For better and for worse, matcha has become a fully mainstream, commodified product in the U.S. The Japanese green tea beverage (or iterations thereof) can be found on Starbucks menus and big box store shelves. And there have never been so many matcha brands to choose from.

For Reverend Takafumi Kawakami, a meditation advisor for Cuzen Matcha and head priest at Shunkoin Temple in Kyoto, Japan, drinking a cup of matcha means so much more than getting a quick fix of caffeine. In fact, Kawakami, who has dedicated the last two decades of his career to spreading his wealth of knowledge on Zen, a school of Buddhism centered on meditation (he even hosted a TED Talk about it!), says matcha is an integral part of his practice and spirituality.

“Matcha has historical connections to Zen Buddhism, particularly in Japan,” Kawakami explains. “Zen monks incorporated matcha into their meditation rituals to help them stay alert and focused while maintaining a sense of calmness. The process of preparing and consuming matcha became a meditative practice, encouraging mindfulness and spiritual awareness.”

Aside from the obvious fact that matcha is well-loved for its caffeine and robust L-theanine content (a happiness-boosting amino acid linked to boosting longevity), Kawakami  says there’s more to appreciate. He encourages folks to look beyond the nutritional facts to explore a deeper, spiritual connection with the beverage. Ahead, Kawakami delves into the meditative practice that goes behind preparing matcha served during a Japanese tea ceremony and how adopting this simple practice can encourage finding Zen (slowing down and finding your inner peace) and practicing mindfulness in your daily routine.

The cultural and spiritual significance of matcha in Japanese tradition

Although the origins of green tea can be traced as far back as the eighth century in China, it wasn’t until the 1100s that matcha (the powdered form of green tea leaves) began to gain popularity in Japan. This is thanks to Myoan Eisai, a Zen Buddhist monk, who reportedly introduced matcha to Japan and established its connection with spirituality, meditation, and everyday temple practices early on. “Matcha is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and history. It has been consumed for centuries and is considered an integral part of Japanese identity,” Kawakami says.

Although matcha is heavily rooted in its connection with spirituality, Kawakami says the multifaceted green powder is also celebrated beyond the confines of the temple these days. “From traditional tea ceremonies to modern culinary creations, matcha continues to be celebrated as a symbol of Japanese heritage and cultural pride,” he says.

The connection between matcha and Zen Buddhism

For Kawakami, Zen is the practice of having a direct experience of ourselves. “Normally, we are focusing on our conceptual existence or narrative self. We think and try to analyze and evaluate ourselves with logic. However, in Zen practice, through our meditation, we experience ourselves as the way we are or ‘minimal’ self,” he says. These are the core principles of practicing Zen that focus on worrying less of what we think about ourselves or who we want to become, and focus on accepting and loving ourselves for who we are at this very moment.

Kawakami says that “matcha and tea help make our senses more keen to observe what we are.” The act of preparing matcha is extremely meditative and ritualistic, which can help instill a feeling of calmness while engaging in the activity. At the same time, drinking matcha or tea filled with L-theanine can also physiologically enhance alertness and cognitive function. A win-win.

That’s all to say, Kawakami finds that drinking (and preparing) matcha are perfect opportunities to practice mindfulness—by slowing down and taking in the moment, as evident in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. “During meditation, we experience what we experience as the way they are, like sensation and thoughts—thoughts are considered sensations in Buddhism. Just observe sensations and thoughts come and go,” Kawakami says.

The traditional Japanese tea ceremony

According to Kawakami, a traditional matcha tea ceremony can be broken down into five parts: preparation, appreciation of the tea utensils, tea preparation, tea service, silent contemplation, and the closing ceremony.

1. Preparation

Before the tea is presented, Kawakami says it’s important to prepare the room for the ceremony. “The host prepares the tea room, known as a chashitsu, with careful attention to cleanliness and aesthetics,” he says. During this time, the ceremonial host will carefully arrange the tea utensils “in a precise manner.” This includes the tea bowl, tea whisk, tea scoop, and tea container.

2. Appreciation of the tea and utensils

Once the utensils have been carefully arranged, it’s time for some gratitude. “Before the tea is prepared, the host may take a moment to showcase the tea utensils to the guests, highlighting their craftsmanship, history, and significance,” Kawakami says.

3. Tea preparation

To prepare the tea, the host will start by transfering the powdered tea into the tea bowl using the scoop. “They then pour hot water into the bowl and whisk the mixture with the tea whisk until a frothy consistency is achieved,” Kawakami says.

4. Tea service

During this part of the tea ceremony, guests are presented with the tea as the host performs a set of rituals to honor the beverage. “The host presents the bowl of matcha to each guest individually, using precise movements and gestures. Guests receive the bowl with both hands, express gratitude—usually by complimenting the tea or utensils—and then take a sip of the matcha,” Kawakami says. As each guest takes a sip, the bowl is rotated and wiped clean as a sign of politeness to avoid drinking from the same area as the previous person.

5. Silent contemplation

The fifth step is known as “silent contemplation,” an opportunity for self-reflection and appreciation. “After everyone has had a turn to drink the matcha, there may be a period of silent contemplation or conversation where guests reflect on the experience and appreciate the moment,” Kawakami says.

6. Closing

The final step is known as the “closing,” which signals the end of the ceremony. During this time, the host will clean and carefully arrange the tea utensils back in their place. Kawakami says that this is also a time for guests to express their gratitude to the host before departing.

3 tips for making the perfect cup of matcha at home

For Eijiro Tsukada, co-founder of Cuzen Matcha and matcha expert, making the perfect cup of matcha at home boils down to four key steps.

1. Choose your ingredients wisely

For the best-tasting matcha beverage, it’s important to choose the appropriate type of matcha powder. For example, if you’re planning on making a matcha latte, Tsukada recommends a stronger, bolder matcha powder, like Cuzen Matcha’s bright and robust Latte Blend Organic Matcha Leaf Packets ($17).“It’s important to use a matcha blend with a bolder bitterness and a brighter color than that of a blend intended for a straight drink,” Tsukada says. For a more traditional, ceremonial-grade blend, he has previously recommended Jade Leaf Organic Ceremonial Matcha ($20).

Additionally, Tsukada says sourcing the highest-quality matcha whenever possible is key. “Select leaves from an organic farmer who prioritizes healthy, clean soil for a healthy, pure tea,” he recommends. And for even higher L-theanine content, Tsukada says a high-quality, spring harvest matcha is your best bet.

Bonus points if you can source freshly-ground leaves, which is Tsukada’s gold standard. “The moment matcha leaves are ground, the surface area increases, causing the oxidation process to accelerate. The more oxygen the grounds are exposed to, the weaker the flavor, color, aroma, and health benefits become,” Tsukada says. As such, he says grinding the leaves just before preparing the matcha is most ideal. Cuzen’s Matcha Maker is an easy way to get the job done. The sleek machine is capable of storing, grinding, and whisking a fresh cup of matcha with the press of a button.

2. Make sure the water is just right

“Even the water matters,” Tsukada says. Much like when making coffee, the type of water you use for matcha can have a significant effect on how the final brew tastes. As such, Tsukada recommends using soft water instead of hard water whenever possible. “Heavy mineral deposits in hard water impact the taste, mouthfeel, and color of the tea,” he says. Filtered or bottled water are great options if you don’t have access to soft water straight from the tap. (You can test the hardness of your water with an at-home test kit, like this one available on Amazon for $10.) Additionally, he advises folks to use water that’s no hotter than 175ºF. “This is the traditional temperature used for matcha,” Tsukada says.

3. Let the matcha’s flavors do the talking

One of the best ways to appreciate and celebrate the delicious flavors of matcha is to let the ingredient shine bright. “Find balance when making more elaborate recipes. When it comes to lattes, I personally prefer a recipe with minimal ingredients which will compliment a high-quality matcha, rather than distract from it,” Tsukada says.

The perfect matcha latte recipe according to the expert: two fluid ounces of matcha to six fluid ounces of milk. Sounds like a matcha made in heaven.

An RD delves into the key differences between green tea and matcha:

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.

  1. Baba, Yoshitake et al. “Effects of l-Theanine on Cognitive Function in Middle-Aged and Older Subjects: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Study.” Journal of medicinal food vol. 24,4 (2021): 333-341. doi:10.1089/jmf.2020.4803

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