Storm in a Teacup’s Step-by-Step Guide to Making a Bowl of Matcha.
The easiest way to consume matcha is to just shake it with water in a bottle then pour it into a glass, or just throw it into a delicious green smoothie without any fuss at all. But if you want to drink this magnificent beverage in the way it is intended to be imbibed, follow this guide and you will begin to discover the beauty of Chanoyu- the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
These 6 basic steps are the barest bones of the ceremony, boiled down to the absolute essentials. We have done this to make Chanoyu accessible for busy people living contemporary lives. Many of the implements here would not appear in a traditional tea ceremony but, they are things many of us already own that will suffice until the matcha bug bites and there is a wish to take things further. The two things that can’t be substituted are actual matcha and a bamboo whisk.
You will need:
Kettle of Hot water°°
Bamboo Tea Whisk°°°
Fine Mesh Tea Strainer
°Matcha has two main characteristics that sets it apart from powdered green tea, (which is often sold as matcha) and they are VERY important distinctions. Real matcha is made entirely from first spring harvest tencha and it is stone ground. These two factors create beautiful tasting tea that is soft and fluffy. It is vibrant, full of flavor and has very little bitterness. For more information grades of matcha, tencha, ichinban harvests, stone grinding and why all of this is important as well as how to store your matcha properly see our Matcha, The Full Story article (coming soon). But for now just know that real matcha tastes really delicious and is very good for you, where as powdered green tea or real matcha stored badly tastes yukko and has lost much of it’s goodness. So only buy real matcha that has been stored in refrigeration and once you’ve bought it, keep it sealed and in the fridge. Open the matcha carefully with scissors before you are ready to start your ceremony and have a little bulldog clip ready to seal it back up again.
°°Water should be spring water, rain water or at the very least filtered water. Matcha needs it to be heated to 80-90 degrees. To bring it to your tea space you can simply bring the kettle or you can make it a bit more special with a warmed tetsubin (Japanese cast iron kettle) or a glass teapot with a tea-light candle warmer)
°°° Bamboo Whisks (called ‘chasen’ in Japanese) are essential implements to make matcha. Japanese made whisks are better than Chinese as they are not bleached or chemically treated in any way. To make your whisk last as long as possible always soak it for a minute or two before you take it to your tea space and then, take care to dry it completely once you have finished. The little ceramic or wooden molds are a really good investment too as they help the whisk keep it’s shape.
°°°°Tea Bowls (called ‘chawan’ in Japanese) are a world unto their own. In tea circles they are works of art, costing up to $50,000 for contemporary pieces by highly renowned potters. But really, for our purposes any bowl you love, that fit’s comfortably in two hands is perfect. Usually 12-18cm wide and 12-15cm high is a good size and a flatish bottom with straighter sides is helpful when learning how to whisk.
Step One: Make Some Space.
Choose where you would like to prepare and drink the tea, clear that space of unnecessary clutter. Bring the matcha and all the utensils to the space and then place them neatly to your liking. Breath a big slow deep grounding breath.
Step Two: Sift the Tea.
Place the tea strainer gently in the bowl. Carefully open the matcha taking the time not to spill it. Place one small teaspoon of matcha in the tea strainer, then seal the matcha back up and replace the lid and place it carefully back in it’s place.
With the teaspoon softly sift the matcha into the bottom of the bowl. Place the strainer and teaspoon back down.
Step Three: Pour in the Water.
Still your heart with another deep, slow breath. Lift the kettle and gently pour in enough water for three nice mouthfuls. Which is usually about 75-90ml. Place the kettle gently a back in its place.
Step 4: Whisk the Tea.
Place the whisk at the center of the bowl and then pull it down to 7 O’clock on the bowl and draw a slow, clockwise circle around the bottom of the bowl to disperse the tea evenly through the water. Then on the out-breath whisk with an outward motion from 7 O’clock to 2 O’clock. Whisk quickly about 20-30 times to combine the tea fully with the water and create a good froth.
Then gently slow down and raise the bristles of the whisk from the bottom of the bowl up to the height of the foam. Gently move the whisk back and forth through the foam to smooth out the bigger bubbles and make the foam all silky and smooth. Come to a stop at 7 O’clock, draw one final spiral circle that finishes in the center of the bowl and remove the whisk vertically straight out so the foam is even and beautiful.
Place the whisk carefully back in its place.
Step 5: Drink the Tea.
Pick up the tea bowl with your right hand and place it on top of your left hand. (Tea bowls should always be handled with two hands) Raise the bowl so it’s inline with your face and gently bow your head to the tea. This is an act of gratefulness, be grateful for what ever feels right to you in that moment.
Bring the bowl close to your face and breath in the beautiful green aroma. Let that fill your soul, then take one sip of the tea. Bring the bowl back to the height of your heart for a moment. Then drink the rest of the tea, taking care to rest with the bowl in line with your heart. It should take between 10-60 seconds to drink the entire bowl of tea. It tastes best when it is quite hot and the matcha hasn’t had time to separate and settle in the bottom of the bowl.
When you have finished place the bowl back down and bow one final time to the bowl and to yourself for taking the time and space for this ritual.
If you wish to make the tea for more than one person: When the first person has finished their tea and bowed, simply ask the guest to take the bowl to the sink and wash it for you reminding them to handle the bowl with two hands. (This is not how it would happen in a traditional tea ceremony but for our purposes this is the best thing to do.)
Step 6: Pack it Up.
Mindfully packing up is every bit as important as making the space to make tea.
Take the matcha and place it in the fridge. Take the tea bowl, the bamboo whisk, the strainer and the teaspoon to the sink, carefully wash them. Dry the tea bowl, teaspoon and strainer and put them away. Flick as much water from the bamboo whisk as possible then sit it somewhere safe to dry. Finally, empty the kettle and place it back where it belongs.
So now you have created and completed a beautiful tea ritual that has roots that go back 600 years in Japan and at least 10,000 years in China. You understand the essential steps in making a really good bowl of tea. It’s a monumental meditation, a delightful party trick and a beautiful gift to offer friends and family.