How Matcha Saved Me When Coffee Couldn’t

Lonny Pugh
by Lonny Pugh
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How Matcha Saved Me When Coffee Couldn’t

I made some major life changes last year. Quit my job, put my things in storage, and even bought a one-way plane ticket to the opposite coast, like people in movies (and apparently actual people) do. I tell you this so you truly understand my perspective when I tell you that probably (maybe) the biggest change I made last year was ditching coffee for matcha.

This is not an essay about the evils of coffee. Coffee is not evil. Coffee is transcendent, coffee is perfect. The smell of coffee in the morning reminds me why I’m alive. My sister once gave me a Chemex, which enabled me to brew my own fancy pour-over, viscous and rich enough that I could comfortably charge guests $5.50 a cup. I never did that, though after I quit my job I considered it.

Point is, I love coffee. I love it a little too much. And when I love something I want to love it all the time.

IS IT THE DRINK OR THE RITUAL?

These days, as a freelancer, I spend hours hunched over my laptop. I need a ritual to repeat at regular intervals throughout the day, one that gets me to stand up straight, perform a task that isn’t typing and look at something that isn’t a screen. Most important, I need to inject a thunderous bolt of caffeine and purpose into my bloodstream.

A cup of coffee in the morning is great — actually even 4 cups a day is considered OK. But in my new life I was suddenly downing the equivalent of at least a pot by lunchtime, and my day, which started out like a commercial — morning sunlight, wistful smile, that first glorious sip — resembled a reboot of “Requiem for a Dream.” The music on my Sonos was jarring and faraway. My stomach was shredded. My teeth were yellow, my skin gray, my eyes red. I was dehydrated, and sweating in strange places, and I didn’t know where I was. I only knew what I must do to get my next fix. This state was not conducive to good writing or good anything.

MY FIRST MATCHA …

I don’t remember my first matcha. My first matcha memory is of wanting to avoid it when it was suddenly everywhere, like kombucha or avocado toast, flooding millennial-pink cafés and over-designed restaurants and my Instagram feed. But that changed …

Matcha is like green tea only more so, made from shade-grown Japanese leaves that are ground into a fine powder. Green tea has been said to help weight loss, reduce metabolic syndrome and contain a range of antioxidants. But most important, the buzz is not the same as what you get in coffee.

The ritual of making matcha is similar to coffee, but different: Boil some water, pour some over a scoop of powder and — this is the best part (and something coffee lacks) — you pull out your little bamboo whisk. This all works best in a wide, deep mug or a bowl. Like, big enough to get your head in. Picture a toddler with a soup bowl.

The whisking ritual made me realize much of what I loved about coffee — besides the coffee, hot, delicious coffee — was the ritual of making it. Not the Chemex ritual specifically, just any ritual that involved boiling water. I like to spin the whisk around exactly 100 times, but sometimes I throw caution to the wind and only do 75.

Sure, you could make a matcha latte by adding almond milk, cinnamon and agave. It’s a good, if blasphemous, concoction. But I prefer caffeinated drinks (and people) to be exactly what they are and nothing more. I like my coffee black and my matcha vegetal, like I’m sucking on a dirty leaf.

The best part: I can do this all day. A matcha buzz is dialed down, focused and pleasant. And unlike when I drink coffee for hours, I’m not in need of an IV drip by sundown.

About the Author

Lonny Pugh
Lonny Pugh

Lonny is a writer and editor based in New York. He’s written for PaperLos AngelesVariety and others. If you see someone who looks like him wandering the streets with a mirrorless camera, or casing the new-fiction table at an indie bookstore, or squinting into a laptop at a cafe, that’s almost definitely him.

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