My First Good Cup of Matcha Tea in Kyoto, Japan

Since I’m starting a blog about the Japanese green tea powder called matcha, it only makes sense to write a quick post detailing my first experience with this wonderful tea. I was living in Japan at the time and had seen the word matcha written on packages of tea in my local grocery store, but I had no idea what that word actually meant and how that type of tea was different from any other.

green tea powder from Kyoto JapanAs I grew more accustomed to living in Japan, I started to learn more about the culture and the daily life of the Japanese people. Eventually, I learned that matcha is a powdered form of green tea and that it is the variety used in the Japanese tea ceremony. At that point I had never seen the tea ceremony, but I knew enough about it to know that the brewing process was quite involved and that the ceremonial procedures were extensive and complicated and that it takes practitioners years to master them.

One day, I decided to try some of this tea for myself and bought my own package of matcha green tea powder. I bought the cheapest one available at the grocery store and when I opened it up, it had a dull green color. I did not know this at the time, but that is not the color you want to see. The highest quality varieties have a bright green color and look fresh instead of dull. Basically, I bought a low-quality tea, but I should’ve known that just from the price alone.

As if that wasn’t enough, I simply dumped the powder into some hot water and stirred it with a spoon. I had no idea you’re supposed to whisk it in a bowl and I also had no idea there were special implements for the process. I had never heard of a chashaku, the bamboo spoon used to scoop the powder into the bowl, a chawan, the bowl itself, or a chasen, the whisk. I certainly had no idea you were supposed to put the powder through a strainer and I didn’t even know the correct water temperature. You guessed it! I use boiling water. Needless to say, my brew tasted horrible.

I’ve heard many people say they don’t like the taste of matcha and I’m guessing it’s for the same reason I didn’t originally like it much—they simply brewed it incorrectly. In my case, it wasn’t until over a year later when I began traveling around Japan and found myself in Kyoto, that I finally had a couple of matcha prepared the way it was meant to be prepared. Technically, I was in Uji, a small town near Kyoto. I was staying in Kyoto and had spent a few days sightseeing there already, when I decided to take a day trip to the nearby village of Uji.

It is a traditional Japanese town and is famous for its matcha. Visitors can observe the traditional tea ceremony and try a cup of traditional tea. I did both and both were an incredible experience. I finally learned how amazing this type of green tea can taste when it is prepared in the traditional and the correct way and I also felt like I was watching a piece of history unfold when I observed the tea ceremony.

If you ever find yourself in Japan I suggest you find an opportunity to view a tea ceremony for yourself and to try a cup of this wonderful tea. Ideally you will do it in a town famous for its tea, like Uji. Should you find yourself in Kyoto, getting to Uji is easy. This budget travel guide for Kyoto has a few paragraphs on getting to Uji, if you are interested in experiencing this piece of Japanese culture. And more importantly, if you are interested in experiencing the deliciousness that is matcha green tea.

For more on Kyoto, try the Japan Guide website.

For more on the Japanese tea ceremony.

Drinking Green Tea Among the Hibernians in Danbury

If you live in New York City, you’re probably looking for some day trips to get out into the countryside. I have done this myself and I remember one time I ended up in the town of Danbury, Connecticut. It is not big and seemed to be full of Irish people, judging by the large parade they were holding that day and all the flyers proclaiming the marchers were part of the ancient order of the Hibernians.

Danbury, Connecticut town centerI don’t really know what was going on exactly. I had simply gotten up that morning, made myself a large thermos full of green tea and got in my car to drive in one direction. I just kept driving and went through a bunch of towns until I stumbled onto this one, where the parade was being held. I got out of my car and walked around a bit, watching the Irish parade and talking to some people.

I met a beautiful red haired Irish girl who came up and talked to me because she was curious about my tea. See, the thermos I use to brew my loose leaf green tea is made from clear plastic, so you can see the leaves floating in the water. This is not unusual in a country like China or Japan, but here in the US, it always gets looks and comments. Most of the time that can be a bit annoying, but when the commenter looks like this girl, I certainly have no problem with it.

I happily explained to her how I like to brew my tea, usually sencha or Dragon Well, in that cup, because it means I can sip on it all day long. Once it’s empty, I simply put a few more dried leaves on top of the wet ones already in the cup and add more hot water and my second cup is ready.

In return for my explaining this to her, she explained to me what exactly the ancient order of the Hibernians is and what they do and how they are connected to Ireland. It all seemed really ridiculous to me, to be honest, but she seemed to be into it so I was into it, in the hopes of getting her to soon be into me.

We talked for a few hours and watched the parade go by. Afterwards we had dinner together, before she had to go home and I had to return to the city. We have kept in touch and I often ask her questions about Irish issues, but I’ve not yet had the opportunity to return to Danbury. I definitely want to do so soon, not because I like the town or even care about it, but because of her. Even better, she has expressed an interest in coming to New York to visit me. Let’s hope that happens soon. If she does show up, I will happily prepare her as many cups of green tea as she would like and I will listen to her stories about the Danbury Hibernians as well.

This post was written by a friend and none of the opinions are my own. The girl really is beautiful, though…I’ve seen a photo.

The Health Benefits of Matcha Green Tea Powder

In recent years, the green tea powder matcha has been gaining in popularity in the West and this is mostly due to its supposed health benefits. I think the latte made with this powder at Starbucks helped as well, as do the many cooking shows that have been using it as an ingredient. Whatever the reason, matcha is becoming more and more of a household name and a big reason for that are the numerous health benefits. So let’s examine those and see what a cup of this tea will actually do for you.

Matcha green tea latte drink
The Iced Matcha Green Tea Latte from Starbucks

The first thing you need to know is this: one cup of matcha is the equivalent of 10 cups of regular green tea in terms of its antioxidant content and its nutritional value. The reason for this is simple. This powdered green tea is made from whole leaves that have been ground to a very fine powder that dissolves when put in hot water. As a result, when you drink this tea, you consume the whole leaves, which distinguishes it from other teas were you consume only the essence and discard the leaves. Thus, it makes sense that the health benefits would be much more concentrated. But what are those health benefits exactly?

Probably the most commonly cited benefit of tea, is its antioxidant content. This word has become such a buzzword and any food that contains antioxidants is being touted as a health food. From pomegranates and various other fruits to any number vegetables, the antioxidant content is a big key to their healthiness. But nothing contains more antioxidants than matcha. Its rating, the ORAC rating for those who are familiar with it, is 1300 units per gram, while the often touted blueberries have a rating of only 91 units per gram.

Chief among the antioxidants is the catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGC). EGC counters the effect of free radicals from things like UV rays, pollution, chemicals, radiation, and other things that can lead to cell and DNA damage. A daily dose of EGC can help preserve our cells and our DNA, which aids greatly in cancer prevention.

Green tea powder is also rich in a rare amino acid called L-Theanine. This amino acid creates alpha waves which lead to a state of relaxed alertness and counters the stress induced beta waves. This is one of the big reasons monks have been drinking this tea for thousands of years and why it is the tea used in the ceremony. Furthermore, L-Theanine may actually help our memory and promote our learning ability, while at the same time counteracting the effects of caffeine. In other words, it helps us concentrate and keeps us alert, while reducing or eliminating the nervousness that comes with the consumption of caffeine.

Matcha also acts as an energy booster, which comes as no surprise given its caffeine content, but it turns out that this boost actually has nothing to do with the caffeine, but comes from the tea’s natural properties instead. A recent study even showed that drinking this tea can boost your physical endurance.

Many people tout green tea as a weight-loss miracle. While that may be a bit far-fetched, the fact that it has zero calories means it will certainly not hurt you. A recent study actually suggests it does much more than simply not hurt you. Apparently, matcha boosts our metabolism and actually helps burn calories by up to four times the normal rate. Unlike many drugs that accomplish the same thing, however, it doesn’t raise the blood pressure or our heart rate.

Finally, the chlorophyll that gives plants their green color and is responsible for the color of tea as well, actually acts as a natural detoxifier. It helps eliminate both chemicals and heavy metals from the body. And since the leaves used to make matcha green tea powder are grown in the shade they are much richer in chlorophyll than other teas.

Much research is still needed into the health benefits of tea in general and the Japanese powdered tea in particular. Many studies suggest incredible health benefits and none really suggest any detriments, so it certainly makes sense to drink tea. I think, as more studies are completed and released, the news will only get better. So why not start drinking tea now. And if you’re going to drink tea, why not drink the healthiest one. Get yourself some matcha.

For more information on matcha, check out Matcha Source or the wikipedia article on matcha.

If you want to buy some matcha, but are not sure where to get it, you’ll find reviews of online tea vendors to help you buy tea online here: http://www.letsdrinktea.com/buy-tea-online-shop-review/

Why the Irish Hibernians Should Adopt Matcha Green Tea

Quick, what color do you think of when you think of Ireland? Unless you’re colorblind, you probably said green. The color green is basically synonymous with all things Irish. So maybe green tea should be the national drink of Ireland, just like it is in Japan or China. I know, I know the national drink is whiskey and that will never change, although beer seems pretty popular too, but hear me out. I know what I’m going to write next will probably not go over well and it got me laughed out of a meeting of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Danbury, Connecticut, but I’m hoping the online community is a little more receptive to new (and perhaps a bit crazy) ideas.

ancient order of the hiberniansWhen I was living in Shanghai, one of my favorite bars served a whiskey with green tea cocktail. It was pretty good, but I thought the whiskey overpowered the tea. They made the drink by using standard bottled green tea and whiskey. In this case cheap whiskey. And of course cheap tea.

This got me thinking: if it tastes good but the problem is that the tea is not strong enough, then it makes sense to use stronger tea. I would actually suggest using matcha green tea powder. As anyone who reads this website knows, this is my favorite type of tea and I not only like to drink it in the traditional style of the Japanese tea ceremony, but I also love sprinkling it on all kinds of foods and adding it to various drinks. So why not add it to whiskey?

Let me get this out of the way immediately: I have never tried this and there is a good chance it will be horrible. On the other hand, there is also a chance it will be great. I think what we would have to do to have the greatest chance of this concoction tasting good, is to make a cup of matcha tea the standard way and to add whiskey to that. In this way the tea will be brewed correctly and we’ll have the strong taste we are accustomed to, meaning it should be able to hold up to the whiskey. If you simply sprinkle the green tea powder into a glass of whiskey, I’m pretty sure the drink will turn out pretty bad.

So there’s my idea for mixing tea with the traditional Irish drink to make a new Irish drink. More importantly, it’s a green Irish drink. Not only is the drink green, but the matcha powder itself is a bright green color and would be a great representation for Ireland. I mean, the Irish—and especially the Irish living in America—love all things green. Since they don’t yet have a green drink, apart from the weird green beer you see on St. Patrick’s Day, adopting matcha makes perfect sense to me, despite what the Danbury Hibernians seem to think of my idea.

Of course, there’s one more big advantage to this: it can make the Irish healthier. We Irish are not known as bastions of health—we don’t eat the healthiest foods and many of us probably drink too much alcohol, so adding one of the world’s healthiest drinks to our diets probably won’t hurt. Quite the opposite: it will help us lead healthier lives.

So, if you don’t think I’m completely insane and you think my idea could be pretty good, jump on my bandwagon. Convince any Irish person you know, be they family members or friends or just a horde of people at your annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. Get them to try matcha and maybe we’ll get them on board with the idea of adopting it as a national drink. Then write to any Irish organization you can think of, like the Ancient Order of Hibernians. You might get a bad reaction like I did in Danbury, or maybe you’ll get a great reaction. Maybe you’ll be the start of a new movement; a movement to spread matcha around the world one culture at a time, starting with the culture that worships all things green.

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