We’ve all stood behind someone ordering a matcha latte and wondered what the heck that amazingly vibrant coloured milky tea drink is. Matcha has been a staple beverage in Asian cultures since the eighth century and has recently become popular in the West.
It’s not the new Hipster fad many believe it is – this drink has history!
Matcha originated in China in the Tang dynasty when monks would steam green tea leaves, letting them dry out then packing them in to tea bricks. To drink the tea they would break off a piece of the brick and grind it with a mortar until it was a fine powder. Then they would sprinkle the fine powder into a wide bowl, add hot water, salt and stir. Being in brick form made the tea really easy to transport and trade. This method of drinking tea eventually lost favour in China, but remains popular in Japan where it has become a huge part of their culture.
Match was introduced to Japan in 1191 by Buddhist monk Myoan Eisai – a zen master who had been studying in China. On his return to his home country he not only brought fresh ideas but a pouch of green tea seeds. These seeds were planted in the grounds of the Daitoku-ji temple in Kyoto. This is where the famous Japanese tea ritual originated. Not only did Eisai continue his teachings, but he also explored the properties of green tea by grinding the leaves into a fine powder and established the now famous tea ritual. He believed that matcha was the ultimate medicine for your mind and health, and would make your life more complete. He wrote about that in his famous book ‘Book of Tea and Mulberries’.
Matcha in the Muromachi period in Japan was even more popular than it is even today in the west. It became so popular with the Samurai it became a commodity that could raise your social status. It was hard to come by and regarded as a luxury and a status symbol.
16th century in Japan brought in the era of the tea ceremony. This ritual is highly choreographed and called ‘the way of tea” (chado). It follows the four principles of tea, harmony, purity, respect and tranquillity. These elements remain the cornerstones of the famous tea ceremony today.
If we have learnt anything from the history of matcha it’s to relax and take time over your tea. To sit and ponder while you sip and bring some Asian zen to your life. Or, as we like to say at Leafy Bean – ‘Breathe, Relax, Enjoy’.