Saying Goodbye to Coffee
For Lent this year, I made a commitment to give up on one of my greatest loves. She has been with me the longest -- since I was 17 and got my first official job as a Starbucks barista -- all the way through life's ups and downs. I've rarely missed out on her company and I've tried her in all her varieties -- blonde, foamy, Greek and Sumatran (to name a few).
Alas, she had to go. Our relationship was not good for my brain.
Caffeine as presented in coffee just is not good for the brain if you're a regular coffee drinker...especially as you get older. It constricts the blood vessels and certainly can lead to tachycardia or palpitations as you develop a tolerance for it over time. Sure, a cup or two a week for enjoyment is no biggie. But if you're consuming daily cups of coffee -- and especially if you're drinking more than one cup per day -- it's a problem.
The Benefits of Matcha
Traditional powdered Japanese Matcha Green Tea can provide a beautiful new habit that is actually proven to boost blood flow in the brain and is high in antioxidants. Now, it's definitely not got that rich coffee flavor, and its grassines can take some getting used to, but you can add a little almond milk and stevia into the mixture if you want to liven it up. The effort is well worth the payoff.
My own fascination with matcha started in 2010 when I visited Japan for the first time. Most people don't think of this, but the central and southern parts of Japan can be very hot and humid in the summers. Nothing in Japan feels expected and predictable -- that's why I love it so much. And the Japanese response to dealing with the exhausting climate is no exception: they drink lots of hot matcha all summer long.
The theory goes that ice cold beverages constrict the blood vessels in your GI tract as your body tries to absorb the H2O. And then your body actually has to do more work to re-set the internal balance.
How to Make Matcha
The second part that has helped me make the transition from coffee is to enjoy the ritual of matcha tea making. If you've been to a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony, you'll know what I'm referring to.
The steps are simple, but meditative and requiring of patience and care:
1) Boil water
2) Soak the bamboo whisk in steaming water for 1-2 minutes
3) Place 2-3 scoops (if using traditional bamboo scoop) or maximum 3/4 teaspoon if using a traditional spoon in a wide cup or traditional bowl
4) Pour in a small amount of hot water
5) Whisk it into a thick paste
6) Stir in another half cup of hot water
7) Whisk again
8) Pour in remaining water to desired amount plus any additions like almond milk and sweeteners, and whisk a final time
9) Optional: Say a mantra, gratitude or blessing as you lift the cup to your mouth with 2 hands for that first sip ;-)
Where to Buy It
At Art of Tea, you can buy a traditional tea set, complete with bamboo whisk and scoop and the right-sized bowl to drink out of. If you're here in Arizona, I'd really recommend stopping by the adorable tea boutique Old Barrel Tea in Flagstaff this summer (you can also purchase it online here). They have great prices on a variety of teas, sell tea sets and their matcha is super fresh.
If you have a local Asian grocery store near you, it's likely you'll find matcha on sale there. They will be selling the commercial variety, not the rarer organic or ceremonial grade as available on websites like Art of Tea or on matcha.com, but it's still a great option.
Don't Overpay for Your Matcha
Typically, you can get delicious matcha for between $14-$25 for 30 grams. Some online vendors sell very high-end organic or ceremonial grade matcha for more, but I haven't noticed much of a difference in the taste or texture. Dr. Andrew Weil has created the amazing offerings at matcha.com. Honestly, though, if you are trying to take up a regular matcha habit for the health benefit, it's just not worth paying over $40 for 30 grams. If, on the other hand, you'll be enjoying your matcha ceremonially or as part of a once-a-week ritual, then spending the extra money is worth it. Then again, you don't want its freshness to go away, so leaving an expensive ceremonial grade matcha on the shelf for a year would be a waste.
What About Weight Loss?
Green tea has also caught on because it helps suppress appetite and supports a healthy metabolism. I must say that I do enjoy more of it on some fasting days to help get me through the day with energy. Personally, I would avoid a lot of those green tea supplements that folks use for weight loss. If you want some of the benefits of green tea in this regard, while still doing something good for your body, why not check out the Focus and Energy supplement from BrainMD. It's got de-caffeinated green tea and other awesome ingredients that support a healthy weight control program.
If you've got any matcha stories or questions, send me an email or comment below.
Enjoy your matcha journey!