Green tea is becoming popular in the UK and I have started seeing matcha on the menu in cafes. Although it is very hard to find a place where proper Matcha is served, I am happy that I can now drink it in London. While I love matcha, I know nothing about its history, so I’ve been looking into how it came about.
All types of tea (black, oolong and green) come from the same kind of plant. Black tea is fermented, oolong tea is half fermented and green tea is un-fermented. The first tea that came from China to Japan was half fermented tea. It is said to have been brought to Japan for the first time by a man named Eisai 栄西, a Zen monk who introduced Zen to Japan. He also brought with him seeds of tea when he returned from his study in China and planted the seeds in Kyushu region 九州. It is said that these seeds were the origin of Uji tea 宇治茶. Eisai introduced tea drinking as part of Zen courtesy.
The medicinal effect of the tea was emphasized back in the Kamakura Period 鎌倉時代 (1185-1333). Eisai served green tea to the third general Sanetomo Minamoto 源実朝 one morning when Sanetomo was suffering from a severe hangover. He also handed him his book about the process of tea making and the benefit of drinking tea. From that moment on, the drinking of tea spread throughout Samurai classes.
Tea ceremonies became entertainment for the upper-rank intellectual in the Muromachi Period 室町時代 (1336-1573). A monk named Jukou Murata 村田珠光 later founded ‘Wabi-cha’ わび茶 (a style of Japanese tea ceremony emphasizes simplicity) and brought the tea ceremony back to the simplicity and frugality of the Zen style as opposed to the luxurious party events of upper-ranking intellectuals. Sen-no-Rikyu 千利休 perfected the Wabi-cha, the Japanese way of the ‘tea ceremony’. He rebuilt the union of tea and Zen and reflected the aesthetic sense of the tea room, garden, flower arrangement and pottery. The tea ceremony became an essential courtesy of Samurai in the Edo Period 江戸時代 (1603-1868). Indeed, Sado 茶道 and Kado 花道 (flower arrangement) became a part of an educational program for women in the Meiji Period 明治時代 (1868-1912).
The original purpose of the tea ceremony was to look at the essence of entertaining people and deepening the spiritual bonding of the host and their guests. Aiming at creating a sense of unity between the guest and host with the tools for making tea, the hanging scroll and flower arrangement, time that passes as a tea ceremony proceeds is regarded as art itself.
The tea ceremony, then, is the ultimate Japanese mindfulness activity. Whenever I drink matcha from now on, I will remember all the history behind it.