Matcha is, to many, Japan’s signature tea. It’s tea ceremony tea and green tea ice cream tea, cooked into food in huge amounts or the center or placed at the

Matcha Kaze

Matcha Kaze

center of elaborate ceremony. The tea house sells five different kinds of matcha! We’re enthusiastic about breadth of selection, but this is a subtype of a subtype of green tea, and we don’t even have that many different Ah Li Shan oolongs. Matcha’s special stuff.

A Brief History of Matcha

At first all teas were powdered. It wasn’t until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that steeping whole tea leaves became popular. Tea first showed up in Japan as early as the sixth century, and its popularity surged when it was promoted by the monk Eisai, who brought Zen Buddhism, some tea seeds, and a serious respect for tea to Japan in 1191. The Zen Buddhism isn’t a side note; steeped tea totally replaced powdered in China, and might have done so in Japan as well, except that Zen Buddhism had by that time solidly taken root, and powdered tea had become something of a ritual for the monks. So matcha stayed, a throwback to an ancient evolutionary stage of tea, like a coelacanth or something. Except tastier. I  bet coelacanths are pretty fishy tasting.

The Tea Ceremony

Matcha Miyabi

Matcha Miyabi

The tea ceremony was developed during the Warring States period (somewhere in the 14th or 15th century – 1600), when Japan had dissolved into many little states that were constantly at war. The peaceful, elegant tea ceremony is a poignant contrast to the political situation, especially since political negotiations were often done during tea ceremonies. The tea ceremony is a complicated procedure, centered around tea and pastries, and formalized with many rituals of cleansing and polite respect. The idea is to develop an artistic, meditative atmosphere, like the parts of Kurosawa films without people bleeding all over the scenery. This requires very good tea.

The Tea Itself

Matcha starts with the tea plants, which are shaded for a few weeks before harvest, like gyokuro. Unlike gyokuro, the leaves are dried in a way that allows them to crumble a little. The veins and stems are then picked out, and the remaining leaf is ground up even more finely, resulting in the vivid green powder which is matcha. This powder is placed in a bowl called a chawan, and water is mixed in with a whisk called a chasen, so that it’s sort of frothy. Then you drink up your matcha before too much powder settles out. It’s delicious, and very good for you! Try not to slurp, though, that’s not meditative.

Elizabeth, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff