Perhaps it’s living in Los Angeles where health trends tend take off, but it seems that everywhere you turn lately, matcha is a part of the conversation (and the menu). Though it may be new to many on this side of the globe, preparation and consumption of powdered tea was formed into a ritual by Zen Buddhists dating as far back as the 12th century. They found that in drinking this tea before their afternoon meditations, it allowed them to maintain a level of sustained energy throughout the afternoon which they had never experienced before. After a variety of iterations over many centuries, this green tea eventually became known as matcha, “the ceremonial tea of the temple high priests.”
Matcha is made of ten-cha leaves, which are Gyokuro leaves that have not been rolled into needles. Unlike whole leaf tea, which is steeped, matcha is served by whisking powdered tea in hot water. It contains a higher amount of nutrients (vitamins, amino acids, polyphenols and fiber) than other teas, and its flavor takes on a densely rich and almost creamy quality. While matcha is traditionally used for Japanese tea ceremonies, today coffee shops around the world are dedicating a portion of their menu to the soothing beverage, and offering up a healthy (and delicious) alternative to coffee in the process.
It was my own love of tea, and more recently, a curiosity about matcha that lead me to Shuhari — a modern café dedicated to the powdered tea in the heart of Venice. While Shuhari acknowledges its roots in Japanese culture, its focus lies in injecting their offerings with the energy of modern life (think matcha sparklers, flavored green tea, matcha sundaes, and of course, matcha lattes). A visit to the space and a sampling of their menu felt a bit like a course in Matcha 101, the most captivating of which was watching their tea master, Take Yamamura, whip up a few cups of matcha. The process still uses the traditional tools — a chagama kettle, a chashaku spoon, a bamboo whisk, and a ceramic matcha bowl — and the act feels a bit meditative in itself.
Suffice to say, I left with a strong desire to learn more about the history of matcha, along with a starter kit to try my hand at making my own. If you, too, are a tea lover — or just curious for a taste — visit Shuhari’s storefront on Abbot Kinney Blvd. during your next visit to LA. I promise you’re in for a treat.