Although it is new to us here, matcha tea is more than the latest fad. In fact, it has a rich history, going back almost one millennia!
Right at the inception, matcha has its roots, as all tea does, in the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant.
Whilst the ancient Chinese cultivated ‘normal’ tea, they also produced green teas and further down the line, matcha.
Chinese matcha tea wasn’t quite the same as the matcha we know today. Likewise, today despite matcha tea being made in China, there are many differences with this product and Japanese matcha. However, this is a separate topic of its’ own!
MATCHA: TANG DYNASTY ERA (7th -10th centuries)
Although the Chinese of the Tang Dynasty era (around the 7th to 10th centuries) did crush the leaves of the tea plant to produce matcha, it was arguably the Japanese who made matcha all their own.
It was during this period that the Chinese created bricks of tea, to better carry them and sell on. The bricks would then be roasted and crushed into a powder, which then had salt and water added.
MATCHA: BROUGHT TO JAPAN IN THE HEIAN ERA (8th -9th centuries)
Matcha was already known in Japan as early as the 8th-9th centuries. It was brought by monks Saicho and Kukai.
However, this was not the refined substance of sencha known today and much had still to be done to improve the production methods.
MATCHA: SONG DYNASTY ERA (10th–13th centuries)
During this era, matcha tea really got started. It was a Buddhist monk from Japan named Eisai who is credited with its promotion.
Eisai lived in the late 12th century. He had spent much time in China, studying Buddhism. On his return home, he brought with him the tea seeds and crucially, a knowledge of how to grow the best quality tea in the whole of Japan.
Eisai was also well versed in the knowledge of how to prepare and crush the tea into the pure form of Pique’s matcha green tea we know today.
When Eisai returned, he planted his seeds in a temple in Kyoto. This was where Kamakura Shogun lived. Prior to the 13th century, though, matcha had principally religious uses. During this era, it became synonymous with the ruling class and warriors. At this point, matcha tea became the status symbol it would be well known as.
Also during this period, farming techniques were refined so that the tea plant could be shaded – improving its flavor manifold.
MATCHA: SENGOKU PERIOD -THE REFINEMENT (13th-16th centuries)
During this period, matcha started to resemble what it is known as today – as something of ritual and spiritual significance.
Instrumental in this process was another monk, named Junko and his student, Sen No Rikyu.
Rikyu would go on to become the personal tea master for Toyotomi Hideyoshi, renowned as the second unifier of Japan and samurai.
Rikyu later committed suicide, on the orders of Hideyoshi. However, by the end of his life he had a huge influence on changes made to the tea ceremony.
MATCHA: THE PRINCIPLES
Rikyu introduced the four main concepts into the Japanese Tea Ceremony which are known today. These are;