Discovered in 1191 by the Japanese Buddhist monk, Myoan Eisai, whilst on a study trip to China, he brought some of the tea seeds back to his monastery.
Recognising the amazing properties of the tea, Eisai eventually recommended the cultivation and consumption of the drink to his pupil, Myōe, who ensured that his masters recommendation was followed. Upon further farming of the drink it became more available and thus, the love for matcha in Japan grew.
Why Do Monks Love Matcha?
The monks love for the tea quickly grew as they discovered that it improved their meditation through a sense of calm alertness (we now know this is due to the caffeine and L-theanine content). What’s great about the caffeine content is that unlike coffee, you won’t experience the lows and withdrawal symptoms. The L-theanine allows the drinker to experience relaxation without drowsiness, yet another great quality to matcha.
A Tea Love Story
Matcha quickly became a basis in the Japanese tea-making ceremony, being drunk by the Buddhist monks and military elite (Samurai). The reason why the ceremony is so valued in Japanese culture is because it allows for a meeting between individuals, with intellectual conversation, and a shared moment between host and guest. The ceremony takes a few hours, and meticulous training is to be had by the host who has to perform extremely specific gestures.
In fact, the monks love for the tea grew to such an extent that as part of their temple practises they would ‘sacrifice’, or offer, a bowl of the drink to Buddha every day.
Not long after Eisai brought the tea back from China, permission was given to create more tea gardens in Uji. Due to the tea leaves needing to be grown in mostly shaded areas, it proved difficult to grow a crop equal to the quality found in the surrounding forests. However, an artificial method of shading was discovered, where wooden structures were constructed around the plants, and straw roofs made to protect the leaves from the sun. Now, this method is still used, but instead of using wood and straw (which can easily rot), aluminium and black cheesecloth coverings are employed instead.
Through the creation of this artificial farming technique the powdered form of matcha was discovered, and remains the same to this day. The farming method was so successful that Japan was able to mass produce matcha, enabling not just monks, samurai and the elite to consume the drink, but all residents of Japan.
Following the values of the tea making ceremony where the drink is shared between the host and guest, matcha is a drink that can be offered and enjoyed by all classes.
The Western Matcha Boom
For decades, the west has relied on the caffeine from coffee to power them through the day. Many of us have battled with lows, the bad moods, and utter exhaustion experienced if we go for some time without the beverage. The only answer is to drink more coffee, and so, it can be argued, that the west has become reliant on coffee in order to function.
This is where matcha tea steps in to save the day. Matcha comes with none of the problems that coffee induce. It has become popular amongst culinary circles, as a method to dye food a vibrant green colour, and introduce an unusual depth of flavour. In 2018, the chain café, Starbucks, introduced Iced Green Tea Latte’s onto their menu. This really opened the matcha market, and much like in Japan centuries ago, the popular drink went from being known by the few, to being available to all regardless of class.
Introduced into the Japanese culture in the 12th century, we bet Eisai never would have predicted the global popularity that the drink would eventually grasp!
8-9th century: Monks in China discover matcha.
1191: During a study trip, the Japanese Buddhist monk, Myoan Eisai, discovers the tea and returns to his monastery with some of it.
12th century: Further matcha tea gardens are given permission to be planted in Uji - this is where the artificial farming of matcha was developed.
14th century: Two trees in what is believed to be Japan’s oldest matcha farm, Horii Shichimeien, are planted. More than 600-years on and they are still producing tea, which is considered to be amongst the most sacred tea in the country.
15th-16th century: The artificial shading technique became the preferred method of growing the beloved tea. The shogun, at the time, declared that the Uji region was the only area given permission to use this method.
16th century: The tea ceremony is formed by Zen student, Murata Juko, into the ritual that we know of today.
2004: The Matcha Green Tea Kit-Kat first sold in Japan.
2018: Matcha Fuel founded.
2018: Starbucks introduced the Iced Green Tea Latte onto their menu.
2019: Matcha Green Tea Kit Kat sold in the UK (15 years after the first sale in Japan).