How Will Matcha Be In The Future?
How Will Matcha Be In The Future?

How Will Matcha Be In The Future?

 

Matcha was the first of the tea

Matcha has been consumed for centuries as a traditional Japanese ritual and as a healing drink, but how will Matcha be in the future?

Matcha was used as a strict ceremonial powdered tea since it was discovered at the end of the 12th century AD. Myōan Eisai, traveled from China to Japan, bringing green tea seeds.  He used it first as a medicine for shogun Sanetomo, due to his overindulgence of wine. Later, he wrote the book, Drinking Tea for Health,  as he believed in the healing benefits of powdered green tea. It was introduced to Japanese tea ceremonies by the 13th century  and the cha-no-yu (tea ceremony) was regarded as a status symbol

By the 13th century, during the Kamakura Shogunate, the use of matcha shifted from a strictly religious practice to one synonymous with warrior class traditions and symbols of luxury. This continued into the 16th century, where cha-no-yu (tea ceremony) came to be regarded as a status symbol and presented as an upper-class cultural value.

Kyoto was the birthplace of Matcha

Tea made from leaves originating from Kyoto (around the area where Eisai first planted tea seeds) became highly prized. Uji producers were the first to invent the Tana, or shade device that created a roof of straw over the tea bushes to modify the amount of sunlight reaching the tea plants. The method allowed the farmers to cultivate the revered flavor profile that is Uji tea. So much so, that it was a decree from the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu that only the region of Uji could employ the shade-growing, straw-covering method. However, that isn’t to say that the principles of Zen were completely lost.

Eisai is also credited with the beginning of the tea tradition in Japan, by bringing green tea seeds from China, back from his second trip in 1191, and writing the book 喫茶養生記, Kissa Yōjōki (in English, Drinking Tea for Health). Legend says that he planted the seeds “in the garden of the Ishigamibo at Seburiyama in Hizen”.

In addition to his book, Eisai also garnered attention from another act involving his tea; using it as a treatment for shōgun Sanetomo. This is a record of his treatment from the Azuma Kagami:

“The shōgun was taken a bit ill, and various attendants attempted to treat him. This was not so serious but was from overindulgence in wine the previous evening. The priest Yojo, who had come to perform incantations and learned the situation, brought a bowl of tea from his temple, saying it was good medicine. He also asked the attendants to give the shōgun a scroll of writings about the virtues of tea, and the shōgun was said to have been greatly pleased. Priest Yojo indicated he had written it recently during his breaks from meditation.”

Eisai was more focused on the medicinal aspects than anything else, and the main reason for this was the common conception of the time that the world was in mappō, the Latter Age of the Dharma, which was considered the end of enlightenment.

Many may know what matcha is, but few know how the beverage came to be. Also shrouded in mystery are the individuals who came to define the traditions and ceremonies surrounding the beverage. Here we offer a succinct history of matcha in Japan!

The art of Matcha

There is one thing that is common knowledge: that tea growth and culture has its roots in China. The same is also true for powdered green tea, but it could be argued that the artistry was perfected in Japan. During China’s Song dynasty, tea leaves were processed, steamed, pressed into bricks and cakes. After that, the pressings were shaved off and introduced to a stone grinder (Ishi usu). The fine powder was then whisked until the liquor frothed.

The first evidence of green tea making it to Japanese shores showed up during the Heian period (8-9th century). The first two men credited with bringing tea seeds to Japan were the Buddhist monks Kukai and Saicho. A later account mentions that—in A.D. 815— a Buddhist monk known as Eichu served green tea for the then-Emperor of all of Japan, Saga. Unique to the time, Eichu prepared un-pressed and un-powdered green leaves and displayed the rough presentation for the Emperor. It was unlike the sencha-style green tea of today since the process for creating that tea was still eight hundred years away.

Powdered green tea caught the eye of a man named Myōan Eisai toward the end of the 12th century AD. He had made two trips to China, due to his dissatisfaction with the state of Buddhism in Japan. On his first trip, he studied the principles of Chan (later transliterated into Japanese as “Zen”), and he, later, became a certified practitioner. However, it was his second leg that proved to be the more fruitful, as far as tea is concerned. Along with some Zen scriptures, he also brought with him Zen scriptures, tea seeds, and the process of replicating powdered green tea.

Organic Mizuba Tea Leaves

Eisai would later go on to write the principle tome on Japanese green tea, Kissayōjōki (“Drinking Tea for Your Health”). Eisai was a firm believer in the health properties and possible religious applications of powdered green tea – viewpoints he would later put to use in the first attempts at a Japanese tea ceremony.

By the 13th century, during the Kamakura Shogunate, the use of matcha shifted from a strictly religious practice to one synonymous with warrior class traditions and symbols of luxury. This continued into the 16th century, where cha-no-yu (tea ceremony) came to be regarded as a status symbol and presented as an upper-class cultural value.

Tea made from leaves originating from Kyoto (around the area where Eisai first planted tea seeds) became highly prized. Uji producers were the first to invent the Tana, or shade device that created a roof of straw over the tea bushes to modify the amount of sunlight reaching the tea plants. The method allowed the farmers to cultivate the revered flavor profile that is Uji tea. So much so, that it was a decree from the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu that only the region of Uji could employ the shade-growing, straw-covering method. However, that isn’t to say that the principles of Zen were completely lost.

It was between the 1300s and 1500s when Japanese tea culture—and by proxy, the Japanese tea ceremony—became what we know it is today. Following the Muromachi Shogunate, matcha was seen as a more spiritual pursuit, one that went hand-in-hand with the pursuit of simplicity over extravagance.  Which brings us to the most profound influence on the practice of Chanoyu. 

Authentic Japanese Tea Ceremony with Mizuba Matcha Green Tea in Uji, Japan. Kyoto history

The fundamentals of what we consider the Japanese tea ceremony today can be credited to a monk named Murata Junko, but it was one of his students who fully defined the concept of Wabi-cha (the Japanese “Way of Tea”). That student was Sen-No-Rikyu.

Rikyu was so revered for his philosophy and preparation of tea, he became the personal tea master for Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the pre-eminent daimyo of the Sengoku period. Such a status was a bit ironic given his practice for austerity and simplicity when it came to tea. Alas, he met a tragic end in the spring of 1591. Although the reasons are uncertain, it is written that he offended Hideyoshi, and the only way to keep his honor was to commit seppuku (ritual suicide)An account of this was recorded in Okakura Kakuzō’s The Book of Tea, his final act was to throw an elaborate tea party with his closest friends. He, then, shattered his cup and took a knife to his body.

Yet his legacy, and that of the other practitioners before him, still live on. Both in the ceremony, and the ceremonial grade matcha that they helped perfect. It is a tradition that stresses remembering history while embracing the present, and not worrying about the future. After all, it is about the journey, not the end.

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