We like many kinds of tea: delicate white tea from China, complex oolong from Taiwan, black Darjeeling, and robust, earthy Pu-erh. But our beverage of choice remains quality Japanese green tea. Not only are we drawn to its appealing color and flavor, drinking it brings to mind people and places we know and love in Japan.
That is even more true of matcha, the most special green tea of all. Special because of its history, its honored place in traditional Japanese culture, the effort involved in making it, the limited quantity produced, and its market value. Powdered green tea was first made in China where it was used ritually by early Zen Buddhists. When it came to Japan with Zen Buddhism more than 800 years ago, monks drank it to help stay awake during long hours of sitting meditation. Between the 14th and 16th centuries, wealthy Japanese came to appreciate matcha as a luxury, and it became a status symbol among the samurai class. The tea ceremony developed around this time as a spiritual and aesthetic practice. Persons of all social ranks could gather as equals in small tea houses where hosts prepared and served bowls of matcha ritually and guests drank them in quiet contemplation.
Ever since, matcha has held an esteemed place in the culture of Japan. It is served to visitors at sacred sites and to honored guests on special occasions. And, of course, it continues to be the centerpiece of the modern, simplified tea ceremony, now practiced mainly by women. Increasingly, however, Japanese drink matcha just because they like it, and they have come to like it in new ways — as an iced drink, in lattés, and in sweet snacks. And for the first time, people in the West are getting to know and appreciate matcha; in fact, its popularity is skyrocketing in parts of North America and Europe.
In whatever way you use matcha, it will be special, as long you have matcha of good quality that is fresh — colorful, aromatic, and flavorful. We cannot drink it without being aware of its rich history and significance in the culture, aesthetics, and spirituality of Japan. Once you get to know it, we are sure that you will feel that too.