The History of Matcha

The Origin of Matcha

Matcha isn’t just the latest beverage fad or coffee replacement. Matcha isn’t just a trendy drink that Hollywood drinks by the gallon. Matcha dates back nearly a thousand years to a time when dynasties ruled China and Shogun clans ruled Japan. This is the history of matcha.

The origins of matcha can be traced all the way back to the Tang Dynasty in China. The Tang Dynasty spanned the 7th – 10th centuries. During this time, the Tang Dynasty steamed tea leaves to form into bricks, making their tea harvests easier to transport and subsequently trade. These tea bricks were prepared by roasting and pulverizing the leaves then mixing the resulting tea powder with water and salt.

However, the ensuing Song Dynasty, which reigned from the 10th – 13th, is largely credited with making this form of tea preparation popular. Eisai, a Japanese Buddhist Monk, spent the better part of his life studying Buddhism in China. In 1191, Eisai returned permanently to Japan, bringing with him tea seeds along with the Zen Buddhist methods of preparing powdered green tea. The seeds that Eisai brought back with him from China were largely considered to create the highest quality tea leaves in all of Japan. 

Eisai subsequently planted these seeds on the temple grounds in Kyoto, the home of the Kamakura Shogun. During the period of the Kamakura Shogun, matcha was only produced in extremely limited quantities and was thus regarded as a luxurious status symbol.

Soon after Eisai’s return to Japan, Zen Buddhists developed a new method for cultivating the green tea plant. Tencha was developed by growing the green tea plant under shaded conditions – this method is largely credited for maximizing the health benefits of matcha.

The Ritual of Matcha

Still, the tea ceremony was not conceived into it’s current state. It was not until the 1500’s that a Zen student named Murata Juko brought together several fragmented pillars of the tea ceremony into a formalized ritual that included the cultivation, consumption and ceremony.

Zen Master Sen-no-Rikyu is largely credited with popularizing Juko’s tea ceremony ritual and has become the most well-known and revered historical figure of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

Sen-no-Rikyu formed the four basic principles of the Japanese Tea Ceremony:

  • Harmony (wa)
  • Respect (kei)
  • Purity (sei)
  • Tranquility (jaku)

The Japanese Tea Ceremony is called “Chado” or “Sado.” Translated, this means “The Way of Tea.”