It is said that green tea was first introduced to Japan in the 8th century by a monk named Saisho. He brought back tea seeds from China, where he was studying Buddhism. During meditation, the tea was used by the monks to help keep them awake. In the 12th century, Eisai, a monk who had also been studying Buddhism in China, began to popularize tea in Japan. Eisai instructed that the tea should be consumed for its healthful properties. While in China, the monks had learned to prepare tea during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) by grinding it into a powder, then mashing it in a bowl before brewing it. Eventually, the Chinese stopped preparing tea in this way and the custom was appropriated by the Japanese and integrated into the tradition known as chanoyu.
In the 16th century, Sen No Rikyu codified the tea ceremony (chanoyu). From 1641-1853, about 200 years, Japan was isolated from the rest of the world. During this time, China was supplying many countries with tea while Japan was developing its own ways of processing and brewing it. Matcha was mainly used in the Japanese tea ceremony and it has now become a very popular tea due to its health benefits. Japanese researchers had studied the tea in the 1920s, proving that it contained catechins and antioxidants. More recently, numerous studies have been ongoing to uncover the health benefits of tea, particularly matcha green tea. Green tea has remained the most popular in Japan and although there may be some black teas produced domestically in Japan, the green teas are mainly the types associated with Japan. Tea trees in Japan are often covered with canopies to shade the leaves in order to help them produce higher levels of chlorophyll and amino acids, and fewer tannins. Primarily these shaded plants produce premium gyokuro, tencha and matcha. To process matcha green tea, the leaves are picked, cut into tencha and ground into a fine powder after being steamed. The result is an emerald green tea leaf that brews a brightly colored, almost fluorescent green liquor. To brew the matcha green tea, the powder is placed into a traditional Chawan or appropriate bowl, 175 degree Fahrenheit water is placed on top of the powder (just enough to cover it) and the tea is vigorously whisked with a chasen (bamboo tea whisk) to create a thick frothy, bright green liquid. At Sip Tea Lounge, we have adopted our own version of serving this healthy brew. The tea is whisked and prepared in a bowl similar to a chawan, but made for our tea lounge. Additionally, we have added matcha tea to some of our vegan sweet treats including our Vegan Matcha Bites. These can be a welcome tasty treat for anyone who would like to get a small taste of matcha, but is not ready to try the traditional Matcha Bowl by itself. First time matcha tea drinkers may find straight matcha to be slightly bitter. To balance out this bitterness, it is always nice to enjoy something sweet with the tea.
There are three main varieties of the Camellia tea plant, the sinensis, assamica and cambodiensis. The Camellia sinensis is most commonly used for the cultivation of tea including black, green, oolong, white and pu er. The Camellia sinensis is a sturdy plant that can withstand harsh conditions and can grow at high altiutudes. Among the sinensis, there are many cultivars that have been created, some more cold resistant than others and some better for certain types of tea. The life of this plant can span decades and there are trees that are 100-1000 years old in existence today. Though the leaves tend to be a bit sparse on an older tree, leaves still can be gathered to make tea. If left uncut, the Camellia sinensis can grow to 20 feet while assamica varieties can reach almost 100 feet. On a plantation, most tea plants last approximately thirty to fifty years. Most plants used for tea are kept at waste height to make picking tea leaves easier. The Camellia sinesis is a perennial plant, and in some regions, can be harvested all year round. Where sunlight is less than 11 hours north or south for more than five weeks, however, growth slows and the plant may go dormant until the next season. Typically the first new leaves are picked in spring. This first picking of the season is also known as the first flush. It is said that the highest quality tea is picked at this time because the plant’s ingredients are more concentrated and aromatic when it awakens in the new season of spring.The five main tea-producing regions are China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, India, and Japan, but tea plants also grow in Turkey, Africa, Argentina, Australia and even the United States as well as some other regions. The quality of the tea is greatly influenced by the condition in which the plants grow including soil, climate, altitude and latitude. In the United States, the most productive tea growing region at this time seems to be the Big Island of Hawaii. It can take some time for plants to mature, and to produce a significant amount of tea requires older plants, a fair amount of them and the labor to harvest and process the leaves.
“A determined soul will do more with a rusty monkey wrench than a loafer will accomplish with all the tools in a machine shop.”
A few years ago a friend (insecure epicure) shared with me a New York Times Article about the qualities that have been found in successful individuals. More recently, a TED talk appeared on the same subject. The topic of how to be successful is popular. People will tell you that going to a good school and getting the best grades will help you land the perfect job. Or they will say that finding the right job is all about who you know. Life is not that easy. Connections are great, but if you do not step up to the plate, motivate yourself, take initiative and follow through on completing a task from start to finish, eventually you will come to a dead end and lose the opportunity for growth. It takes hard work to move ahead.
Whether the goal is to run one mile or 100 miles, find your dream job or lose five pounds, it can only be achieved with hard work, focus, tenacity and a plan. Ultimately, it is not the one college degree, the single connection or the “smartest” individual that achieves the most success. One must stay on the entire journey and jump all the hurdles along the way. The real question is: Do you have the grit to stick to the plan, stay focused and reach your goal? Will you do whatever it takes. Will you do it humbly? Will you do it well, no matter the task?
It is easy to make excuses. Articulating a goal is hard, but dealing with the hurdles on the road to achieving it is harder. It is tempting to blame others when the going gets tough, but ask yourself, are you tough enough?
Can you handle criticism? Can you take advice? Can you do something with the feedback you are given and become a better person? Do you have grit?
In my own life, I am getting better at hearing advice I do not want to hear. It means taking criticism that can be harsh. It involves thinking until my brain hurts. It is a lot like running a race or completing a physical activity. It is hard work, but it feels so good when it is done. To be honest, I also like the process. After all, the learning is in the doing.
Luckily, at the beginning and end of the day, I have tea to help me slow down and reflect. Tea allows me a moment to look at the big picture, stop and make a plan, refocus, reenergize and keep going strong.
What is your goal? What tools do you use to accomplish it? Do you have grit?
– Nicole Basso