While matcha is popularly known to come from Japan today, the verdant beverage’s origins actually lie long before it was adopted on the island nation in China. In the 8th Century, Chinese Chan (later known as Zen) Buddhist monks first found the joys of pulverizing the green tea leaves and drinking the earliest form of matcha. This early matcha green tea powder involved the leaves first being steamed, dried, and packed tightly together to be easily portable. The monks would then break off a chunk of the dried leaf mass and grind it to a powder in a mortar and pestle before whisking in hot water to make a frothy tea. As this drink grew in popularity amongst the monks, they began to develop detailed rituals for the preparation and consumption of the beverage.
It wasn’t until the 12th century that matcha would make its first appearance in Japan. A Japanese Tendai Buddhist monk named Eisai Myoan made a journey to China and became so enamoured with two practices he found there – Zen Buddhism and matcha. Upon his return to Japan, he spent his life writing and teaching others about both.
As matcha fell from favour in China, its popularity skyrocketed in Japan. Due to Eisai’s incessant writings on his two favorite subjects, Zen Buddhism temples sprang up all over the country, and with them, a taste for matcha. The monks would use the tea for its medicinal properties as well as to keep them alert during long periods of meditation.
In time, matcha began to transcend the realm of Buddhist monks and permeate the higher rungs of Japanese society. By the 16th century, matcha was enjoyed by the higher levels of Japan’s feudal caste system including samurai warriors and local leaders called daimyo. As the drink grew more popular, growers in prefectures like Aichi, Kyoto, and Shizuoka began to perfect the cultivation of the green tea plant. This led to better quality matcha, and even today these three prefectures of renowned for growing the best matcha in the world.
As those in higher castes took to matcha, those on lower rungs aspired to it. To be well versed in the art of matcha was a way for the average person to appear more cultured and rise above their station. Soon, matcha was counted among such refined arts as poetry and flower arranging after tea masters, such as the Sen no Rikyu, developed the matcha tea ceremony, or chanoyu, into a choreographed ritual.
Unfortunately, as Japan moved towards the future and their caste system dissolved, the heyday of matcha soon came to an end. That is, until recently. While the Japanese still holds traditional tea ceremonies with matcha to connect with their heritage and continue the art, matcha has grown into a worldwide phenomenon. The world has embraced this refreshing brew as an alternative to coffee and for its abundance of health benefits.
While our history is not quite so far-reaching as the drink itself, The Flavor Project has a dedication to bringing premium-quality matcha to your home so you can experience this ancient beverage the way the monks and nobles enjoyed it. Contact us today to learn more about Matcha and how its long history can improve your life.