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Minimalism in a Bowl – The Beauty of Matcha

February 26, 2018

Matcha. You’ve probably tried it at least once – as matcha latte, matcha ice cream, or of course, in its pure form as hot matcha tea.

Matcha has become extremely popular lately for its healthy qualities. It’s low in calories, high in antioxidants, and gives you a gentle boost of caffeine.

But in the world of chanoyu, the Japanese art of tea making, matcha’s health benefits are only a side benefit. As a student of chanoyu, every time I make or drink a bowl of matcha, I discover something new about the profound beauty of chanoyu. With each sip of matcha, you’re also experiencing the spirit of chanoyu.

Chanoyu

In the world of chanoyu, a bowl of matcha is filled not just with tea, but with a spirit of hospitality and welcome. The tea is prepared by the host, who has invited guests over for the ceremony in a tea room, which is very simple, yet refined in design. The host and guests are seated on the tatami floor. In the tea room there is a hot water pot, tea bowl, water container, utensils (tea scoop, ladle, whisk), tea container, flowers, art work (kakejiku), incense container, and sweets for the guest.

Chanoyu is considered a “ceremony” because the guests watch the host make the tea in silence, in an almost ritualistic manner. You will feel like you are watching a performance. The silence on both sides reflects the idea of “Wakei Seijaku (和敬清寂)”. The character “wa (和)” stands for “harmony”, “kei (敬)” for “respect”, and “seijaku (静寂)” for silence. The minimal exchange of words brings the host and guest closer together.

Sweets are served before the matcha is served. The sweets have names and are often based on a motif of nature or the season – such as flowers, the moon, or a fruit. They will usually be a hint for the guests to understand the theme or message of the gathering. The guests will also figure out the message from the kakejiku, which is often an idiom written in calligraphy.

When the host has prepared the tea and the guest is ready to drink the matcha, the guest will show appreciation to the host, the universe (万物), and the people who made the matcha leaves. The guest will first bow to the host, raise the bowl, turn the bowl, and then sip the tea. The warmth of the tea, and light bitterness of the matcha sink into the body the moment it enters your mouth.

When I am in the tea room, I notice that the speed of time flows differently from everyday life. It is truly extraordinary – there is nothing that reminds you of everyday life in this minimalistic space. It is a space that lets you examine your heart, in silence.

Through the practice of making matcha, I often notice how I feel that day. Chanoyu has specific procedures that have been passed on, called temae. A student of chanoyu must practice this procedure repeatedly. On somedays I’ll be tired and get the order of the temae mixed up. On other days I’ll be very focused and make little mistakes.

In the tea room, there is just the tea, the people, and me. Making matcha has become a refuge for my easily distracted heart in this modern world that is constantly buzzing with stimulation.

That’s why even at home, making a cup of matcha will be the moment for me to quiet my heart down on a really busy day. The five minutes I spend to make a bowl of matcha is a simple form of meditation. And I truly believe that the simplicity of the chanoyu spirit is everything people in the modern life yearn for.

Experience matcha at home

You don’t have to attend a tea ceremony to get this experience. Drinking matcha can give you the calm and escape from the ordinary life. But if you are going to make it at home, you have to make it so it tastes good!

I remember being startled by a picture that my friend living overseas posted on Facebook. It was a big mug full of a very dark green water... frankly speaking, it looked gross. And it was matcha. He wasn’t very pleased with the taste, and it’s because the proportions were off.

The ratio of water and matcha is KEY to making good matcha. The ideal amount is actually just about three sips! You might think, “But I want more!” No. Three sips – that’s the perfect amount to make delicious matcha.

To prepare the perfect cup of matcha, you will need the right utensils. Consider these like cooking utensils, much like you need a whisk when making whipped cream. I highly suggest that you buy them if you want to drink matcha regularly (and deliciously).

To make a cup of matcha you will need:
- Matcha powder
- Bamboo tea whisk (called a chasen and can be found online for about $10~15. I tested an electric whisk commonly used to steam milk, but it made the tea lumpy. So get the bamboo whisk - it’s cheaper, too)
- A very fine strainer (e.g. mesh type – English tea strainer is great)
- A small spoon (In Chanoyu we use a chashaku but a spoon will do)
- A deep bowl (e.g. café-au-lait bowl or deep cereal bowl)

How to make a cup of matcha:

1. Boil hot water in a kettle or a pot.

2. Pour the hot water in the bowl, so it's about half full. Warm the bowl by tilting and turning the bowl with both hands.

3. Drain the hot water, and wipe the bowl with a cloth.

4. Scoop 1 tsp. of matcha.

5. Carefully sift the matcha using the strainer. This process is very important to get rid of clumps, which you don't want in your tea – so don't skip this process!

6. Once it's sifted, all the clumps should be gone (refer to photo).

7. Put the sifted matcha in the bowl.

8. Pour about 50 ml of hot water over the matcha. Using a measuring cup, small pitcher, or ladle may be easier to pour, and will bring the hot water to an ideal temperature. Just remember, 3 to 4 sips.

9. Mix the matcha and hot water using the whisk. Shake the whisk back and forth with some speed, until you see smooth froth at the top.

10. To drink, use both your hands to hold the bowl and take one sip at a time. Drink and finish while it's hot!

*NOTE* The procedure above is a simplified version to make matcha at home, and is not the proper temae procedure for a chanoyu ceremony. There are procedures on how to drink the tea too, but that differs according to the line of chanoyu. In Omotesenke, guests eat the sweets while the host prepares the tea. When the tea is served, the guest raises the bowl with two hands, turns the bowl twice clockwise on the palm, and sips.

You can also enjoy your matcha with your favorite sweets, too. Matcha is great with cookies, chocolate, or cake. I have matcha either in the morning, or for my afternoon break.  

And to enhance the soothing matcha experience... remember to breathe.

Text: Mirei Yamagata

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