A few months before my wife and I were due to visit Japan we decided to go to a Japanese restaurant in London. Back then there weren’t as many places serving Japanese food and so we found what turned out to be a very traditional establishment where the waitresses wore kimonos, and we sat very low at a table in a partitioned area partially surrounded by papers sliding walls. It was here that we first tried Matcha. It was served at the end of the meal as a digestive and palate cleanser. It came in large bowls which we were instructed to rotate 45 degrees before raising them to our lips and drinking in three gulps.
It was quite unlike any tea I’d had, even though I had drunk green tea now and again, but found that after the meal, which in itself introduced me to brand new flavours, completed the experience and left me feeling extremely refreshed.
The history of Matcha stretches far back in time. Green tea originated in China where the leaves were steamed, dried and made into cakes.
Small pieces would be shaved off and ground to a powder for infusing in hot water. The first record of green tea in Japan is from the start of the 9th century when two monks brought seeds from China and planted them in 805AD. It was not until 1191, that a monk named Eisai, a certified practitioner of Zen Buddhism, brought with him from China the seeds and process of making powdered green tea. Seeds were planted in Kyoto and for many years the drink held a significant value as both a religious and prestigious symbol of luxury.
In the 14th and 16th centuries, the Japanese tea ceremony was slowly developed, whereby Matcha became the focal point of the pursuit of simplicity over extravagance. During the ceremony, the positioning of the tea-making equipment, the arrangement of the surroundings, the clothing of the performer, and all the choreographed movements harmoniously combine.