Matcha history and benefits

 

The practice of drinking tea in the form of matcha, that is, grinding tea into powder, adding hot water, whisking until foam forms and then drinking the beverage, was brought from China (Southern Sung) around 800 years ago in the Kamakura period (1185–1333). Eisai, brought tea seeds and made efforts to cultivate the first tea crops in Japan. Eisai was also the monk who brought Rinzai Zen to Japan. Matcha was an integral part of his Zen practice.

 

At first matcha raced to popularity as an effective medicine to restore health. It was considered to be a medicine. A vestige of this can be seen today when referring to tea in Japanese.  “O-cha o ip-puku” means one cup of tea where '服 puku' is the counter word for medicine. 

 

Black and green teas are made from the same tea leaf as matcha. Only the infused tea liquor is drunk in their case whereas with matcha, the whole leaf is ground into a powder, mixed with hot water and ingested as a tea. Ingesting the whole leaf means matcha is much richer in nutrients than other teas.

 

The combination of theanine (relaxant) and caffeine (stimulant) in tea gives you a calm, sustained concentration. Matcha is the most potent of all teas, which is why matcha was a central element in the spiritual practice of Zen monks and samurai warriors alike. Whether in spiritual or physical training, or everyday work, matcha gives you the calm, sustained concentration to perform at your best, centuries old wisdom still relevant for our lives today.

 

Etiquette for drinking matcha

  • After the host prepares the tea, the guest takes the chawan (tea bowl) and places it before their lap
  • Bow to the next guest waiting for tea and saying 'o-saki ni' (excuse me for going ahead of you). Then say 'chōdai itashimasu' (thank you for the tea) to the host
  • All chawans have a face, called the shōmen. You can identify the face by looking for the part with a picture, variation in shape, variation in colour of the glaze, or if the chawan looks the same all around, the front is the part that is presented to the guest by the host
  • Take the tea bowl in your right hand and rest it on the palm of your left hand. Raise the tea bowl with both hands to a height just above eye-level and bow. This action expresses reverence to all the elements of nature that combined to bring you this tea
  • Lower the chawan to a height above your lap and turn the  chawan 45 degrees to the left (clockwise). This is to show humility by not partaking tea from the face, or best part, of the chawan.
  • Partake the tea at a leisurely pace in three mouthfuls. Sit with a straight posture when drinking tea, bringing the chawan to your mouth with your arms
  • After the first mouthful the host will ask 'o-fuku kagen ikaga desu ka' (How is the tea?). After this, hold the chawan in your left hand while resting it on your left thigh and reply 'kekkō desu' (It's very good)
  • After drinking the tea you view the chawan, so ensure you drink the tea clean with the last mouthful
  • After drinking, wipe the part of the rim from which you drank with your thumb and index finger. Then wipe a second time with your little finger. The direction is from left to right both times
  • As you turned the chawan to the left before drinking, return the chawan so the face is facing you (turn anti-clockwise)
  • View the chawan. The chawan is a treasured item of the host, so when viewing, stabilise your hold of the chawan by resting both elbows atop your thighs and view the chawan at a low height just in front of your knees. Now is a good time to promote conversation by asking questions such as “What type of chawan is this?” and “From what maker does this chawan come?”
  • Return the chawan to the host by turning it clockwise twice, so that the face faces the host
  • The host takes the chawan, places it before them and says 'O-nomi nikū gozaimashita' (I hope the tea was not too displeasing).
  • The guest replies 'Kekkō ni chōdai itashimashita' (I enjoyed it very much).

 

Almost 400 years ago, the founder of the Ueda School, Ueda Sōko wrote the following brief and easy to understand explanation of tea drinking etiquette:

 

“First take the chawan and raise it, showing your respect to the chawan by bowing. Then lower the chawan and look at the colour of the tea. Bring the chawan to your mouth, but don’t drink the tea straight away. Take a moment to inhale the steam. Drink the tea in three mouthfuls. Wipe the part of the rim from which you drank with your fingers.”

 

Until you learn the full etiquette I think it is fine if you follow the brief version Sōko outlines. The points about inhaling the steam and drinking slowly are important for achieving a tranquil mind.