coffee or even green tea, matcha has less caffeine than those with high levels of theanine, said to increase alpha waves related to states of calm and relaxed focus and attention that can last up to six hours. However, the taste alone can increase your sense of delight.

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Matcha can be made in many more ways than I describe here - from lattes to lemonade. But if you are interested in exploring the more classical style of matcha, try these methods I outline. Make both an usucha and a koicha and see what your prefer. Using the same matcha, notice if you can taste the differences between the two preparations - they should have distinct flavor variations. 

What are your favorite ways of making matcha? I would love to hear about them! 

Tea Consumption & Heart Disease - Medical News from Heart

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Tea has been touted for centuries to have healing properties. As I have mentioned before in this blog, studies on the healing benefits of tea tend to focus on their polyphenol, or flavonoid, content, and more specifically the catechin epigallocatechin gallate. Unfortunately, some studies had small sample sizes or were not always replicated to verify such claims.  However, on January 11, 2017, the journal, Heart, published online a study to provide more definitive data by using a larger sample size over a greater time frame. Thus from 2004 to 2013, researchers followed 199,293 men and 288,082 women  from across 10 regions in China who ranged in ages from 30 - 79 years. 

Drum roll please - daily tea drinking protects your heart!  While the participants in this study primarily consumed green tea, previous studies have shown cardiovascular benefits from both green and non-tea consumption. Furthermore, researchers acknowledged that the chemical constituents in tea change due to processing of the various types of tea.

Regardless, the take home messages from this study were:

  • People who drank tea daily showed an  8% relative risk reduction in ischemic heart disease and a 10% lower risk of major coronary events when compared to non-tea drinkers.  
  • The longer you have been drinking tea, the less your cardiovascular risk.  Apparently, those who have been drinking tea for more than 30 years, lived in rural areas, and did not have diabetes or had normal or lower body mass index fared better. 

While researchers admitted some possible limitations to the study, this large cohort followed for several years seems to support what most of use tea-aholics already know - tea is a way of life that promotes health.  

Keep on whisking and steeping!

MyTeabook & my new Teas and Tea Tumblr

 Jeffery in the Lake Forest Park Tasting Studio

Jeffery in the Lake Forest Park Tasting Studio

About a month ago, I spent a delightfully meditative Saturday morning in the Lake Forest Park tea tasting studio of Jeffrey McIntosh of MyTeabook. Although they focus on quality Chinese tea rather than matcha, the entire experience was pure heaven emphasizing what I love most - rich conversation of a cup (or many) of tea. What could be better on a gray Seattle morning? I left several hours later enlivened and relaxed (with a lighter wallet carrying home a bounty of new tea). 

Jeffrey is an engaging and gracious host, ready to share his depth of tea knowledge. Knowing my love for Japanese greens, he suggested we start with some intoxicating greens from the Hunan Providence. The first was Xiang Ming (Honey Sweet Green, from Yueyang), which we followed with a green Mao Jian (Green Tip from Changde).

 

 Green Mao Jian (Green Tip from Changde) and Xiang Ming (Honey Sweet Green from Yueyang)

Green Mao Jian (Green Tip from Changde) and Xiang Ming (Honey Sweet Green from Yueyang)

 

The Honey Sweet Green caught me off guard. I did not detect much aroma from the dry leaf, yet once wet the scent blossomed to a bright floral, reminding me of an oolong rather than green. The taste was sweet and demanded a quick steep. The Mao Jian had a more vegetal scent with savory notes when steeped.  Both were exceptional and delicious (as I am writing this, I am alternating between drinking BOTH). 

I stopped drinking red (black) tea over two decades ago finding them too astringent for my digestive system, but Jeffrey offered a few to sample, and I eagerly agreed. These teas were so smooth, and not at all too tannic. Needless to say, I purchased several grams of the Jin Jun Mei from Wuyi Mountain, Fujian. 

We ended our time by tasting a two pu-erhs. I was fascinated by pu-erh for quiet some time, but in retrospect, I don’t believe I had tasted top quality pu-erhs until I that morning.  So smooth, complex, warming and earthy - I, of course, added both a raw and a sunji ripe pu-erh to my purchases. 

Upon returning home, I steeping some Honey Sweet Green and then logged on to MyTeabook and signed up for a monthly tea subscription which included a double-walled glass travel tea tumbler. With each subscription you receive a monthly delivery of a  combination of 3 - 4 different various high-quality teas pre-portioned into 17 single packets, each containing the perfect amount of tea (2 grams/packet) for the 9.5 ounce travel tumbler. In my first box, I received 4 different teas: a Lv Hao Ya (Green Bud), a Shou Mei (Old White Tea), a Bai Hao (Oriental Beauty - delicious, and a Dian Hong (Wild Black Tea). It also included one extra packet of a special collection tea of Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe). All were exceptional. 

The website states that the teas provided are meant to handle longer steeping times, but I found that the greens and oolongs could become a bit bitter if left in the tumbler for long periods of time. The environmentalist in me cringes a bit with the extra material and packaging, yet the frequent traveler, who works at 4 different locations in Seattle, adores the easy of these packets. Since I usually have access to hot water, carrying the tumbler and 2 or 3 packets ensures I am never without tea. Another plus - the tumbler is made of glass so you are not steeping your hot beverages in material that leech toxins. The tumbler does not have an annoying tea basket to remove after the steeping time, but it does have a filter so when you drink your tea, you don’t get leaves in your mouth. Furthermore if you have a cup or mug available, you can simply steep the tea in the tumbler and then pour it out into the mug.  Very easy. 

If you love quality Chinese teas, I suggest you visit MyTeabook now. If you want to taste before you buy, or are simply looking for a way to spend a a few hours with a friend, schedule a tasting with Jeffery at his Lake Forest Park studio. I cannot imagine you would be disappointed. 

 The leaves of most of the teas we tasted

The leaves of most of the teas we tasted

Steeped in Tea - How Teahouse Kuan Yin Initiated Me Into the World Tea

When I was choosing a naturopathic medical school back in 1991, my options were limited to two in the US - Bastyr University, then named John Bastyr College of Naturopathic Medicine, in Seattle, WA, and National College of Naturopathic Medicine, or NCNM, as it was called then, located in Portland, OR. While several issues influenced my decision, one factor that swayed me towards Seattle was my discovery of Teahouse Kuan Yin. Little did I know that this Teahouse, established by Miranda Pirzada and Frank Miller, opened its doors only one year prior to my arrival. I still remember the night after my admissions interview at Bastyr, strolling down 45th Street in the Wallingford neighborhood, contemplating my future and my potential move to Seattle, when I stumbling upon the delightful storefront. In the early evening, it was rather busy with people. At that time, Kuan Yin was connected to the adjacent store, Wide World Books & Maps, through a set of opened shoji screens. People would browse through travel books then return to a  seat in the teahouse to pour over their purchases while pouring themselves a cup a tea. Never a coffee drinker, I brewed pots of tea and drank it for hours as I studied for the MCATs earlier that summer. Still, a teahouse was something out of the ordinary for this Pittsburgh raised boy. 

That fall I enrolled at Bastyr for naturopathic medical school and spent countless hours at Kuan Yin. I studied there, learning my required coursework, but also receiving a sustained education in tea. I thought I knew about tea, and even thought I liked tea, but I had no idea. Oh, the learning curve! Quickly I recognized I could never go back to Lipton again (I must confess that more often than I care to admit, I ingest some poor excuses for “green tea” made from…gasp...tea bags. However, now that my collection of travel tea bottles has grown, I rarely find myself without loose leaf tea - of course, drinking from glass or metal bottle bares its own set of issues, too.. ).  I came to learn the difference between reds (blacks), oolongs, greens, and whites. I discovered my ignorance for calling herbal preparations teas. I learned about proper amounts, steeping times, water temperatures, and serving methods. In those early days, I was still consuming black teas, but as my palate developed and I was able to distinguish the subtleties of flavors, I range expanded, and I started carrying loose leaf tea and a tea strainer whenever and wherever I traveled. The thought of visiting my parents in Pittsburgh without my “stash” seemed like being banished to hell with nothing more than a Stash tea and lukewarm water.

My time in Kuan Yin was meditative, even if studying, alone or with a colleagues. The mere act of having a pot of tea on the table which you had to steep and pour elevated the energy. This was in a time before laptops were ubiquitous, and reading and writing involved paper. Even though my fellow tea drinkers were involved in their own pursuits (reading, journaling, knitting, drawing, etc.), a palpable sense of community pervaded the air, and I never felt as if people were utterly absent from the room, as if the screen to which they were glued sucked out all of their life force only leaving their empty vacant body present. Back then, people actually talked to one another, either to the stranger sitting next to them, or to the person with whom they were sitting. Case in point, this week while visiting a new tea spot, I watched a group of 4 friends spend 15 minutes sitting next to each other never saying a word, each glued to their phones.  And they were not the only ones. As more and more people and groups shuffled into the spot, many people didn’t TALK to one another. While I did spend some time taking pictures of the environment, the tea presentation and food, I would quickly show them to my companion and we then put our devices away and savored the matcha before us. 

The world of tea is expanding as more people are learning about the art of tea. This summer Teahouse Kuan Yin, my first tea school, closed their physical location, and I grieved. Over the years it, and I, changed, yet I will always be grateful to Miranda and Frank for opening the teahouse, to Jim and Marcus for keeping it going, to the numerous employees who have have served me some excellent tea, and to all the people who have joined me there for hours of deep, meaningful and transformative conversations.  Thank you all.   

Mauna Kea Tea Farm

The Tea Fields at Mauna Kea Tea Farm 

Before every trip, whether traveling in the US or internationally, I scour the guide books and the internet to discover if my destination might have local places that serve tea. At the very least I hope to find for a spot to grab a cup of tea. If luckier, I might discover a quaint little teahouse. If truly blessed and I find nirvana, some place is serving (unsweetened) matcha in a real matcha bowl. Although I knew of many types of farms on the islands of Hawaii, I never Hawaii was home to several tea farms. I never heard of Hawaiian tea. But now I was not only going to go on vacation in the SUN, I was going to tour Mauna Kea Farm, an organic tea farm on the Big Island.   

The Tea Fields at Mauna Kea Tea Farms#2

When I arrived I was greeted by Kimberly Ino, who started the farm with her husband, Taka, about 10 years ago. Kimberly walked us through the sloping fields and shared the story of Taka's passion for  nature farming and tea.  Wandering the crops of camellia sinensis at various stages of growth and development, with the mid-morning sun cascading over the trees, I was in heaven. I realize that being off the mainland and unplugged from my daily life had such a calming effect. Yet the plants were calming as well, and Kimberly had me taste a few of the fresh tender leaves. 

 

Fortunately, that was not the end of the tour. Kimberly took me inside for a proper tasting of their harvest. At Mauna Kea they have several levels of tea, and we tried them all (even the blended teas, which I usually don't like, but more on that in a bit). 

Mauna Kea Premium Green Tea

Mauna Kea's Premium Green Tea is considered their "queen of teas,"  where they harvest only the tender bud and top two leaves. Next down in price point is their Island Green, which also has the bud, but also the top three leaves.  And finally, they have their Sweet Roast, where the plants are mechanically topped in the final harvest. And I loved them all (I bought some off each, including their blended teas), savoring each for their different flavor profiles. 

As I write this now, I am sitting here, on a snowy day in Seattle, sipping their Premium Green. It is clear, light green in color, very smooth, not astringent at all, and delicious. I don't recall tasting a green tea quite like this one, and I immediately calm and and settled. 

 

 

 

The Sweet Roast is also very unique.  In lieu of my afternoon Dragonwell, I have started drinking this unusual blend. This is the last harvest and the leaves, stems, etc. are mechanically topped off before roasting. 

 

 

 

As I mentioned, I tend to not be a fan of blended or flavored teas. Being a bit of a purest, I find mixing green tea with anything is sacrilege, although I will indulge in a matcha latte from time to time. However, Mauna Kea Tea has two amazing blends - one with Coconut (and I am not talking about synthetic coconut flavoring, but real dried coconut) and the other with Turmeric and Ginger. Home timely that I purchased these since a week after returning from Hawaii, the cold I so valiantly was fighting got the better of me. Not want to be completely without green tea, yet craving some warming spices, I found my healing solution right here - their Sweet Roast blend with turmeric, ginger, coconut, cinnamon, and black paper. In my mind, it aided in my healing time. 

I remember learning about a Hawaiian reconciliation practice called Ho’Oponopono. This practice was used to heal relationships, whether within a family, a community, between neighbors or with the gods. Ho'Oponopono invites you to make amends, thereby addressing the true cause of dis-ease - fracture relationships. Some believe that all illness stems from the tears in the fabrics of our relationships. By healing these rifts and making amends, we heal.

While often done in the presence of those with whom you are having difficulties, Ho'Oponopono can be practiced as mantra meditation, where you recite four simple phrases repeatedly, much like Metta Meditation. 

I'm sorry.

Please forgive me.

Thank you.

I love you.

  1. Make a commitment to yourself (and your loved ones) to heal. Ask yourself, if I truly want to improve this relationship, am I willing to put in the time and effort to do what it takes.
  2. Set your intention. Call to mind the person or persons with whom you wish to create a more fulfilling and positive relationship. However, you can work on creating a more healing and supportive relationship with yourself. How often do we repeat negative comments to ourselves, criticizing and chastising ourselves for not being good enough, productive enough, smart enough, creative enough, etc. If that is the case, you can call to mind a quality you would like to cultivate in yourself, for instance more compassion or kindness. 
  3. Blame less; take responsibility. Release any story of right or wrong, who is at fault, and or what is wrong or right that keep you stuck in the past. To take responsibility means to take action and begin the practice. 
  4. Practice. Practice. Practice.

So after a few sips of my Premium Green Tea, I sit down on my cushion and begin. Breathing out and breathing I say silently to myself:

I'm sorry.

Please forgive me.

Thank you.

I love you.

Try these steps and see what happens.  I would love to hear about your experience. 

 

Samovar Tea & Chai Providing Green Ecstasy Tea & Loving Others

Samovar Tea & Chai Providing Green Ecstasy Tea & Loving Others