There’s definitely a muted and natural sweet quality to Matcha Sencha, along with the subtler tastes of moss, broth and kelp, which is a combination of raw green sencha and matcha powder. The green from the maccha instantly colors the tea, which may be the only tea I have had in the teahouse that is actually a green liquid. I had been saving this for last, since it was the most caffeinated of the green teas, with the exception of Hokuru, and I wanted to save it for the end. I don’t really know why. I think it may be because of its high caffeine content that it would be different from the other teas, and it was. Maccha is a tea used in Japanese tea ceremonies, where the powder is mixed with a whisk ceremonially to suggest a harmony with the universe. That is a simplification, but I could go on about the tea ceremony, how it developed from monks to samurais, daimyos and politics. It has books in its own right.
I have had raw matcha tea before, and it did not taste half as good as this tea, where it is tempered with the raw sencha to create something that is its own. The teahouse gave me instruction in the proper times and infusions, and I told them that I had been reading about maccha and the tea ceremony in Japan. I related to them that I had read that in the tea ceremony, the tea is prepared by a tea master for the participants. I asked if the intention of the teahouse was to make us all individual tea masters. They said directly, and without hesitation, “Yes.”. I then learned about the approach and ethos of the shop. The teashop may be the only place that sets a precedence where the teahouse visitor becomes their own tea master, and measures and performs infusions and water boils at the same time.
At the teahouse, you are brought a small kettle, a cup, and a strainer. At each seat is a hot pad for boiling tea. When you measure the correct temperature, you remove the teapot from the burner, and make the infusion into the kettle and strainer. The teashop supplies all of the tools, and the tea. You perform every other action. They said they are taking a huge risk by letting people perform this on their own. It’s almost like the preparation rules set up perfectly and alertness and mindfulness for the later stages of the actual meditation on tea and sensation. And that is an interesting point.
In one of my classes there was a student who made a game for talking about death. In the game, a complex series of actions interacting with cards takes place to choose a question. In critique, we played the game, and no one liked the game part, because it was confusing, but everyone liked the design and the questions. As a group, we sat on the floor, and discussed our feelings about death and dying. It was one of the most interesting projects of the semester. I know that game design is difficult, but this intitial exploration by the student filled the same kind of role that the organized simple action of choosing boiling times and infusion strategies does to create an incredible calming effect. The work of the teahouse rules, in the same way as the game, are the means at arriving at the point of perception. I asked if this was specifically to encourage mindfulness, and the teashop said, again, without hesitation, “Yes. Don’t take it for granted.” I won’t.
The teashop then told me a story about an 80 year old man that they met at the Zen Center in San Francisco. He was sweeping up leaves. She approached him and asked him what made him want to come to the Zen. He replied that he lived in the neighborhood, and the center had a really good bakery. That’s why. In the same way, this exploration of tea, just in caring about making it and mindfully enjoying it, was Zen.