From Zen Monks to Modern Delights: Unraveling the History and Art of Making Matcha Green Tea
In the bustling world of teas, one variety stands out for its vibrant green hue, velvety texture, and unique preparation process – matcha green tea. This ancient Japanese beverage has a storied history that dates back centuries, rooted in Zen Buddhist traditions. Join us as we delve into the fascinating history of matcha and uncover the meticulous process behind making this delightful powdered tea.
The History of Matcha
The story of matcha begins in China during the Tang Dynasty (7th-10th century). Tea leaves were steamed and compressed into bricks, becoming a popular method of tea preparation and trade. Later, in the Song Dynasty (10th-13th century), tea leaves were ground into powdered form and whisked in hot water, laying the foundation for the matcha preparation we know today.
However, it was in Japan that matcha truly flourished. In the 9th century, Buddhist monk Eisai introduced the powdered tea to Japan, emphasizing its meditative qualities and potential health benefits. Over time, Zen Buddhist monks embraced matcha as a part of their rituals, using it to stay focused and alert during long hours of meditation. The practice of "chanoyu" or the "Way of Tea" emerged, formalizing the art of preparing and consuming matcha.
What is Matcha
Like all tea, matcha is made from the tea plant, Camellia Sinensis. Unlike traditional tea leaves, which are normally steeped in water and then discarded, with matcha, you are actually drinking the whole powdered tea leaves!
How is Matcha Made: The Art of Making Matcha Green Tea
- Shade-Grown Tea Leaves: The process begins several weeks before harvest when tea plants are shaded for three to four weeks from direct sunlight. This stimulates the production of chlorophyll, giving the leaves their vibrant green color and enhancing the amino acid L-theanine, which contributes to matcha's calming effects.
- Tea Leaves Selection: Only the finest and youngest tea leaves are selected for matcha production. Experienced farmers carefully evaluate these leaves to ensure their quality.
- Steaming and Drying: After harvesting, the leaves are promptly steamed to prevent oxidation. This step preserves the rich green color and nutrients in the leaves. Next, they are dried and sorted to become "tencha."
- Tencha Grinding: The dried tencha leaves are deveined and destemmed before being ground into an ultra-fine velvety powder using traditional stone mills. The grinding process is slow and precise to avoid overheating the leaves, which could compromise the quality and flavor of the matcha. Approximately 30 to 40 grams of matcha are stone-ground per hour!
Matcha green tea's journey from ancient China to modern-day tea cups is a testament to its enduring allure and cultural significance. With its rich history intertwined with Zen Buddhism and the artful preparation process, matcha continues to captivate tea enthusiasts worldwide.