Preserving Health through History’s Favorite Tradition: Pt. 1
Matcha might be the newest addition to the Starbucks line-up, but the growing popularity doesn’t mean you’re getting the real deal. In fact, quite the opposite — only a fraction of the producers of this fine tea remain active in Japan, as the majority have turned to the mass-exported, lower qualities — casting aside much of the past 1,000 years of precise cultivation and harvesting knowledge.
More worrisome is that only a select group of elite tea farms remain in Uji, matcha’s birthplace in Japan.
Fears of a Lost History
If you’re already familiar with matcha, then you’d know how valuable it has been to the Japanese culture since its first origins around 1100AD. It was at this time that it was adopted, and quite literally cultivated by Zen Buddhism.
Specifically, the Buddhist monk Eisai is considered the source behind the world of matcha we know today. His knowledge of green tea’s health benefits was in compliment to his responsibility in also bringing the Rinzai school of meditation to Japan; together, these influences have permanently changed the cultural, and even the geographical landscape.
In the millennium since, matcha tea became a pathway between zen mind and ritual ceremony, an ultimate foundation behind the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony which is still practiced during special events in Japan. Particularly in the past century, matcha has also become a lifestyle blended of less-formal and even casual, quick-paced, and daily tea drinking.
It’s consumed in Japan as a daily fuel, similar to coffee in America, and is also an important offering of hospitality to guests, friends and family.
Beyond cultural appreciation, the growing body of reported health benefits means that matcha has both maintained its ancient roots and aided in Japan’s globally-renowned health and longevity; some, as far to credit matcha with the impressive centenarian population.
Bringer of Good Health
As a resource of culture, history, and good health originally exclusive to Japan, today matcha is sipped throughout the day across a growing global audience. In reflection of its mindful roots, it has left Japan as a perfect means of sharing with one another, invigorating mood, and warding off malaise.
Yet, today more tea farms in Japan are shying away from the traditional, costly agricultural practices, and the Camellia sinensis plant is quickly losing its luster. In its place, those lower qualities which are marketed unknowingly as traditional, and most often, incorrectly as ‘ceremonial grade.’
Why Traditional Harvest Matters
It wasn’t long after matcha was first brought to Japan that tea farms began springing from the rolling hills. Soon the area surrounding Uji, just outside of Kyoto, was found as the ideal mix of climate and geography. Thus, given matcha’s favorable effects on energy and health, and coupled with its central role in tea ceremony, tea farmers were able to shift focus on unique ways to improve.
Matcha growers in this area developed recognition for achieving greater flavor, yield, and composition. They developed curated fertilizers for each stage of growth, and are also credited for the employment of the sophisticated shading technique, all which are still used today.
The Bottom Line
Unfortunately, in Japan less than 60 tea farms today remain which adhere to these traditional practices. More alarming, everyday the few that still specialize in ‘real matcha’ are closer in losing against the massive demand of lower qualities. Typically lower qualities, or 'culinary matcha' is reserved for baking, but now is popular in sugary lattes and other forms, disguised as the real deal.
In the next installment, we’ll learn more about what separates those few remaining ‘real matcha’ tea farms. That includes how the health benefits differ between real ceremonial grade matcha compared to the lower qualities. More importantly, we’ll explore how we can work together to ensure the rich history of matcha is kept alive
For now, rest assured that all of our matcha is the product of one of Uji’s finest tea farms, one which has not lost sight of quality or its ancient history.