The History of Matcha
In Japanese, “cha” means tea and “ma” means powder. Matcha translates very literally as tea powder. As matcha green tea is made up of the entire green tea leaf, which is then mixed into water, rather than simply steeping the leaves, you can see that this translation is accurate.
Green tea is generally known as the healthiest tea. This is because it goes through the least processing, which leaves us with a tea that’s very high in antioxidants and nutrient levels. If regular green tea is the healthiest tea, just imagine how much healthier it is when you use the entire leaf, as is the case with Matcha green tea.
It’s believed that the first green tea seeds were brought to Japan from China in 1191 AD. They were then planted on the temple grounds of Kyoto. Eisai, who introduced the Zen philosophy to Japan, was the first person to grind up the tea leaves that resulted from these plants, and then consume them in their powdered form. From this origin, matcha tea and a zen lifestyle absolutely go hand in hand. If you’re wanting to bring a little more zen and peace into your life, start by making a cup of matcha. Drinking matcha tea is often the focal point of a tea ceremony, as matcha stimulates a clear mind, mental alertness, a stimulated presence of mind, and a meditative state of mind, all at the same time. There aren’t many drinks that can both calm your mind while also heightening your awareness, which makes matcha the perfect drink for meditation, tea ceremonies, and even just for improving your everyday mental state.
The custom of drinking tea started in China with the emperor Shen Nong around the year 2700 BC. The classic Cha Jing(Book of Tea) was written by the scholar Lu Yu in 760 AD recounts Shen Nong’s attempts to discover the medicinal purposes of the green tea leaf, among over 300 varieties of other roots and plants. Legend says that anytime he was poisoned from his attempts to eat and experiment with other plants, he would eat green tea leafs to cleanse himself from the poison.
Because of this, it’s actually believed that tea was consumed as medicine much before it was consumed brewed as a tea. This really puts things into perspective, when you think about the cleansing and calming properties that matcha tea has. At this time, tea was compressed into large bricks to preserve the freshness. When they wanted to make matcha for medicinal purposes, they would first heat the brick over a flame, and then use a knife or something similar to break a piece off of the brick, then crushing the powder. It would be mixed with hot water and then served in a bowl. When it was for medicinal purposes, it was usually also mixed with ginger or onion.
During the Three Kingdoms period(221-65) tea became much more popular. It’s thought that the reason for this is because this was the time period that Buddhism was becoming more widely practiced. Buddhism doesn’t allow for drinking alcohol, and so it would seem that a lot of individuals substituted that desire with drinking tea, or matcha. This is when the custom of actually drinking tea began to filter through all of the lower classes, as previously it was mainly reserved for aristocrats and Buddhist monks.
Then, in the mid-eighth century, tea shops began to appear throughout Asia. This was when Lu Yu wrote his Book of Tea, which is actually still referenced as almost a bible of anything concerning tea. During this century, tea became an indispensable drink for everyone, even ordinary city-dwellers.