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Matcha isn’t just the latest beverage fad or coffee replacement. Matcha isn't new, experiential, or made up. Matcha isn’t just a trendy drink that Hollywood drinks by the gallon. Matcha dates back nearly a thousand years plus 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.
More than 1,000 years ago, tea farmers in Japan began crafting matcha, a powdered green tea made from the whole leaf and renowned for its health benefits. Zen monks celebrated it for its ability to help them focus during long periods of sitting meditation. Samurai warriors partook of it before battle to gain mental alertness and clarity. And today, many people from around the world enjoy a bowl of matcha for the pleasure it provides as well as its positive effects on mood, energy, and general health.
During a short and busy harvest season, tea farmers gather leaves and take them to processing facilities.
Small-scale growers hand-pick their tea plants. Larger-scale growers use machines to trim the tea plants during a small window of time. The best time to harvest is when the plant has 3-5 new leaves. Too early and the yield too small; too late and the quality is compromised.
Fresh tea leaves are steamed for 30-40 seconds to destroy enzymes that would degrade flavor components.
Steamed leaves are quickly cooled by a strong blast of air that blows them almost 20 feet into the air, stabilizing the bright color and aroma.
Heated from below in a carefully controlled fire pit, the leaves pass through 3-4 levels on a conveyor belt, ensuring thorough and even drying.
Once dried, the tea leaves are cut, sorted, and mixed thoroughly, ensuring consistent quality and flavor. The resulting product, called tencha, is stored in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment until needed to make matcha.
Tencha is ground into matcha powder between rotating grooved stones driven by machines. A funnel drops cut leaves through a hole into a space between two stones. The grinding process takes two hours, resulting in an extremely fine powder.
Matcha is graded by color, aroma, and flavor.
As soon as matcha is graded, it is sealed in tins to prevent oxidation from exposure to air in the presence of light and heat. Unopened tins can be kept in a freezer for up to a year.
Green tea helps lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, and may protect against cancer. Matcha is the only form of tea that includes the whole leaf rather than a water extract of leaves. Its health benefits correlate with higher levels of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, including L-theanine.
READ MORE HEALTH BENEFITS HERE
Making a great bowl of matcha is an art form. While it may look simple on the surface, creating the perfect bowl of matcha requires the correct utensils and the proper technique. We've created a quick how-to video on making a perfect bowl of matcha.