Tranquility in a Teacup: Matcha Tea Makes a Comeback
Freshly whisked into an aromatic, pale-jade froth, a hot bowl of matcha can be habit-forming.
Made from tender young leaves that are steamed after harvesting to preserve their bright green color, the finely milled tea powder creates a beverage with a potent, earthy kick. Its faint bitterness is best paired with a sweet prelude, whether a traditional pressed-sugar higashi, a bean-paste-filled daifuku, a bite of dried fruit, or even a Western-style dessert like a macaron or butter cookie.
While the Japanese refined the rituals of preparing and serving matcha into an elaborate art form in the 16th century, at the heart of the tea ceremony (chanoyu, or "hot water for tea") is a celebration of the here and now, called ichigo ichie ("one chance, one meeting").
"First and foremost, it's the sharing of the heart: the host and the guest being one unit," says Keiko Nakada, president of the Urasenke Tankokai Arizona Association, who teaches tea ceremony at Downtown Phoenix's Japanese Friendship Garden.
While the host focuses on hospitality, the guest "appreciates the consideration put into this environment to relax," Nakada explains. Little is spoken, but gestures and glances communicate "something special": "We create a moment and forget everything that's cluttering our lives."
Leslie Nakatsu, one of Nakada's students, and a volunteer for the Friendship Garden's monthly public tea events, cites a "practice of service, genuine care and concern for others, patience and peacefulness" that challenges her to "think, move and act differently."
"All of the beautiful results of the tea ceremony," she adds—the movements, dress and bowl of tea—"are just an outer reflection of the internal lessons."
Food writer and editor Michele Laudig has been studying the Japanese tea ceremony since 2005.
Where to Buy Matcha
New Tokyo Market
3435 W. Northern Ave., Phoenix; 602-841-0255
15414 N. 7th St., Phoenix; 602-938-1216
1335 W. University Dr., Tempe; 480-968-1890
Japanese Friendship Garden gift shop
(see Local Tea Ceremony, right)
Experience a Local Tea Ceremony
The Japanese Friendship Garden, 1125 N. 3rd Ave., Phoenix, hosts public tea ceremonies on the second Saturday of every month, starting October 12 ($22 adults/$18 seniors). Call 602-256-3204 or 602-274-8700 for reservations. Matcha and sweets will also be served in the garden for $5 in conjunction with the Otsukimi Moonviewing Festival on October 19. Visit japanesefriendshipgarden.org for more info. The tea ceremony is a highlight of the annual Arizona Matsuri Festival of Japan to be held February 22-23, 2014; azmatsuri.org).