By: Victoria Roseberry
All About Matcha: A Brief History
Matcha has been one of the prominent food trends of recent years, appearing in everything from ice cream to sushi. Matcha itself is simply the whole ground leaf of the green tea plant, typically prepared with water or milk. It’s renowned for the calm energy it provides to drinkers, and it’s the key behind Javazen’s unique no-crash blend.
Matcha’s health perks include potential links to weight loss, improved relaxation, and focused alertness. It also contains plenty of antioxidants, polyphenols, which have been shown to reduce tumor growth in studies, and the compound EGCG, known for its skincare benefits.
The history of matcha is rooted in ceremonial traditions. Green tea cultivation is thought to have begun during the Tang Dynasty in China. According to legend, Shennong, the legendary Emperor, and herbalist, originally discovered the plant.
Originally, tea was roasted and formed into blocks, and powder taken from these blocks was mixed with water and salt to create a tea. The process eventually evolved, and tea began to be produced from powder made from steam-processed tea leaves. The powder from these leaves was whipped with water, forming a tea similar to the matcha we’re familiar with today.
Zen Buddhists were the real creators of matcha, however. They perfected the cultivation of Sencha, a type of green tea grown in the shade that contains higher concentrations of caffeine. The ground and powdered leaves of Sencha tea are what make up matcha. The Buddhists developed rituals surrounding the preparation and consumption of matcha with the earliest existing detailed descriptions of these tea ceremonies found in the Chan monastic code, the Chanyuan Qinggui.Zen Buddhists used matcha in meditation rituals and noted its ability to provide drinkers with focus and sustained energy throughout their days. The monk Eisai brought Zen Buddhism, matcha, and it’s ritual preparation to Japan in 1191, where its consumption would continue to present day.
Zen Buddhists used matcha in meditation rituals and noted its ability to provide drinkers with focus and sustained energy throughout their days. The monk Eisai brought Zen Buddhism, matcha, and it’s ritual preparation to Japan in 1191, where its consumption would continue to present day.
The preparation of traditional matcha is an important part of this tea’s history that most modern drinkers often don’t get to experience. There are two categories for the preparation of matcha: thick or thin. Thick matcha is called Koichi, and thin matcha is called Usucha.
Koicha is made with less water and more matcha, resulting in a tea with a viscosity similar to honey and no foam. Usucha is produced using more water and produces a lighter colored, more bitter tea.
Japanese tea ceremony (chadō), which is also referred to as The Way of Tea, is a term for the preparation of matcha in Japanese culture. The preparation of tea is considered an art form and is one of three classical Japanese arts of refinement - the other two being flower arrangement (kadō) and incense appreciation (kōdō). Formal tea ceremonies can last up to four hours, while casual tea ceremonies, performed as a sign of hospitality, are significantly shorter.
To perform the ritual, the preparer mixes the matcha powder with hot water in a bowl using a special whisk. Teaware sets are typically used to serve the tea, which is best drank quickly, as the matcha is in a state of suspension in the hot water and tends to settle at the bottom if left to sit. Authentic matcha tea is made with only water and ground matcha.
Flavors of Matcha
Matcha is best known for its strong earthy flavor. The flavor profile of the tea isn’t something that’s very commonly found in western foods and drinks: it’s vegetal, green, and bitter, with hints of sweet and umami. Most Americans are familiar with a version of the tea that’s been sweetened quite a bit, but traditional matcha is not prepared with sugar.
In Japan, matcha’s popularity is evident in its wide variety of uses in foods from Pocky to tempura batter. It’s especially popular in western-style desserts, like cheesecakes, roll cakes, and ice creams. While the many desserts that are produced with matcha show how it is complemented by the addition of sweetener or milk, matcha itself has a flavor that encourages drinkers to pause and process the unique, complex taste.Traditionally prepared matcha is something any matcha fan should try. The experience of preparing and drinking matcha tea can be soothing, centering, and give you a sense of relaxed focus.
Traditionally prepared matcha is something any matcha fan should try. The experience of preparing and drinking matcha tea can be soothing, centering, and give you a sense of relaxed focus.