Long before matcha became a smashing (okay, insanely-successful) cultural trend in the USA, it was prized by the monks, Japanese hierarchy and even the samurai, as an integral component of the traditional tea ceremony, circa 17th century — a hierarchy-based ritual only the elite could participate in.
The monks brought tea seeds from China to Japan in the 17th century. The Japanese worked to perfect their prized matcha tea ceremony and farming techniques. Back then, Japanese tea ceremonies with matcha were an elitist treat—only the hierarchy, samurai and monks could be a part of...Fast forward some 320 odd years, and matcha is your bona fide hashtag: a staple on most corner coffee shop menus. You’ve seen #matcha all over Instagram, but there’s more depth and free inspiration in this finely-milled green tea powder that can help you thrive.
It took me years of exploring my family history and traveling throughout Japan to start to feel comfortable enough to write about my family’s traditions. After all, the Japanese, with their scroll of Michelin stars and distinct cultural traditions are considered to be The Gold Standard, in food, culture and lifestyle. (And who am I!?, some Californian/NY Japanese-American surfer girl, who was in search of my family history? Basically, yes)
Learning to adapt and survive modern day life as a writer in NYC gave me the confidence to share my story, however imperfect (wabi sabi). Enjoying more matcha and green tea became the thread that wove my past to my present; my Japanese heritage to my modern-American life; and healed cracks in my own life — a model-turned-chef, always feeling “different” — finding space for inner beauty.
Tea gives us each the gift grace: time to reflect, and time to contemplate; time to focus and concentrate on what’s really important. How? And Why?
When I recently went to visit Shunkoin Temple & Zen Center, in Kyoto this fall, my friend Reverend Takafumi Kawakami reshared with me a secret: How Japanese tea can help to calm the mind and body, together as one— and how it helps us to better focus on our personal mindfulness, physiologically.
Green tea leaves contain high levels of the amino acid L-thianine and a balanced (not jolty like coffee) stream of caffeine. The Japanese have a reputation as more zen, calm, and focused, which some attribute to their everyday consumption of tea. The monks consistently reference green tea as their “super power,” able to boost creativity and focus. Nutritionally, it makes sense: powerful baby green tea leaves and their potent amino acid antioxidant profile and caffeine offer up a natural way to “micro-dose” (for all you tech junkies) — getting mini doses of psychedelic drugs into the bloodstream.
How My Ancestors Eastern Practices Help us To Thrive in a Western World:
Growing up Japanese and Polish American was cathartically beautiful for me as a kid; it was different, I was different, my love for Japan was always so deep, …. Then… as a teen, tall and lanky, I looked different as a mixed kid…. Growing up mixed was also painful. I made a decent living as a model in LA, NYC and Asia. Life was certainly perfectly imperfect (wabi sabi). Sure, I was a “model,” but I didn’t grow up like everyone else, or look like my All-American best friends and classmates; the pain of looking and feeling different, while embracing this for some of us, can be part of our appeal — it’s also pain that still lingers.
I transitioned from modeling to food in my twenties, as cooking was always my true love. I enrolled in culinary school at 22, paying for it by modeling; then cooked on the line for a mere ten bucks or less per hour, scraping my savings. That’s how I loved and lived. I finally saved up enough money to move from Cali to New York City to fulfill my pursuit and passion for food writing. For almost ten years, I strapped myself to my desk, to the stove and to my editor’s deskside. And I wrote.
Writing for me in my 20’s…well, I wanted it to be as beautiful as a brushstroke; but the process –which I kept very private — was painful and dark: the longest hours my body and mind had ever experienced. It was perfectly imperfect. I was growing a following, while I criticized myself, my work, and my life, constantly.
The pain of needing to look, feel and be a certain way, exacerbated by New York City and Japanese culture was a training itself.
Matcha to the rescue. I used tea and Japanese traditions to:
- Heal myself.
- Find the space and time for inner beauty and peace.
My everyday consumption of green tea (with no additives or sweeteners) continues to be fundamental to my day-to-day. More than a morning coffee ritual, matcha is a lifestyle — a way to heal and endure (gaman).
Here’s a mini guide to my favorite Japanese Teas: You can try each of them and see which fits your fave tastebuds!
Sencha Green Tea 煎茶, せんちゃ: The most commonly drunk, daily Japanese tea. A must-have staple in Japanese households, sencha (green tea) is a traditional, steamed Japanese green tea. Light in flavor and full of polyphenols and immunity enhancing benefits.
Hōjicha Green Tea ほうじ茶: A Japanese green roasted tea. The tea leaves are darker in color from their roasting process, and hojicha may contain less caffeine. Tastes more “roasted” and earthy.. I recommend drinking this towards the end of each day.
Matcha: 抹茶, まっちゃ
Originally derived from the monks in Asia, matcha is a beloved, finely milled green tea powder. Matcha is made of carefully shade-grown, steamed tea leaves. Its tea leaves are then milled into a top-quality, fine matcha green tea powder.
When you drink matcha, you are consuming the whole tea leaf. Thus, matcha is filled with more antioxidants, vitamin C and l-theanine (which can keep you chill and focused at the same time) than any other tea.
I make matcha with my chasen whisk (bamboo whisk) and hot water at 175-185 degrees F, each morning, to stay focused on my work and slightly relaxed. Matcha should not be made with boiling water, but rather, water that is slightly cooled after boiling. Matcha is additionally used in baking recipes and in some savory marinades and dressings. You’ll find many here in this book.
The Japanese love and prize traditional matcha tea ceremonies and their matcha tea cakes. They, contrary to popular belief, actually do not consume matcha daily, rather sencha and genmaicha, matcha is seen as more of a treat or ceremonial! Let’s continue to keep the integrity, tradition and adoration of matcha respectfully practiced.
Where you purchase your matcha does matter. Look for quality Japanese brands like Matcha Love by Ito En when purchasing. If the matcha powder is made in Japan, which I highly recommend, it will be ceremonial grade. Try Matcha Love by Ito En here in the US.
Genmaicha: 玄米茶, げんまいちゃ: My favorite earthy and umami tea to steep! This robust and umami-like green tea is blended with roasted brown rice. Genmaicha is perfect on a rainy day or just for a morning pick-me-up. Genmai is a special blend of two Japanese classics, roasted rice combined with sencha green tea. Most commonly it’s a 50-50 blend, giving you that earthy, savory, roasted flavor. Look for quality Japanese brands when purchasing.
Gyokuro (Jade Dew Tea) 玉露, ぎょくろ: Is possibly, the queen of all green tea. It is shade grown and beloved for its rich, sweet, umami flavor. Gyokuro also contains high levels of the amino acid, L-theanine — which is what keeps the Japanese so focused.
日本 たび , にほん たび!!
My mother and I, have both devoted our lives to Japanese media, journalism and education: we also both highly encourage you to come and visit Japan—it’s a place where you’ll see the old and the new, the experience alone is unparalleled to any other place in the world and we welcome you to come experience new inspiration tracing Japanese tea and our roots: read the full story with Vogue here: xx ck