History of Matcha Tea
The evolution of Matcha tea have been traced back to over 1000 years ago. Scriptures from the Tang Dynasty China (618–907AD), detail the preperation and first consumption of tea power. Firstly leaves were steamed and formed into tea bricks for storage and trade, this tea was then prepared by roasting and grinding the tea, and decocting the resulting tea powder in hot water, adding salt.
The evolution of this process towards modern Matcha tea is traced then to the Song Dynasty (960–1279AD), where the method of making tea changed, freshly picked tea-leaves were steamed to preserve colour and freshness, then dried and ground into a fine powder called ‘tea mud’. The tea mud was placed in moulds, then pressed and left to harden. Later it was dried in the sun and then baked to prevent rotting. These ‘tea cakes’ were easier to store and transport. To make a cup of tea one would break off a little piece of the tea-cake and then whisk the tea powder up in a drinking bowl. From steam-prepared dried tea leaves and preparing the beverage by whipping the tea powder and hot water together in a bowl became popular. Preparation and consumption of powdered tea was formed into a ritual by Zen (Chan) Buddhists.
Zen Buddhism and the Chinese methods of preparing powdered tea were brought to Japan in 1191 by the Famous Monk Eisai. His famous book about tea opens with the sentence: “Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete.” In saying that, Esai was referring to Matcha, later to become Japan’s most sacred kind of green tea and the only tea to be used in the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony.
This way of processing and preparing tea was eventually abandoned in China, but in Japan it continued to be an important drink at Zen monasteries, and became highly appreciated by others in the upper echelons of society during the 14th through 16th centuries.
Zen monks from Japan had begun to bring tea and tea seeds back with them and started growing tea plants in Japan. Soon the Japanese Zen priests began their own tradition of growing, processing and preparing powdered green tea – and thus Matcha was born.
Sadō (‘The Way of Tea’) in its current form was developed by Zen monks over the course of the 15th century and became popular with the Samurai society, royalty and Japan’s upper class. The teachings of the monk Sen-no Rikyu were the most influential, on the four principles of harmony, purity, tranquillity and respect
Today Japan only exports about 4% of its sacred Matcha Tea. It is not only a highly valued specialty green tea for drinking, but also used frequently in Japanese cooking and baking, in health foods and western style beverage creations, like Matcha lattes and green tea smoothies.