MatchaWhen I was a nipper circa age Five, I discovered; thanks to our lovely German neighbour; coffee. From that point on, I grasped every opportunity to smell, taste, experience, and revel in this wonderful brew. By the way, back when I was a sprog, it was perfectly okay to give small children caffeinated drinks.
Coffee got me through school and college, long hours of studying and coding, dancing, training, hectic work schedules, everything. Coffee was the source of my extraordinary energy levels and intense, focussed thinking processes, surely. I made a God of coffee and worshipped it daily, up to Twenty Five or more times daily, in fact, full-strength Arabica espresso..
A couple of months ago, I gave up coffee.
I didn't get all religious with myself, smashing my espresso machine and removing all traces of the demon bean from my flat, nothing like that. In fact, I still have a few cans of the stuff in my cupboard. I've even had a couple of cups since I gave it up, and quite enjoyed one of them, at least at the time of drinking1.
I haven't banned it, but my days of drinking coffee as a lifestyle, as a means of hydration (seriously!) and panacea for all energy ills, are over. I now classify it along with Amphetamines, a drug with remarkably similar effects. Definitely only for special occasions.
Was it hard? No. In fact, it was amazingly easy - I'd already done all the required steps in my mind, I guess. Then I got up one morning and made myself a cup of Raspberry leaf tea, instead. Then I had some water. And later, when I felt thirst and thought "coffee", I drank some more water. Soon enough I associated "thirst" with "water". I suppose that's how it is meant to be.
Amazingly, the sudden drop in energy levels I had expected did not materialize. The very opposite is true - my energy levels have steadily increased since I gave up the habit and I realize that I've been kidding myself for years, thinking I needed coffee, even whilst simultaneously knowing the belief to be erroneous - far more energy can be extracted from plain water, if you know how.
Amazingly Two, I had no comedown from my decades of gargantuan caffeine intake; no headache, nothing (Perhaps the Raspberry tea - of which I have become quite fond - helped with that). I didn't even miss the taste and smell that much. What I did miss, was making coffee..
I realized that when I make coffee, I do a sort of Tai Chi around the kitchen. The steps are quite precise and fairly complex, yet performed with a graceful, dance-like motion, a sort of Qigong with utensils. During this kata-ritual-thing, I still my mind, tune it to my body, and prepare for the next task. It was also the time when I was most likely to have "bright ideas". The Chi is good in my kitchen.
I took up the slack elsewhere, incorporating more meditative states into other tasks, making more time for Yoga and meditation, but after a couple of weeks, still something was missing. I found comfort in green tea, its colours and preparation most calming, its synergistic blend of useful natural substances (including my old friend caffeine, except in much smaller doses) subtly energizing. But wielding kettle and mug are no match for the sheer aesthetic pleasure and kinetic joy of making espresso. If only there was a green tea with more pazzaz, something I could get my ritualistic limbs and teeth into..
Kate (my lover, partner, friend), creator of weird aromatic concoctions and off-the-wall solutions sticks a small pot under my nose and declares, "Matcha!". I unscrew the lid and am greeted by a quantity of fine green powder. This, I am reliably informed, is Matcha. One wildly delicious Matcha later, I am Googling like a crazy person..
Matcha is special. About three weeks prior to harvest, the leaves are put into shade. This forces the plant to go tits-over-arse producing chlorophyll2 in an attempt to maximize the suddenly reduced light level. Left much longer, the plant would die, I guess, but before it even goes there, when the leaves are jam-packed with anti-oxidizing goodness, the leaves are picked, dried and ground down to a powder so fine you can whisk it into a froth.
The froth is important, or not, depending on your school of thought; the other school being, "no froth", which is equally challenging with a whisk, and definitely equally important, depending on your school of thought.
In fact with Matcha, everything is important; from the bowl (Chawan, dry) to the bamboo scoop (Chashaku), the Matcha tin and strainer (Furui), the whisk (Chasen) and whisking of course, water temperature (77-81C-ish), everything3. The equipment must be correct. The timing must be right. The whisking must be intense yet precise (A Matcha Master can create a thick layer of froth in a few seconds). There are many, many places one can go wrong and so creating the perfect Matcha is in itself a test, a deliberate ritual perfected along time into muscle memory, dance; each motion flowing into the next like fine origami, or maybe skinning-up.
Suddenly all those tea rituals I'd read about as a young herbalist made sense. Here was a drink I could get excited about, a drink for ceremonies, for special occasions, a drink for life! And being Green Tea, drinking a half dozen cups of the stuff every single day is actually good for you, very good - and yes, being powder, you drink the actual leaves.. Lovely!
With Matcha you can get seriously addicted and simultaneously, healthier (aside from the obvious psychological issue!) - get your eBay Kung Fu on and you can pick up a reasonable Matcha for around 5p/g, direct from the farm in China. The hopelessly addicted can get it even cheaper - simply buy it by the Kilo! Or why not chip-in with your friends and get your matcha for 4p/g!4
For the finest grades of Spring harvest Japanese Matcha expect to spend ten times that amount because like most other natural products, quality varies. Some farms are located at high altitude, others low. Some stone-grind their Matcha by hand, others use machines, some areas, some years have perfect weather; and so on. Some Chinese Matcha is surprisingly good (they did invent it, after all), and some Japanese Matcha is surprisingly poor. If you are looking for a quality Matcha, it definitely pays to shop around. Note: most suppliers do smaller, sample size bags, so you can check out the quality before investing in a better value pack.
A second, smaller Matcha tin fulfils the need for that special brew, and mine has already seen some high quality Matchas in its short life, mainly thanks to aforementioned sample bags and kind friends. These bags are also handy for Match-on-the-go because as-yet, nowhere in Aberdeen stocks Matcha. Bugger! Syat..
This is something I have begun working on; you can help - simply go into some shop that you think should stock Matcha (supermarket, health food shop, tea shop, restaurant, cafe, etc.), and ask for some. Tell them it's green tea, only a powder, and waaay healthier and you actually drink the leaves. That should get them curious enough to look into it. Thanks, cuz it's a pain in the butt having to carry Matcha everywhere I go, you know.
I think that's everything..
Tell folks that quitting coffee is easy-peezy.. Check. Tell them about amazing stuff that is Matcha.. Check. Ask if peeps could help raise awareness of said fantastically healthy drink so that I can get it locally.. Check. Let darned emailers know why I haven't had any free time these last few months - Hey! I've been falling in Love, haven't I!.. check.
2. And L-theanine, etc. Different grades use different parts of the tree, too, altering the chemical composition of the final product; for example, some types use only the very top leaves, or leaves from very old trees, and much more.. Google Koicha and Usucha if you find this at all fascinating.
3. And don't forget the painstaking harvest and production methods involved in creating Matcha in the first place; the main reason it's so expensive - hand-operated stone Matcha mills can only produce around 60g of Matcha powder per hour - do the math!
4. A regular thin "Usucha" tea in an average sized cup uses 1g of Matcha, more or less. For a bowl of thick "Koicha" Matcha, one might use Four or Five times that amount. Considering that Koicha Matcha is at least Ten times more expensive than Usuacha Matcha (it is naturally sweeter), it's clear why it is reserved for ceremonial use!