The Origins and History of Matcha
Matcha has been around for thousands of years and has a rich and detailed history. Different types of Chinese and Japanese matcha powder have truly changed the face and the game of tea drinking and consumption, adding a sense of ceremony and ritual to an already delicious drink. As matcha has grown increasingly popular across the world in recent years, it’s no surprise that you might want to learn more about it.
Here at Matcha Outlet, we try to hold onto the sense of tradition and quality that has been passed down for generations. We want to honor both the high-quality and delicious flavors of premium matcha that have made an impact on history.
A Brief History of Matcha
The creation of premium matcha powder has a long and storied history, starting in China before making its way around the world. This delicious and grassy drink has made its mark on the beverage industry forever.
How Did Matcha Originate?
Matcha green tea powder is created from the Camellia Sinensis plant, originally cultivated for tea production in China in about 2700 BCE. The practice stayed relatively enclosed in China and the surrounding areas for the most part from what records can tell, but tea plays an integral role in the culture of many different countries from that point forward.
Matcha, or green tea powder, can trace its origins back to the Tang Dynasty in China. This dynasty spanned the 7th to the 10th centuries, and this is when the practice of creating matcha as we know it today was first documented. During this time period, the Tang Dynasty prepared and sold their tea by steaming the leaves and forming the tea into bricks, which made them easier to transport. This was imperative because easy transport was crucial to keep trade going.
These bricks were made by pulverizing the leaves into a powder, and this early green tea powder was then mixed with water and salt. This is probably the earliest form of any kind of matcha tea or matcha mix on record, carted throughout China mostly to Buddhist monks.
It wasn’t until the Song Dynasty that this form of tea preparation and consumption became widespread and popular. This time period between the 10th and the 13th centuries solidified the popularization of matcha tea and its widespread availability throughout China and Japan.
In fact, it was a Japanese Buddhist monk that originally brought the practice of matcha tea to Japan. A monk named Eisai practiced Buddhism in China and learned this way of tea preparation and consumption that was so popular among the monks there. Because of this, upon his return to Japan, he didn’t want to give up the practice. He took seeds and a few of these tea plants back with him to Japan, armed with the knowledge of this unique preparation method and style, and it caught on quickly.
Eisai planted these seeds and plants on the Kyoto Temple grounds. The Kyoto Temple was the home of the Kamakura Shogun, who was a kind of military leader and ruler during that time period. This was a fitting place to plant these tea leaves, as these seeds and tea leaves were considered to be the highest quality tea leaves in all of Japan, and should be reserved for only the highest class of people–which led to the idea of “ceremonial” matcha being reserved for only the ruling class. Additionally, during this time period, tea prepared like this was only produced in very limited quantities, making it extremely valuable and an easily recognizable status symbol.
After his return, Eisai’s Zen Buddhist sect perfected the art of growing and cultivating matcha tea leaves, bringing this practice into more popularity. His sect is credited with creating the idea to grow matcha leaves in the shade and with limited sunlight control, promoting the health benefits and changing the flavor of the tea. With this curated growth technique, matcha was finally ready to step onto the world stage.
What Makes Matcha Different From Traditional Green Tea
While Japanese matcha powder and traditional green tea are made from the same plant, the major differences come in their preparation. Typically, green tea is prepared by steeping the tea leaves in hot water for two to three minutes, removing the tea bag, and drinking the tea like this.
Premium matcha, however, comes in a powder form that is wholly mixed with water, traditionally using a bamboo whisk. This matcha mix contains the full powdered form of the green tea leaves and has a strong, earthy, grassy kind of taste compared to traditional green tea’s much milder taste. When you try matcha for the first time, the flavor may catch you by surprise, but you will quickly learn to love it as you experiment to find your favorite matcha style.
Because the preparation of matcha is so much more labor intensive than typical green tea, matcha tends to be more expensive than the green tea you normally steep at home. It comes in several different grades to help you figure out what quality of matcha is best for you.
The Different Grades of Matcha
Matcha typically comes in two different grades: ceremonial matcha and culinary matcha. While these two grades are both matcha, their taste and usage are different due to the difference in the quality of the preparation of the leaves.
Ceremonial matcha, also known as premium matcha, is the creme de la creme of the matcha world. The reason that this premium matcha is referred to as ceremonial is that before the rise in popularity and accessibility of matcha, ceremonial matcha was reserved for royalty and nobility.
The growth, harvest, and preparation of this matcha is the most labor-intensive match style, but it also produces the smoothest, most high-quality variant of matcha on the market. This premium matcha is produced by taking care to remove each and every stem and vein from the tea leaves before they’re ground, making the smoothest and finest powder. The flavor tends to be bold and vegetal—almost like spinach—with a sweet hay flavor to finish. Ceremonial matcha is best enjoyed the traditional way: whisked thoroughly with a bamboo whisk into hot water.
Culinary matcha, while no less delicious than ceremonial matcha, is not quite as high-quality and not quite as refined. Culinary matcha is a coarser texture of powder with some of the stems and veins left in the mix. The taste of it is a little more bitter because of this, which makes it perfect to mix into cakes, cookies, and other recipes that might benefit from a little bit of matcha mixed in. Culinary matcha is also perfect for mixing into matcha lattes, but doesn’t work as well with the traditional preparation because of the bitter taste.
Matcha Outlet is happy to provide you with several different matcha grades with a variety of flavor profiles, sweetness, and more. If you’re interested in trying a wide variety, then we even offer a sample pack, containing seven different flavors and grades of matcha mix for you to try! It’s a great way to try the different grades of matcha we offer as well as the different flavors we have available in an easy, convenient package. We love matcha and hope that you will learn to love it too!
History of the Tea Ceremony
Because matcha originally began as a premium, high-quality, expensive type of tea, it quickly became a part associated with a special ceremony. The matcha tea ceremony has morphed over the years, but it still remains a special occasion for all who participate in it.
How It Originated
The earliest mention of tea in Japan dates all the way back to the 8th century. Originally, tea was part of Buddhist rituals and was used to help promote calmness and focus.
The matcha tea ceremony first appeared in historical texts around the 13th century. Originally, this tea ceremony was used as a spiritual aid in practices among Buddhist monks in Japan. This practice was likely adopted by the Chinese Buddhist monks who also used matcha tea preparations in their religious practices and brought over to Japan when the matcha tea practice was adopted as well.
After the popularization with the Buddhist monks, the matcha tea ceremony was often used to showcase someone’s social status. For several centuries, matcha tea was such a luxury product because creating it was so difficult and time-consuming, so it became a status symbol. The tea ceremony only aided in that perception.
The Tea Ceremony Itself
The tea ceremony was an intricate and long-lasting practice that only those of the highest social order practiced in Japan. Originally, the tea ceremony would last anywhere from four to five hours, and maybe even longer than that. It was a long, grandiose affair, with sometimes up to twenty people participating in it.
The process started by offering guests visiting your home who would be participating in a thirteen course meal, enjoyed over the course of several hours. At the close of the meal, the hearth would be lit that would be used for boiling the water. This water would be used to clean the tools of the tea preparation as well as to prepare the matcha.
Once the water boiled, then the official ceremony would begin, starting with the ritualistic cleaning of both everyone’s hands and the tools to be used for the tea preparation. All tools needed to be cleaned: the whisk, the bowl, any spoons, or any other instrument that might touch the tea powder.
When everyone’s hands had been cleaned, everyone took a seat at the table. At the table, you were expected to take off your shoes and sit in a kneeling position, making sure that your feet were covered. The premium matcha powder would then be passed around to the guests to inspect the tea and check the quality of the matcha for themselves.
Once the tea was inspected, the host would then prepare the tea in the traditional way: spoon a couple spoons of the matcha mix into the bowl with some of the hot water from the hearth and whisk vigorously with the bamboo whisk until it is frothy and well-combined. With that, it was finally time to drink the tea.
The host would be the one to take the first sip. They would take a sip of the tea, take a moment to savor the flavor, then turn the bowl to pass it along from guest to guest to enjoy. This matcha drinking process was a long one; the typical sharing of matcha like this would often take twenty minutes to half an hour. It was such a long process because each guest was trying a delicacy. Matcha mix was not something that was readily available to the common people, so it was a big deal to try something so luxurious as matcha. Guests were encouraged to savor the flavor as they tasted it.
Matcha’s Rise in Popularity
While matcha has been popular in places like China and Japan for centuries, it has only recently grown in popularity here in the United States and around the rest of the world.
Matcha’s Popularity in the United States
Matcha truly started to grow in popularity in the United States about 2015, when Gwenyth Paltrow made a post on Instagram about trying a matcha latte at a local coffee shop. The bright green color caught the attention of foodies and wellness enthusiasts alike, sparking a surge in trying the new bright green drink.
Once people started trying it, they just couldn’t get enough of it. The grassy caffeine punch took the United States by storm, sparking a new trend in drinks in both local and nationwide coffee shops. Some people tried matcha just because it was trendy, but others really wanted to see the health benefits that it could potentially provide.
Since then, matcha has become a staple across the country. It has found its way into not only lattes but also into lemonades and other drinks and pastries. It’s a phenomenon that is sweeping the nation and keeps expanding year after year.
How Matcha Has Changed
Over time, matcha has become less of a status symbol and more of a “splurge.” While still more expensive than other green teas due to its growing and distribution process, it is less of a distant goal to be achieved or a trophy to be admired in today’s world. Instead, matcha has become something that tea aficionados, adventurous foodies, and trendsetters like to enjoy, both for the taste and the caffeine.
Matcha Outlet makes having those cafe experiences easier than ever before. With our wide array of matcha mixes, from flavored to plain, ceremonial to culinary, we have everything you need to have a delicious drink or pastry made with the finest matcha there is to offer.
If you’re interested in trying any of our tasty products like our premium matcha, check out our website for more information!