matcha

Sazen Matcha Review - Homare-no-Mukashi and Organic Matcha Kin

Organic Matcha Kin and Homare-no-Mukashi from Sazen Tea

While I continue to be an advocate for organic and sustainably farmed tea, I do eagerly partake in some highly prized matcha, which is often not organic. Craving koicha before meditating on this particularly sunny spring Seattle morning, I decided to compare 2 of my 5 recently purchased matchas from Sazen, Tea Market Place from Kyoto - one organic and other other not.

Organic Matcha Kin and Homare-no-Mukashi from Sazen Tea

Matcha Homare-no-Mukashi has been touted as an award-winning, excellent choice for a thick koicha and I have to agree. I opened the tin to an enticing vegetal fresh scent, initiating my mouth to water. The color of this powder is vibrant green and sifted easily into my chawan. The tines for my chasen gently whisked it into a creamy, thick emerald body with a lovely, smooth texture with full foam.

Then came the taste… amazing!!! Smooth and rich, without a hint of bitterness, and a delicious umami finish that remained on my tongue long after my chawan was empty. According to Sazen this matcha is made from “blending 100% of tencha leaves harvested in Horii Shichimeien’s own tea gardens.”  As I paused awhile to experience the continuing ripples from Homare-no-Mukashi, I felt my entire being drop into a gentle state of calm, alert presence. What a gem! I love this matcha.

Next up was the organic Matcha Kin. On first inspection the color was slightly less vibrant, and the aroma was a bit duller in comparison. However, it sifted easily and once whisked produces a gorgeous and inviting thick, deep green elixir which I found more vibrant than the Homare-no-Mukashi koicha. While less sweet, this matcha easily hold its own, especially for an organic blend. A grassy bitterness remains after the initial wave of sweetness and umami fade. Still it is far from tart and cloying, and also invites a release and gentle exhale as you sit with experience after each swallow. For an organic tea, I would definitely consume this on a daily basis.

Doesn't the organic matcha kin look like a deeper emerald green?

I have a few more matchas to try from Sazen, and I eager to taste them. If you are interested in high quality matcha, go visit Sazen today. You won’t be disappointed.

Drink it in. Begin within.

Organic Matcha from  CAP Beauty

Organic Matcha from CAP Beauty

Well, my first gift for this Chanukah 2018 was perfect for me - a brand of matcha (and company) that was new to me - the organic The Matcha from CAP Beauty.

CAP Beauty is dedicated to the philosophy that “Beauty is Wellness. Wellness is Beauty” so the intent is that all their 150+ products create “true radiance.” The fact that their products are “100% natural” resonants with me, as does the recognition of plant based medicine on their website, which speaks about the power of the plants to heal, since they are “teeming with nutrition and life force.”

Of course, the label is the first thing to catch the eye, and I find it just plain uplifting, making me smile. The red label on the side of the tin says, “Drink it in. Begin within.” That accurately sums up my meditation and matcha practice - make matcha and meditate. Well, the meditation actually begins with the making of the matcha. How matcha goodness is contained within this tin - that would be “29 grams of High Vibrational Focus.” Who can argue with that?

Drink it in. Begin within.

Drink it in. Begin within.

29 grams of High Vibrational Focus

29 grams of High Vibrational Focus

For an organic matcha, this one is fairly good. The matcha sifts nicely, and is a lovely bright green, though not as vibrantly emerald as I have seen in many non-organic brands. My koicha whisked easily into a thick and creamy elixir, while the addition of more water to whisk an usucha produced a bowl with a thin layer of foam with sparse bubbles. The aroma was fresh and grassy. The texture was very slightly gritty, but not unpleasant at all. I did prefer the flavor profile of the koicha to the usucha, yet despite the slight bitterness common with organic matchas, this dissipated quickly to leave a umami finish that lingered for quite some time. The overall flavor was clean but not very sophisticated or complex. For an organic matcha, I readily recommend it. Once you explore their website, you might find yourself purchasing other products, as I did. I just couldn’t resist ordering their matcha coconut butter.

Sifted matcha from  CAP Beauty

Sifted matcha from CAP Beauty

Taking a Matcha Moment with Mizuba Matcha

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For me, every day begins with a meditation and matcha moment (well, that is, after the cats have been fed and petted). My intent on this Thanksgiving was to do an extended gratitude meditation, giving thanks for all the people and experiences in my life. This began when I acknowledged how fortunate I am to not only be writing this blog, but to have the opportunity to meditate and drink matcha in the safety and serenity of my own home. I hope to never take that for granted.

Before sitting on my cushion to practice opening my heart, I opened my new package from Mizuba Tea Company. I discovered Mizuba through their trademark saying - Take a #matchamoment. I clicked the link to their website without a moment’s hesitation. On a quest to discover the best tasting organic matcha available, I had planned a purchase, yet landing on their chawan page, I was a goner. My whole being brighten and smile erupt on my face seeing a vibrant yellow chawan. Before I knew it, four matchas managed to make their way into my shopping cart along with that yellow bowl.

For my morning meditation session, I began with their organic ceremonial Yorokobi matcha. Their description echoes my sentiments. Most organic matchas, as I have discussed previously, tend to be bit bitter and astringent, making the overall experience less than a enjoyable. The translation for yorokobi is “joy” and as the name suggests, this matcha delights. The color was a vibrant green and whisking it lead to a think foam like froth. The aroma had a floral note. Today I whisked a thick, creamy, and velvety smooth koicha with nice umami finish. My senses awoke to the taste and I felt a soothing calm embrace as I sat down to give thanks. After appreciating my loved ones and cats, my students and patients, my colleagues and friends, my thoughts turned to all the hands that touched this matcha from the moment the seeds were planted to this very well designed package on my counter. How many hundreds, if not thousands, of people were involved? And I hadn’t yet gotten to the chawan. Thank you all for enriching my life.

Throughout the rest of day, I managed to try all the other matchas I received. Two others were also organic, the Nagomi and the House matcha. The Kokoro was not organic, but was just as smooth as the Yorokobi. It whisked quickly and to a full-bodied froth. This one was a even a bit more creamy and richer with a smooth chocolaty flavor. The organic Nagomi was delightful with a nuttier flavor and a clean umami finish that lingered on my tongue quite awhile. The description on the website for the organic house matcha talks of adding honey and pouring over ice (something I never do), and I know why. As a bowl of matcha, this was rather disappointing in its grittiness and bitterness. Most likely, I will use this for matcha lattes and cooking.

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Did I mention how this yellow chawan delighted me? The color is enticing, as I have never seen a bowl this hue. I feel sunshine looking at this bowl, and the contrast of green and yellow is energizing. The glaze has a lovely thickness to the texture, not glossy. The size is perfect - not overly large as many chawan can be, as it fits neatly into your hand. I love this bowl and may buy a few more (oh, yes, for gifts, sure).

On this Thanksgiving, I was thrilled and thankful for finding these gems. If you are looking to take a (organic) #matchamoment, visit Mizuba today, and see if you can avoid temptation of buying a new chawan.

I highly recommend the entire experience.

Need More Self-Control? Try a Simple Ritual.

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A few days ago I posted a video entitled the Importance of Ritual and Matcha Making, in which I was sitting on my deck on a clear Seattle morning, capturing the my process of sifting and whisking my chawan of matcha before sitting down to meditate. Imagine my surprise when I find an email from one of my favorite magazines (sadly now only online), Scientific American Mind, declaring how any simple ritual can improve overall self-control. To add to my delight, the image was of a hand whisking a bowl of matcha. I guess science has now proven what we in the tea and matcha tribe have known all along - our daily ritual can improve our life.

Making Matcha

Making Matcha

My Morning Matcha on My Alter

My Morning Matcha on My Alter

 

One of my favorite classes to teach at Bastyr University was Myth, Ritual and Health, where we explored the power of both stories and rituals to influence, shape and heal our lives. During class, we took a closer look at our daily routines, and considered how to elevate our unconscious, mindless habits to the status of ritual, thereby infusing them with meaning and purpose. Together, the students and I soon discovered that the key is not what we do, but how we do it. For example, consider something you might do daily, like taking a shower. How do you take a shower? If you add it all the minutes, how much time have you spent bathing? And during all that time, how present were you? This, of course, begs the question, how present would you like to be in your life? Rather than mindlessly rushing through the process, you could engage fully in the moment by embracing all your senses: the feel of the water as moves across your skin, the fragrance of the soap, the texture of the towel as you dry off. Or you might meditate on gratitude: for the clean water itself, for the access to water, for the time and safety to bathe, for all those people who had a hand in ensuring that when you turned on the facet, fresh water spilled forth. Rather than viewing each activity as tasks to check off our list (a formula for stress), what if we were to have respect for every minute of our lives and honor each daily experience by showing up for ourselves in the present? 

 

How can you add more meaning and purpose into your daily life? 
Which daily habits would you like to elevate to the status of ritual? 

Meditation & Matcha on my Yoga Mat

Meditation & Matcha on my Yoga Mat

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

On the Hunt for Matcha (and animals) in South Africa

Sunrise at Ezulwini River Lodge

Sunrise at Ezulwini River Lodge

I never dreamt I would travel to South Africa, yet here I am, sipping matcha and sitting on a deck at the Ezulwini Game Lodge in the Balule Nature Reserve (part of the Greater Kruger Nature Reserve) in Limpopo Province, South Africa. Monkeys are playing in the trees within ten feet of where I sit. As is customary for all my travel, foreign or domestic, I carried a supply of tea with me. I worried about taking my bamboo whisk for fear of breaking it, but my issues were resolved when my good friend, in whom I have instilled a newfound addiction, I mean love, for matcha, bought me an electric whisk from DavidsTea (which I think they have now discontinued). While not my favorite whisking method, this electric device is perfect for travel. With a thick cover for easy storage and packing, it also functions as a vessel in which to make your matcha (I simply cannot bring myself to use a synthetic container of any sort, since I believe it destroys the flavor, and I was fortunate to find teacups in every place I stayed). 

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White rhinoceros 

White rhinoceros 

So here I am, drinking matcha, waiting for the sun to rise and listening to the world come to life. My meditation for the past 4 mornings (and evenings) involved sitting for three hour stretches of time in an open-aired Land Rover, as our guide drove us through the bush on the “hunt” for some animals of South Africa. All of this land outside of the Kruger Nature Reserve, according to one of my guides, is private property, and was primarily hunting lodges where people killed big game as trophies. That all changed 2 decades ago when one of the lodge owners wanted to protect the wildlife, and believed another form of tourism could better help the conservation efforts. They asked the neighboring lodges to drop their fences, to end killing and poaching, and to support nature. Most of the people in the area agreed and now these protected animals are beginning to thrive once more. Sadly, poachers still manage to make their way into these protected, usually seeking the endangered black rhinoceros. In many forms of traditional medicine, rhino horn has been touted for numerous medicinal properties, such as healing inflammatory conditions (arthritis, gout, and fever), GI disturbances (nausea, vomiting and food poisoning), but also headaches, anxiety, and hallucinations. Even though 1n 1993 China banned the trade of rhino horn, the demand for rhino horn is still exists. In fact, as I was leaving the lodge I heard of poachers into Greater Kruger killing some rhinoceros.

On these long drives I practiced being as present as possible to this new and extraordinary moment. Breathing in the fresh cool morning air was invigorating. Riding along, often in silence, I observed my breath and reminded myself to breathe in life - to breathe in the life of this particular time and place, to breathe in the energy of the plants and animals (and people) around me and allow their spirit to fill my lungs, becoming a part of me. As I exhaled, I breathed out gratitude and appreciation for this land. If constriction or tightness crept in to my breathing, I returned to my intention - to fully be present and breathe this moment.

These safari drives were also a meditation on my other senses as well. The arid winter landscape with its brittle grass and trees dazzled my eyes as they changed colors throughout the day from sunrise to sunset. And the animals! Although the trackers and guides spotted most of the animals, scanning the horizon and dirt below to detect any signs of movement became an enjoyable, deliberate and focused meditation in and of itself. Once discovered they would drive us as close a possible, often within a few feet, and I would stare, wide-eyed in awe and wonder at these amazing beings in their natural habitat. Watching a den of sleeping lions, engulfed by a herd of cape buffalo, or surrounded by elephants, including a few newborns, was breathtaking, and furthered my sense of wonder and appreciation. 

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Hippocrates said it best!

Hippocrates said it best!

Before going on safari, however, I spent three days in Cape Town, on the "hunt" for something else - a new locale in my never ending pursuit of matcha. We stayed in Bantry Bay and the location included a view diametrically opposite of the one from my deck in the bush. At Bantry Bay, I had a expansive and equally awe inspiring view of the powerful waves of the Atlantic. Nothing is more calming to me than being lulled to sleep by the sound of waves on the shore. I arrived at my lodgings around 11 PM, after a grueling 24 hours of air travel, and tried sleeping to align my internal clocks with the local time. Somewhat successful, I woke the next day hungry for breakfast. I pulled up my handy list I compiled weeks ago of potential matcha-carrying establishments, and surprisingly the first one was a mere 5 minute walk from my apartment. The Scheckter’s Raw restaurant not only delivered on the matcha front, they had a tasty and healthy breakfast. First off, I ordered an organic matcha almond milk latte. This matcha was much lighter and thinner than the matcha lattes I make or have in the states. However, the almond milk was less sweet. I did not get a sense of bitterness and the color was a pale green. I must have enjoyed it since I ordered a second one before I left, and went back the next day for another. They had other matcha-flavored items on the menu, but my ecstasy at seeing matcha pancakes was short lived, when I found out they contained gluten! Sigh…regardless, I was delighted to discover other healthy, whole food, gluten-free options, like the quinoa porridge made with organic peanut butter, strawberries, bananas and a combination of almond and coconut milk, and a touch of vanilla. Like its name, this was hearty and fulfilling. Yes I highly recommend this place.  

Matcha almond milk lattes at Raw Sheckter's

Matcha almond milk lattes at Raw Sheckter's

Quinoa peanut butter porridge 

Quinoa peanut butter porridge 

Matcha coconut ice cream

Matcha coconut ice cream

After a sobering visit to Robben Island, we wandered through the V&A Waterfront in search of food, and stumbled across their Food Market. The very first booth I saw sold ice cream, and had non-dairy, coconut matcha ice cream! I wanted to dive right in, but knew I had to eat something more substantial first to justify getting two scoops (for the second I chose peanut butter coconut ice cream - if you haven’t tried this combination, I highly recommend it). While enticing, I wanted the matcha flavor to be a bit more bold and pronounced, but I recognize this might not be everyone’s cup of tea. 

Original T Bag Designs in V & A Waterfront

Original T Bag Designs in V & A Waterfront

One stop I was certain to make on this trip was to the Original T Bag Designs store in the V & A Waterfront. Initiated by Jill Heyes who moved to South Africa in 1996 with her husband and daughters, she was shocked and overwhelmed by the abject poverty of the people living in settlement of Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay. Wanting to make a difference, she began teaching the women hand craft skills so they could make something to sell and support themselves financially. Word got out and more and more women came to learn, and the community of woman grew who began teaching one another.  The first attempt at art work involved paper mache items, but that was not as successful. Eventually the idea of using something readily available and abundant - used tea bags emerged. Original T Bag Designs concept is to take recycled teabags, dry, empty, iron and then pain them and turn them into functional art products like stationary, wooden boxes, trays, coasters, dish cloths, bracelets and more. Of course, I purchased several items for myself and for gifts. Who knew that my beloved drink could be used to help women gain some independence and help support themselves or their families? Tea can, indeed, change lives. Please remember that any time you are ready to discard your teabag into the trash (please compost if you can, or better yet, make some art).

The last of my matcha discoveries came the next day when I visited Long Street searching for Lady Bonins Tea shop. The driver found 13 Long Street, so I hoped out of the car, naturally assuming that number 12 was nearby, merely across the street. To my consternation, not only could I not see any numbers on the store fronts, no tea establishment was in sight. After wandering several blocks and crossing a major intersection, I reversed direction, and returned back to my drop off location. I continued in the other direction for several more blocks and decided to give up. Perhaps there is another Long Street, I wondered. Deciding to wander around since I was in the area, a block later I found myself facing a sign for Lady Bonins Tea. I asked the gentleman behind the counter about the address, but he explained that the numbers weren’t necessarily sequential. While that defies my concept of logic, I am just glad I found it. 

Lady Bonins Tea

Lady Bonins Tea

What a find! According to the website, Jessica, aka Lady Bonin, established her business in 2010 as Cape Town’s first food truck and the world’s first Tea Caravan with the mission of bringing organic loose leaf tea, sourced directly from growers who practice sustainable farming and are community driven. Combining her passion for tea and socio-environmental justice fills my heart with such joy. Jessica recognizes that tea can be a significant vehicle for impacting health of individuals, communities, the environment, and the planet!  Hopefully if all of us support biodynamic farming and other sustainability efforts, along with living wages for all, monopolistic tea farming corporations that fail to support the land or the people who harvest their tea will gradually decline. Thank you, Jessica, for making a difference in the lives of some many people.

And let’s not forget the shop! The space is divided into three subsections. When you walk in, the first section is the storefront, with one wall lined with all the teas for purchase. The opposite wall has the menu above the counter where they make your tea. In the middle area is somewhat of a small outdoor patio with streaming sunlight, while in the back is more seating and a tea bar where they offer tea tastings and matcha preparation (sadly I was unaware they needed advanced notice or I would have scheduled it). I adore this space and could envision myself sitting in the back for hours talking with friends over some amazing tea. 

Lady Bonins Tea 

Lady Bonins Tea 

Middle seating area

Middle seating area

Lady Bonins Tea - Tea Bar in the back of the store

Lady Bonins Tea - Tea Bar in the back of the store

Lady Bonins Tea - selection of teacups

Lady Bonins Tea - selection of teacups

Once again, I ordered a matcha latte with almond milk. Even before tasting it, I purchased a container of their organic matcha since I loved the packaging, which shares just a bit about matcha's brief history. I did not ask the gentleman behind the counter about the quality, but I believe this was culinary grade. Organic production of matcha is very difficult on the plant, and keeping the soil rich enough to ensuring a powder that is vibrantly deep green in color without any bitterness is challenging. The color here was a bit flatter greener and I did detect more bitterness even through the almond milk. The label did not mention anything about the grade, and I have yet to open it, so I know more once I return to The States. Still, I want to support Lady Bonin and their efforts to make a difference in the world. I only regret not purchasing more of their tea, like sencha, dragonwell or any of their rooibos teas. Lady Bonin, let me know when you ship to the states or open a store there. I will support you! 

Matcha almond milk lattes at Lady Bonins Tea

Matcha almond milk lattes at Lady Bonins Tea

Matcha Shortbread at Lady Bonins Tea

Matcha Shortbread at Lady Bonins Tea

 

For now, I will drink my ceremonial matcha, prepare for my last day in the bush, give thanks for such an incredible opportunity. 

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

O-My, I Love O-5Tea

A month ago I was invited to speak at the naturopathic medical school in Vancouver, BC about my some of my favorite topic, mind-body medicine & the healing power of the breath. As is typical before any travel I take, I jumped online and googled "teahouses in the Vancouver area". Since neither close to my hotel nor the school, I was resolved to spend my remaining time in Canada drinking in the beauty that O-Five Tea Bar was, before returning to Seattle, and I am oh so glad I did. 

The O5Tea Bar

Being mid-day on a Wednesday, and armed with my gift of parking karma, I found a spot directly in front of the storefront. When I got out of my car, however, I became slightly disoriented when I looked up to see a DavidsTea in front of me. Immediately my heart sank, and I feared that O5Tea had been purchased by the larger company or was put out of business since people might mistaken one tea store for the other. However, looking around I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that O5Tea was still there. I have nothing against DavidsTea. How could I? A day earlier, I found one of their locations a block from my hotel, and grabbed myself a quick matcha latte before heading to teach. I have visited their establishment on several occasions when traveling, when unable to find a teahouse, or when I am on the go and crave a matcha latte. It is never a replacement for my morning matcha meditation ritual, yet it is still enjoyable. And I can appreciate that DavidsTea and other such chain stores are exposing more and more people to the joy of tea. That said, O5Tea is in another league.

First of all, O5Tea is not your typical shop. It is a teahouse which pays attention to every detail. They are Obsessed with the Origin or source of their tea (the O of O5), and they are passionate about and care deeply about the earth from which the tea is grown as well as the people who farm the tea. Believing in harmony and balance, the 5 stands for the elements - Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and the Void. 

Due to their respect for balance, harmony and the elements, O5Tea encourages the meditative experience of tea. Walking through the door, the calm energy is palpable. The lighting is cool, the colors and materials (wood) are rich and deep. No cold or sterile feeling with bright fluorescent lights at all. This is where you can sit and savor the entire tea experience, and not just grab a paper cup of tea while on the run. 

As a matcha-holic, I felt as if I entered a matcha nirvana. Not only do they have numerous chawans on display, you are able to select the chawan in which you would like your matcha served, which only enhanced the overall experience. Being able to spend time holding, feeling and examining the bowls that called to me initiated the meditative experience.  At first making a selection was daunting since each and every bowl was a stunning work of art. Yet quieting myself, I was drawn to a specific few. Each had its own story and I was please to know others would be standing on this spot, repeating this experience of taking time to be present and examine the vessel in which they will drink their tea.

 

Matcha & Green Tea Menu

 

Of course the chawan was not the most important selection in the overall process.  I still had to choose my matcha. Fortunately my options were not as numerous. With only four on the menu, I still struggled nonetheless. Thankfully with a recommendation from Jacob who was preparing my matcha, and I settled on two - the organic Kirishima and the Okumidori. Then I sat down at the only table by the window, and patiently waited as my elixirs were prepared.

To my table were delivered two intoxicating bowls of thick, rich and vibrant green matcha. Whenever there is organic matcha to be tasted, I must try it, and the Kirishima did not disappoint. It was smooth and creamy with just a slight bitterness, yet it had a lovely sweet vegetal finish which lingered. I loved it. Then I tried the single cultivar Okumidori which whisked into such a rich broth, with a thick creama, and an intense smoothness without any astringency. The finish lasted quite some time and I could feel myself exhaling fully. Of course I couldn't leave Canada without my own supply. I wish I had stayed longer to try the other two matchas on the menu. Were they half as incredible as these... I can't even imagine!

You can select the chawan you want to use for your matcha. Each are a work of art.

The Process

Kirishima & Okumidori Matcha

 

Of course O5Tea serves more than just matcha. They carries a selection of greens, senchas, oolongs, blacks, pu erhs, and even kombucha. And of course, they know the land on which all the teas were grown, and the farms cared for it. Since I fell in love with the Kirishima matcha, I did decide to purchase a few grams of the Kanyamidori sencha from the same farm as well without even tasting it. Once at home, I made a pot and was intoxicated by its subtle aroma and sweet and earthy refined taste. 

I appreciate all that O5Tea has to offer.  If you are a tea drinker of any variety, when in Vancouver, you must visit this place. I promise you won't be disappointed. You can also order online which I plan to do soon as my supply is dwindling.  

 

Pu erh Selection

Making the Kirishima Matcha at Home

What I love about high quality matcha is not just the unique, incredible, and layered flavor profile, but also the way I feel mentally, emotionally and physically after a few sips. As the Zen monks, samurai and shogun have all recognized, matcha brings clarity to the mind-body. The entire process, from selecting the chawan, to drinking the matcha was an act of mindful attention. The matchas from O5 were incredible, and I with each sip I could feel my entire mind-body respond, as if exhaling completely and fully, releasing any tension and tightness. My mind clears and I am focused. This is not to say such clarity is absent the rest of the day; it is just enhanced. 

An important point about daily meditation practice, which includes my matcha ritual, is that it trains and re-wires the mind-body to respond in a particular way. If you want to cultivate peace of mind, mindful presence or even compassion, you must practice. As I sit here writing this, all my years of practice enable me to recall that sensation of release, even without tea, allowing me to settle a bit more.

One breath practice I often use to further that release of tension is to imagine the breath like a healing wave, traveling throughout my mind-body to the places that require attention. I envision my tension (physical, mental or emotional) as the seashore riddled with footprints, seaweed or small shells. This healing breath washes over those places of tension, wipes them clean, then carries any debris out to the vast eternal ocean and transforms it to peace. Thus with each inhale, I invite in healing and peace, and with each exhale, my mind-body softens and soothes.

Walking into O5Tea was like breathing in the healing wave. My mind-body calmed, I settled, and I enjoyed the experience.  The next time you sit down with your bowl of matcha or cup of tea, my you find peace and tranquility in the moment. 

Taking off with Matcha Flights from Breakaway Matcha

In my quest to try various brands, I was ecstatic that Breakaway Matcha offers matcha “flights” - a long, narrow box containing 4 different varieties of their matchas. Eager to experiment and taste, I ordered 2 flights, allowing me to sample 8 different varieties. 

On his website and in interviews, founder Eric Gower says he created Breakaway after being unable, back in 2010, to find high quality matcha in the States, and I am glad he did.

How to best start my tasting experience? I almost sat down and tried all 8 blends when they landed on my doorstep, but I thought that might not be the best thing for my nervous system, so I settled to try two per day. Breakaway offers what they call Hyperpremium Blends supplied from various growers in Japan who are passionate about their matcha. The blends are either numbered (94, 95, 97 98. 99. and 100) or have names. Wanting to test the veracity of their website’s claim that the matcha becomes sweeter with a longer and more umami finish as the numbers increase, I purchased the top 4 numbered blends to compare (97, 98, 99, & 100). Selecting the second flight was a bit more daunting as I wanted to try them all. However, I knew I wanted to try their Hyperpremium Oganic Blend, so that left me with three other choices. Once I realized that I can always order another flight, I settled upon the blends called Rikyu, Hikari, and SE Blends.

Gower likens his matchas to purchasing top of the line wine from award winning vineyards whose premier bottles might sell for hundreds of dollars. While those same wineries may also produce more affordable blends for those who will spend no more than $20 to share with friends a meal, nothing can compare to those of higher quality. After tasting all of the blends in my flights, I agree. These are not your run of the mill, every day, grocery store, pseudo-ceremonial matcha blends, but something special.

I decided to breakaway from my traditional way of making matcha and follow Gower's suggestions - namely, using an electric whisk. I purchased one several months ago and have never been too fond of it. I now believe this has to do with the fact that I use my larger chawan (matcha bowls). Breakaway recommends (and sells) matcha tumblers, which are exquisitely stunning (and I am trying to hold back from purchasing all of them). Gower favors koicha, or thicker matcha, for consuming these blends, which I prefer. I believe the flavor is amplified and the experience is heightened. Making koicha with an electric whisk in my typical wide chawans is not very functional, so for these tasting experiences, I found a narrower bowl, and I lo and behold, the electric whisk worked. For each blend, I used about 1 - 2 grams of matcha for about 1 - 1.5 ounces of water. 

Overall, these matchas are all visually enticing. As described on the website, they were all a bright, “hallucinogenic” green. Seeing that shock of bright color starts me salivating, knowing I am in for a quality experience. Nothing is more disappointing than opening a package of matcha to find a dull, flat green or yellowish-brown powder. Such blends never have anything but a pronounced bitter, astringent taste. Using my electric whisk created a nice, rich, thick creama for all of them. I experimented with different vessels and now believe that with an electric whisk, the width makes the difference: the wider the vessel, the more froth and foam with larger bubbles; the narrower the vessel, the more foamlike with sparser bubbles.

 I enjoyed the lack of even the slightest astringency with any of the numbered blends, but notice a trace of it with the Hyperpremium Organic, yet I found it delicious. Each had a slight variations in umami, where it hit my tongue, intensity or amount of time of the finish. The mid-notes varied for each,and the sweetness, present in all, was in different levels of intensity. Still, all were excellent.

Choosing a favorite is challenging. Overall, what stands out to me regarding all the blends I sampled was how utterly smooth and creamy they were. Their aromas were light and not overpowering at all. Unfortunately, price point is a factor in matcha selection. Many of the blends are far more expensive than most higher quality matchas on the market. Since taste preference is a subjective and personal matter, cost does not always equate with quality or taste. However, of the numbered blends, I would select #100 ($109 per 30 grams) hands down due to its delightful creamy smoothness and absence of bitterness. The smell was fresh and grassy, with that chlorophyll scent that makes me think of a quiet, unhurried, and lazy summer afternoon. The finish lasted longer, and the umami taste was more in the front of my tongue than the lower numbers. While close in quality, they were less impressive to me only in comparison to Blend 100. I have yet to try Blends 95 ($59), 94 ($49) or 93 ($39), so I cannot speak to those (perhaps that is my next flight). 

As for the other blends, a 30 grams tin range in price from $169 for Hikari to $149 for SE and $129 for Rikyu. My favorite, based on my small sampling was SE for its intense bright color, thickness, and creamy umami taste.

I plan to reserve Blend 100 and SE for special occasions or times I plan on deeper meditation, while the Hyperpremium Organic I will use for daily consumption.

The most affordable of those I tried was the Hyperpremium Organic at $59 for a 30 gram tin. Not as smooth as the others, and with a slight bitterness, I would definitely recommend this since it is still smoother and less astringent than many matchas I have tried that were close in price point. Hyperpremium is a great choice, especially for those who demand organic.  

Since I only had the small jar flights, I wasn’t able to experiment with contrasting koichas with ushucha with each blend, however I had just was able to do with a few. Now all my jars are empty, so I am currently grounded for now.  Once I order more, and yes, I will be ordering more, I hope to take off again. 

History & Health Benefits of Matcha

抹茶 - matcha

Perhaps you are new to the world of matcha, or tea, or you simply are curious and want to ask,  Why matcha? 

As I have written about before, I have never been a coffee drinker, despite living in the land of Starbucks where coffeehouses are found on every corner. Nor do I consume alcohol. Since starting medical school and discovering Teahouse Kuan Yin, tea is not only my favorite beverage, tea reflects a way of life. You don’t hurry with tea, you sit, you reflect, you converse, you meditate. Matcha takes this to another level. 

By many accounts, the Zen Monk, Myoan Eisai/Yosai (栄西 ), commonly known as Eisai (1141 - 1251), the founder of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, is credited with the origins of matcha, although tea itself had been in Japan for quite some time before this. Born in Japan, Eisai, a Buddhist monk, grew displeased by the practices of his order, so he set off to discover new teachings in China. Upon his return from one such trip in 1191 from the Sung-dynasty in China, he brought home with him the seedlings of a new type of tea plant, Camellia sinensis, which he planted throughout the grounds of his Buddhist temple. Camellia sinensis is in the family of flowering plants called TheaceaeCamellia is the genus, or generic name, in the binomial nomenclature, while sinensis is the specific species of the plant. This can be further broken down into varieties or cultivars. A cultivar is variety of the plant reproduced asexually (cloned) to ensure the qualities and characteristics of the mother plant are maintained and pass along, which is beneficial for mass production. The most common cultivars of Camellia sinensis are sinensis and assamica. Sinensis typically refers to cultivars grown in China, Taiwan and Japan, and is smaller in stature and leaf. Assamica, on the other hand, are the cultivars traditionally found in India, which are studier and larger in size, both in height of plant and size of leaf.  As any gardener knows, tending to plants is a meditative act. When Eisai took the tender leaves of his tea plants (of the sinensis cultivar), and rather than steeping them as was tradition, he ground them into a powder and added boiling water, matcha was born. The word itself, matcha, 抹茶, is derived from the words ma, which means powder, and cha, which means tea - hence, powder tea. Eisai shared his new drink with his fellow monks, extolling its healing and meditative properties, and it soon became a staple in the promotion of meditation.  In 1211, he wrote his two volume book on the health benefits of tea, entitled Kissa Yojoki (喫茶養生記 ) - How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea.  According to Eisai, Tea is the elixir of life... Tea the ultimate mental and medical and medical remedy and has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete.  In 1214, Eisai presented his book to the shogun warrior, Minmoto no Sanetomo, after hearing how he was suffering from ill effects of nightly consumption of alcohol.  Reading about the positive health effects of tea, and how it can reverse the effects of alcohol on the vital organs, improve mental clarity and cognitive function, and prevent fatigue, both the Shogun and Samurai soon adopted tea as part of their customs and ritual. 

The matcha of Eisai's time has changed significantly compared with the matcha of today. One of the most vital steps in the matcha process is shading, which began somewhere between the 15th and 16th century as a way to prevent frost damage in the months of February and March, before the tender spouts appear. Originally the shading structures were constructed using reeds and covered with straw, but now various material are used to shade the plants from sunlight. Today, shading occurs once shoots appear, not before. For the highest grade of matcha, the tea plants must be shaded for at around three weeks. When grown in low light, chlorophyll production is stimulated, polyphenol content is reduced (responsible for the bitterness and astringency of tea) and the breakdown of the amino acid L-theanine is interrupted (which creates matcha's mellow taste), although these were not the initial reason for shading.

In early to mid-May, the first flush of young leaves are picked by hand. The leaves are first given a “light" or "shallow steam,” known as asumushi (the word mushi in Japanese means to steam) for about 15 - 20 seconds (longer steaming methods are used for other tea preparation, some lasting 90 seconds or longer). After the steaming, the leaves are dried. At this point, the leaves are called aracha, but the process is only half way complete. 

Next, the veins and stems are removed from every single leaf, a methodical and labor intensive process done by hand. Dried once more, the remaining leaves are now called tencha. At this point, the tea master often tastes the tencha to ensure quality before proceeding to the final step, which involves grounding the leaves. While machines have been used by some companies to create the powder, the traditional process involves stone grounding at a very low temperature. If the process creates excessive heat, the color and chemical constituents of the tencha will be effected, and quality will be lost. The resulting powder tea, or matcha, is extremely fine, often under 10 microns. The entire process can take up to an hour to ground as little as 30 grams of matcha. Talk about a meditation practice!

These steps outline here are required for ceremonial grade matcha, which should be microfine and vibrant green in color. Numerous grades of matcha exist, yet lesser grades can contain veins and stems, could be ground at higher temperatures or might not be finely ground. These, according to purist, such as myself, are unfit for drinking, as the result leaves a bitter and astringent taste. Since matcha is sensitive to the elements, it is best stored in an airtight container and away from light, heat and air. Thus refrigeration is suggested, provided the container is firmly sealed. Furthermore, matcha is best consumed the year it was picked since it is easily degraded and oxidized by air, light, and heat. 

While the health benefits of matcha are numerous, one fact about matcha that resonates with my naturopathic sensibilities is the fact that drinkers of this elixir are consuming the actual leaf. While extracts, tinctures, teas and tisanes all have healing properties and carry the energetics of the plants, I find something truly powerful about ingesting the leaf material itself. Consuming the plant material increases the health benefits. Tea contains several polyphenols, known as flavonoids, which contain antioxidants. One group of flavonoids found in tea are called flavanols, of which epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is often the most studied for its antioxidant properties. Of all the various catechins found in the green tea leaves, EGCG (also found in fruits, vegetables and nuts) comprises around 60% of them.  A recent article in Frontiers in Endocrinology in May 2014, called Effects of Physiological Levels of the Green Tea Extract Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate on Breast Cancer cells, demonstrated that low levels of EGCG, around 1 - 7 μm (microns), was sufficient enough to not only prevented growth of breast cancer cells, it could also lead to cancer cell apoptosis (cell death).  However, healthy cells were unaffected. Green tea has 2 - 3 times more EGCG and antioxidants than black tea, and matcha is significantly higher than green tea. While some people tout how matcha contains 137 times more epigallocatechin than green tea, this may erroneously be based on a 2003 study, Determination of catechins in matcha green tea by micellar electrokinetic chromatography, which compared the EGCG levels found in matcha powder with that of China Green Tip teabags from the Tazo® Company. The researchers found that Tazo® China Green Tips tea contained only 0.42 mg of EGCG / 1 gram, while matcha powder contained a whopping 57.4 mg of EGCG / 1 g of matcha. Thus matcha contained 137 times more EGCG. However, compared to other quality green teas studied matcha contained only 3 times more EGCG. Nevertheless, matcha is high in antioxidants.

L-theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid found only in tea, some forms of fungi (the mushroom Boletus badius), and one of three holly trees, Guayusa, that contain caffeine and sometimes used to make tisane. As mentioned above, the L-theanine level increases when the tea plant is grown in shaded conditions, and is responsible for the sweet, grassy, vegetal flavor, also known as umami. Unlike other forms of green tea, the L-theanine content of matcha remains very high, up to five times higher than regular sencha (20 mg compared to 4 mg).  L-theanine impacts the nervous system by stimulating GABA levels, which down regulates the sympathetic, or fight or flight, system. L-theanine has also been show to increase serotonin and dopamine levels, which elevate mood and the sense of wellbeing. Since L-theanine can lead to an increase in alpha brain waves, matcha drinkers benefit from an increase in focus and concentration. Furthermore, matcha has been praised for its ability to reduce blood pressure, however, this may have more to do with the caffeine and L-theanine combination which is said to burn fat and increase immune functioning. Regardless, in some studies, drinkers of matcha have been shown to have a reduction in hypertension. Finally, matcha drinkers often do not experience the same caffeine crashes seen with coffee or other types of tea. This is due, once again, to L-theanine content. Keeping all of this in mind, no wonder Eisai suggested monks drink matcha before sitting for hours in focused silent meditation.

But when it comes right down to it, the ultimate reason I love matcha is for the experience of it. From preparing the matcha (something I will cover in another post) to savoring that intense sweet, umami flavor to the after effects of clarity of mind, matcha is a meditation in patience and presence. 

 

 

Want to join me for a bowl? 

Kale Matcha? Great for Smoothies perhaps.

Kale Matcha?  Great for Smoothies perhaps.