What is Matcha?
The history of Matcha (抹茶) in Japan is said to commence in the 12th Century, when Zen monk Eisai (栄西) (1141-1215) brought tea seeds he had gathered on a study trip to China. In the 8-9th Century however, Buddhist Monks Saichō (最澄) (767-822) and Kūkai (空海) (774-835) had already brought tea seeds from China.
But at that time tea was processed into compressed cubical bricks or cakes, and it was not until the following century that a powdered kind of tea, resembling what we nowadays perceive as matcha, became the standard. This powdered form of tea was commonly used at Chinese monasteries, and was revered for its vitalizing and healing benefits.
In 1191, Eisai, a Japanese Buddhist Monk, spent the better part of his life studying Buddhism in China 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.
In due course, he discovered that the fertility of the soil, and the morning dew forming on the tea leaf as a result from the neighboring Kiyotaki river (in Kyoto), were excellent conditions for the cultivation of tea. It is from this point forward that the consumption of tea, mainly in a powdered form, became more widely spread throughout the country, initially for use in Buddhist monasteries, and later also by the military elite.
With a growing demand for tea, it became necessary to expand the area of tea cultivation, and the third shogun of the Ashikaga Shogunate, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (足利義満) (1358-1408), who allowed more tea gardens to be opened in the Kyoto, Uji area. At first the tea produced in Uji was qualitatively lower, but soon manufacturers discovered that in Toganoō, the surrounding forest had been naturally shading the tea gardens.
In response, the Uji producers developed an artificial method allowing them too to achieve similar results without having to relocate their farms. By building a wooden structure over the tea bushes, and creating a roof of straw, they could easily adjust and modify the amount of sunlight that was allowed to reach the tea bushes.
This method soon rendered the tea produced in Uji the most favored tea in the country, and in succession, it was by a decree from the shogun directly that the Uji region was the only production area in Japan allowed to employ this straw-covering method.
Matcha tea leaves are shielded from sunlight 20-30 days before harvest.
The shade triggers an increase in chlorophyll and L-theanine characterised by its dark green colour.
The leaves are then stone-grounded into fine tea powder known as Matcha.
In summary, our Matcha is not your regular green tea powder.
In the next post, we will talk about where and why our Matcha is the artisanal choice for you.