Experience the Magic of Matcha From North America’s Only Organic Tea Farm – Right Here in Traverse City
For centuries the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, called chanoyu, has involved the preparation and offering of a finely ground green tea powder called matcha. The matcha is scooped using chashaku, a traditional bamboo tea spoon, and mixed with warm water using a whisk (chasen) made from a single piece of bamboo that is split into 100 tulip shaped prongs. It is then served in beautiful hand-crafted bowls.
At the core of chanoyu is the principle of ichigo ichi-e (“one time, one meeting”), which is the idea that every encounter is unique and thus should be savored and appreciated – much like the recent encounter Heather and I had while visiting one of the Traverse City area’s most unique and interesting small businesses.
But to call Light of Day Organic Teas, North America’s only organic tea farm, just a business is to do it an injustice. It’s more of a craftsman’s workshop and gallery rolled into one, manned by artisans and curators who care intensely about their craft and instill that same sense of passion in their customers. Its product is tea, but what it really sells is a lifestyle of mindfulness, balance and tranquility.
A Trip to the Tea Farm
Seeking a bit of winter solace, Heather and I took a break from work on a recent Friday afternoon and made our way west on M-72. The sun was out and the snow covered agricultural fields and rolling hills shimmered and sparkled. The landscape was quiet and beautiful.
Our destination, Light of Day, is located about 5 miles outside of Traverse City, south of the small town of Cedar, at the base of the Leelanau Peninsula. We went in search of matcha.
Heather and I began reading about matcha recently and became intrigued by its prominence in ancient cultures – it’s been a staple of Zen Buddhist culture for more than eight centuries – and its purported health benefits. We’re apparently a little late to the matcha party, as matcha bars are popping up all over coastal cities such as New York and San Francisco. It’s been dubbed 2016’s “hot” beverage, which is not surprising given that matcha contains 137 times more antioxidants than normal green tea. It’s also low in caffeine – only 26 milligrams in a cup of matcha versus 180 in a cup of coffee.
Our search for information about matcha led us to Light of Day’s website, and ultimately its doorstep.
A Tranquil Experience
A sense of calm washes over you as you step foot into Light of Day’s small retail shop. It is set amidst a 12 acre working farm where tea product elements are grown, hand harvested, dried, blended and packaged. Relaxing music, delicious floral and herbal scents and signs directing customers to refrain from cell phone use and offering a “namaste” greeting welcome customers into the shop. Freshly brewed tea is available to sample.
Light of Day is the passion project of company founder Angela Macke, a self described “Traverse City mom” who founded the company in 2003. She got serious about tea, and its potential to improve her health and lifestyle, after discovering that it could play a key role in helping her manage an auto-immune disease she had been diagnosed with. Today, as described on the company’s website, Angela’s mission is “[h]elping her customers to create healthy lifestyle habits that support the prevention of illness, and to increase their overall vitality and passion for life.”
Matcha is integral to fulfilling that mission. Matcha is green tea which comes from the plant Camellia Sinensis. It is relatively expensive because production is labor intensive. Several weeks before spring harvest the green tea bushes – which must be meticulously pruned lest they grow into 40 foot trees – are covered with shade cloth in order to shield them from direct sunlight. This allows the leaves to grow larger, with more chlorophyll, giving them a distinctly bright green color. During harvest the bud and top three leaves are hand plucked from each bush. After plucking, the leaves are dried and then fired in woks or ovens. Dried leaves are de-veined and ground into a fine green powder.
Many of matcha’s health benefits can be traced to this production method which, as described by Light of Day, is intended “to preserve the healthy, natural and active substances of the fresh leaves so they may be released into the cup at the time of infusion.” Because the entire leaf – once ground into powder – is mixed directly with water and ingested, as opposed to just the water extract resulting from the use a tea bag, the nutrient and antioxidant levels from matcha are much higher. To use a ridiculous analogy, it’s kind of like the difference between eating a piece of broccoli and drinking a glass of hot water in which you soaked a piece of broccoli.
Upon entering Light of Day, Heather and I were greeted by Kelsey. She offered us cups of tea and encouraged us to explore the shop, which features a plethora of handcrafted tea varieties, and products to brew and serve tea. Flowers, herbs and fruit, as well as over 600 tea plants, are grown on property and used in tea production. Light of Day blends its private tea recipes in small batches in its commercial farm kitchen. Prior to visiting the store, we’ve enjoyed different Light of Day teas at various establishments in Traverse City, including Yen Yoga and Fitness and Brew Coffeehouse and Cafe.
But we were there for matcha. One of the interesting things about matcha is all of the different ways it can be enjoyed – serving methods have evolved well beyond chanoyu. It can be used as a seasoning for beans and vegetables, sprinkled on granola, dusted on pancakes, and baked into bread, to name just a few. In order to sneak some of this “super food” into your kids’ diets, blend it with yogurt and make popsicles, or bake matcha bars drizzled with chocolate.
Light of Day serves matcha shots at a bar in the shop. We ordered two, and Kelsey went to work.
The matcha sensory experience begins with the eyes and the nose, not the mouth. As Kelsey placed the matcha before us the first thing that struck us was the color of the powder – a brilliant, vibrant green, like the fairways of Augusta National (yes, getting excited about golf). The smell is fresh. I’ve read that good matcha should smell vegetal, and while I’ve never considered this adjective before, I think it’s an apt one.
Light of Day makes matcha smoothie shots. It blends a teaspoon of matcha into a smoothie consisting of coconut water and pineapple juice. The shots are delicious, and the taste of matcha is distinct, but not overwhelming. We ended up purchasing some matcha, which is sold in airtight, refrigerated canisters in order to preserve freshness and maintain the integrity of the product. In order to experience a more unfiltered taste, when we got home we mixed matcha with warm water and sipped. The taste is complex, initially bitter and grassy, with a sweet finish. It’s the type of complex food or beverage that grows on you over time.
The best part of our first experience with matcha was not the color, the smell, the taste, or the subtle “pick me up” it provided, it was the experience itself. It was learning about match’s rich history and central role in Asian cultures, and how American businesses are capitalizing on the matcha craze today. It was appreciating the craftsmanship, hard work and passion that goes into tea ceremony and tea entrepreneurship – from the beautiful hand-painted matcha bowls and bamboo whisks, to the delicious hand-crafted teas blended and packaged with care. And, most of all, it was discovering a very special Traverse City small business, Light of Day Organic Teas. You’ll go for the tea, but you’ll leave with newfound knowledge and appreciation for one of life’s simple pleasures. You’ll never look at a cup of tea the same way again, and you’ll probably never buy tea bags in a grocery store again. Plan to stock up next time you’re in Traverse City.
Have you had an interesting experience with matcha? Do you have a favorite matcha recipe or serving method? Leave us a comment and let us know – we have matcha in the refrigerator and we’re looking forward to experimenting with it.