Cricket under straw
Sunlight green leaves shimmer bright
Smooth tea in my throat
(Haiku / Katherine Bowers)
Imagine yourself standing on a hillside with a vista of rows and rows of green tea shrubs. Little bugs fly in the air, crickets crawl in the straw underneath the tea plants, nightingales sing in the trees nearby and you breathe in the smell of matcha. It is the distinct aroma of camellia sinensis, green tea. The top leaves from the stems of the tea plants in the field will be harvested and processed as matcha, a powdered whole leaf green tea. The tea is grown and nurtured with nutrient compositions, mulching and fresh well waters. After at least five years of growing, the tea will finally be ready to harvest. Tea growers will pick, wash, process, and stone grind these precious green leaves; Then safely package and ship it to your favorite local natural foods, tea stores and coffee bars.
Popping open the vacuum sealed can, it is the very same smell from the green tea field, a sort of fresh, vegetal, natural smell coming from the vibrant green powder that is matcha. Scooping a half teaspoon of this precious green gold and mixing it with hot water, the fragrance is released from the matcha as it rises from the bowl. The tea is vigorously mixed with a bamboo whisk called a chasen until a frothy foam appears on top. It can be drunk hot and plain or with any variation of milks such as regular milk, soymilk or almond milk. Or pour it straight over ice 'on the rocks' style and enjoy it as a cool healthy drink.
Walking through the rows and rows of chest high tea bushes, it is a wonderful unique experience being surrounded by nothing but healthy green. Would not it be nice if Eisai, the Japanese Buddhist monk known for bringing seeds back from China 800 years ago to Japan, could see the abundance of these tea fields today? Perhaps he reincarnated continuing his spiritual growth and sharing the benefits of healthy tea? Row after row, acre after acre, tea is grown on the hillsides and in the valleys through Japan. It is not uncommon to see a tea field grown in the middle of cities and small towns. It is a happy sight to see fields of green with the bright green shrubby plants trimmed beautifully in rows, leaves reaching upwards toward the sun.
Most all types of tea come from the same plant, the camellia sinensis. This includes oolong, white, black, and green or matcha teas. Differentiated by the way they are grown and harvested, the methods in which teas are processed affects the flavor of tea, such as a dried tea leaf for infusions or a ground tea leaf powder utilizing the entire leaf of the plant.
Matcha is as stated, the whole tea leaf ground into a powder. This is a highly desirable way to drink the tea as it contains 137 times more EGCG anti-oxidants than a regular infusion cup of tea, plus it is high in catechins known for reducing cancers and l-theanines known for balancing the caffeine for a nice Steady release of energy. Tencha is matcha in the whole leaf form and is a cut leaf tea that has been de-veined and de-stemmed. It is a high quality tea and made as an infusion as opposed to the fully ground matcha powder. Sencha is green tea that is steamed, discharged and rolled. It is commonly drunk through Japan and is a 'decocted' or steeped green tea with a slightly more stringent flavor. The flavors of tea can be compared much like a vintner compares wines, with different shades of colors, smells and tastes and variants from harvest to harvest.
Back in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) of China, the tea leaves were steamed to preserve the freshness and color, but then died and ground into a 'tea mud. "Pressed into tea molds and left to harden, the tea would be Dried and baked making small 'tea cakes.' This made it easy to store the tea and take it along on a journey. Imagine stopping by the side of road, building a fire to boil water and then breaking off a small piece of 'tea cake' to add to the water, whisk and Enjoy a hot bowl of tea. How refreshing that must have been while traveling.
Fortunately today, matcha and teas are readily available to us. More and more people are finding out about the wonderful health benefits of matcha while enjoying an ancient delicious drink. A little prayer of appreciation goes out to the monks for cultivating and developing the tea tradition while drinking these aroma filled drinks.
From the Hillside of Toganoo,
A Horse was led and where it left hoof prints,
Seedlings were planted, One at each.
(Haiku / High Priest Myoe)