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Matcha and Mindfulness

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Matcha green tea has played a special role in Eastern culture for centuries, particularly in Japan. Closely intertwined with Zen Buddhism, matcha green tea has a close association with the idea of mindfulness— a therapeutic technique of concentrating only on the present moment to improve mental clarity and wellbeing.

When the monk Eisai brought Zen Buddhism to Japan in the medieval period, he recognised the potential benefits of matcha green tea in promoting clarity of thought and mindfulness. Building on an ancient tea ritual called ‘cha dao’ (‘The Way of the Tea’), he adapted the rituals to emphasise mindfulness and spirituality. One of Eisai’s successors, Sen No Riku, devoted his life to studying and developing the Japanese tea ritual with Zen in mind. He is considered to be responsible for most of the elements of the present-day Japanese green tea ritual.

But why was drinking matcha green tea adopted as the ritual of choice? The answer lies in the spiritual concerns of Zen Buddhism, the idea of ‘Wabi-Sabi’ and the possible restorative qualities of matcha.

Rather than focusing on reaching enlightenment through grandiose thoughts and vain actions, Zen Buddhism teaches that real enlightenment and self-improvement can be reached by completing very simple tasks with great intensity, care and concentration. The lifestyle of ‘Wabi-Sabi’, similarly, celebrates the simple, imperfect and incomplete. Everything about the tea ritual is designed with these elements in mind. Matcha green tea was adopted because of the depth of its flavour and its perceived ability to cleanse and clarify the mind.

The utensils used in the ritual itself are simple, made of natural materials and are often very old. Everything about the ritual is conducted with mindfulness: from the precise way that the water is measured out, through to the drinking of the tea and the cleaning of the utensils afterwards.