From as early as the third century A.D, green tea was regularly used in China as a remedy for swelling, fever, depression and other illnesses. During the Song Dynasty of about the first millenium, the practice of grinding green tea and storing it in brick form was invented.
Later, this green tea became reknowned in Japan for certain medicinal qualities. Eisai wrote in The Book of Tea that green tea could prevent fatigue, quell indigestion, and improve concentration ~ to name a few of the benefits. But the flavor of powdered tea caught on so well, that it quickly became a beverage enjoyed throughout Japan whether a person needed the medicinal benefits or not.
Myoan Eisai was a Japanese Buddhist priest, credited with bringing the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism and green tea from China to Japan. Eisai Zenji, or “Zen master Eisai,” returned to Japan in 1191, bringing with him Zen scriptures, tea seeds and a new way of producing green tea. He immediately founded the Hoonji Temple in remote Kyushu, Japan’s first Zen temple.
Zen Buddhism promoted humility, simplicity and natural beauty ~ and the green tea ceremony was meant to bring peace and harmony to an often violent world. The ceremony of tea became almost synonymous with Zen Buddhism, the samurai class, and the Japanese culture. The powdered form of green tea transformed green tea from a medicine to the nation’s most desired beverage. Thus, he produced a tea that would change the nation. Through careful diplomacy, his green tea became the drink of nobles in the Japanese court, and is still the primary tea used in this ancient art of the Japanese tea ceremony. Eisai is even said to have served tea to the Japanese emperor himself. Due to its elevation in status, green tea was also cultivated to its finest grade of leaf ~ and this top-quality leaf became what we now know as Matcha!
Matcha is the oldest variety of shade-grown Japanese green tea. Common leaves of the common green tea bush are used for common green tea. However, Matcha green tea is grown from specially shaded tea bushes. Experts pick only the finest leaves, dry them and then grind the entire leaf with special granite grinding wheels. The result is a jade-green powder. The color green is important because if improperly ground, the cholorophyl is burnt out of the tea and that leaves it with a yellowed hue. Pure and correctly powdered, Matcha is whisked with water to create a unique, beautiful and richly flavorful drink.
Over the course of time, Matcha has been cultivated into an unparalleled beverage of taste and superior health benefits as compared to other teas. By using the entirety of the leaf, the stem, and the vein more nutrients remain. Contrarywise, the destemmed, deveined bag-style teas are not of the same nutrient quality. Matcha is also richer in antioxidants than the lower grades of green teas.
These days green tea is still the beverage of choice in Japan and growing in popularity in the United States. Matcha green tea is not only regarded as the most flavorful of all green teas, but due to its powdered form its shelf life is nearly two years and it can be added to many food and beverage recipes. Recognized by its distinctive, brilliant green hue, it is a much-in-demand ingredient in ice cream, gelato, smoothies, lattes and even chocolates. So preferred is Matcha by those in-the-know, that it can also be found in many nutritional supplements and various beauty and hygiene products.
The biggest names in the food and beverage service industry (including Starbucks, Jamba Juice, Haagen Dazs, Booster Juice, to name only a few) recognize Matcha’s popularity and add it as an ingredient in lattes, smoothies, ice creams, chocolates, confections, and more.