Every time I visit Japan, Aya’s parents always ask if there is anything specific I’d like to do or try. They have done an excellent job at showing me Japan beginning from my very first trip fifteen years ago. I’ve tried all of the most popular Japanese foods, and even some of the not so popular ones. I’ve seen the scenic sights and the city sights. I’ve gone to the hot springs, and sang karaoke. I even saw my favorite enka singer in concert! After all that, it still seemed like I had a list of things that I wanted to try. During our previous trip, I requested the KFC Christmas chicken dinner (it’s a big deal there). But now, it’s getting harder to find things I haven’t tried yet. That was until I discovered matcha.
Matcha is a type of green tea and it’s used to flavor EVERYTHING. Beverages, colas, cakes, cookies, ice cream, donuts, noodles, and potato chips. You name it and I bet it comes in matcha flavor. However, no matter how easy it is to find matcha flavored things, it’s not common to find an actual cup of regular matcha tea. You can get green tea anywhere, but a cup of matcha tea is like the bigfoot of tea. Many have heard of it, but few have seen it. Okay, not quite, but you can’t just get it anywhere. Why was this? I wanted to know, and I wanted to try a cup.
When I first requested matcha, Aya’s parents asked if I wanted to take a class and learn how to make it. Even Aya’s friend here asked the same thing when I said I wanted to try it. What? No, I just want to drink a cup of tea. What’s the big deal?
Well, from what I’ve been told, matcha isn’t just a cup of tea, it’s an experience. It’s not so much the beverage as it is the performance. The art of adding matcha tea powder to a bowl and whipping it into a foam with hot water dates back to the 12th century (thank you wikipedia). Matcha is traditionally part of the Japanese tea ceremony that’s supposed to demonstrate respect. You have to use special bowls and a special whisk. Have you ever seen the movie, Karate Kid II? You know, the one that takes place in Japan. Yes, I went there. I’m actually going to use an American 80’s movie that probably mis-represents Japanese culture to explain Japanese culture. Anyway, there is an awkward scene in the movie where the female love interest makes tea for our karate kid hero. That’s matcha! (Here is the youtube link to the movie clip, but I just watched it, and yeah, it’s awkward. Que the song, “…we did it all for the glory of love.”)
I’m still not quite sure I understand, but it seems the reason matcha isn’t common is because of it’s rich ceremonial history (don’t quote me on any of this, I’m still figuring it out myself). That’s why you can’t just go to Starbucks and order matcha tea. You can order a matcha tea latte though. Yeah, I don’t think it makes sense to me.
Anyhow, while we were in Asuskusa we went to a matcha tea cafe called Shunsho for tea time. We didn’t get the bells and whistles fancy ceremony, but we got a regular cup of matcha tea served in a matcha bowl. That’s all I wanted! Was that so hard?
My tea was served with some traditional Japanese sweets. They are made from mochi (rice pounded into a sticky dough) and covered with sesame powder. I really enjoyed my tea and sweets, but I think it’s one of those cultural things that will take some time to understand.
I did get my own matcha powder so I can make my own matcha flavored things at home. But I’ll leave the tea making to the professionals.