And tips on how to avoid falling prey to these pitfalls.

For better and for worse, matcha has become a fully mainstream, commodified product in the U.S. The Japanese green tea beverage (or iterations thereof) can be found on Starbucks menus and big box store shelves. And there have never been so many matcha brands to choose from.

For Reverend Takafumi Kawakami, a meditation advisor for Cuzen Matcha and head priest at Shunkoin Temple in Kyoto, Japan, drinking a cup of matcha means so much more than getting a quick fix of caffeine. In fact, Kawakami, who has dedicated the last two decades of his career to spreading his wealth of knowledge on Zen, a school of Buddhism centered on meditation (he even hosted a TED Talk about it!), says matcha is an integral part of his practice and spirituality.

“Matcha has historical connections to Zen Buddhism, particularly in Japan,” Kawakami explains. “Zen monks incorporated matcha into their meditation rituals to help them stay alert and focused while maintaining a sense of calmness. The process of preparing and consuming matcha became a meditative practice, encouraging mindfulness and spiritual awareness.”

Aside from the obvious fact that matcha is well-loved for its caffeine and robust L-theanine content (a happiness-boosting amino acid linked to boosting longevity), Kawakami  says there’s more to appreciate. He encourages folks to look beyond the nutritional facts to explore a deeper, spiritual connection with the beverage. Ahead, Kawakami delves into the meditative practice that goes behind preparing matcha served during a Japanese tea ceremony and how adopting this simple practice can encourage finding Zen (slowing down and finding your inner peace) and practicing mindfulness in your daily routine.

The cultural and spiritual significance of matcha in Japanese tradition

Although the origins of green tea can be traced as far back as the eighth century in China, it wasn’t until the 1100s that matcha (the powdered form of green tea leaves) began to gain popularity in Japan. This is thanks to Myoan Eisai, a Zen Buddhist monk, who reportedly introduced matcha to Japan and established its connection with spirituality, meditation, and everyday temple practices early on. “Matcha is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and history. It has been consumed for centuries and is considered an integral part of Japanese identity,” Kawakami says.

Although matcha is heavily rooted in its connection with spirituality, Kawakami says the multifaceted green powder is also celebrated beyond the confines of the temple these days. “From traditional tea ceremonies to modern culinary creations, matcha continues to be celebrated as a symbol of Japanese heritage and cultural pride,” he says.

The connection between matcha and Zen Buddhism

For Kawakami, Zen is the practice of having a direct experience of ourselves. “Normally, we are focusing on our conceptual existence or narrative self. We think and try to analyze and evaluate ourselves with logic. However, in Zen practice, through our meditation, we experience ourselves as the way we are or ‘minimal’ self,” he says. These are the core principles of practicing Zen that focus on worrying less of what we think about ourselves or who we want to become, and focus on accepting and loving ourselves for who we are at this very moment.

Kawakami says that “matcha and tea help make our senses more keen to observe what we are.” The act of preparing matcha is extremely meditative and ritualistic, which can help instill a feeling of calmness while engaging in the activity. At the same time, drinking matcha or tea filled with L-theanine can also physiologically enhance alertness and cognitive function. A win-win.

That’s all to say, Kawakami finds that drinking (and preparing) matcha are perfect opportunities to practice mindfulness—by slowing down and taking in the moment, as evident in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. “During meditation, we experience what we experience as the way they are, like sensation and thoughts—thoughts are considered sensations in Buddhism. Just observe sensations and thoughts come and go,” Kawakami says.

The traditional Japanese tea ceremony

According to Kawakami, a traditional matcha tea ceremony can be br

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