Matcha Origins: The Rich History of Matcha Tea

Matcha Origins: The Rich History of Matcha Tea

The history of matcha starts in ancient China, where it was originally consumed as a medicinal drink during the Tang Dynasty. This green tea powder later made its way to Japan, becoming central to Zen Buddhism and the Japanese tea ceremony. As we explore the history of matcha, we’ll uncover its transformation from a healing elixir to a cultural icon and modern-day superfood.

Key Takeaways

  • Matcha originated in China’s Tang Dynasty as a medicinal drink and evolved over centuries, with influential cultivation and preparation methods emerging during the Song Dynasty.

  • Matcha was introduced to Japan by the Buddhist monk Eisai, where it became intertwined with Zen Buddhism and the cultural practices of the samurai, leading to its significance in Japanese tea ceremonies.

  • In recent times, matcha has experienced a resurgence due to its health benefits, including high antioxidant content, metabolism boosting properties, and various grades suited to different culinary applications.

The Rich History of Matcha Tea

Long before matcha became a modern-day superfood, it began its life as a revered medicinal drink during China’s Tang Dynasty. It’s here, between the 7th and 10th centuries, that the foundations of matcha tea were laid – green tea leaves were steamed, formed into bricks for storage and trade, and later ground into a fine powder, known as powdered green tea, to be whisked with hot water. This early method of making powdered tea was a precursor to the traditional green tea we know today, and it marked the beginning of a rich tradition that would thrive long after the Tang Dynasty’s decline.

As centuries passed, tea transitioned from a medicinal elixir to a daily pleasure among the Chinese populace, with the first detailed accounts of tea cultivation and preparation appearing in literature around 350 CE. The practice of whipping tea powder with hot water became widespread during the Song Dynasty, laying the groundwork for the ceremonial aspects of tea drinking that would later be integral to the Japanese tea ceremony.


The tale of matcha is steeped in history, its leaves whispering secrets of a bygone era where tea was not merely a drink but a symbol of status, art, and spirituality. Matcha’s journey is one of transformation, from the steaming cups of ancient Chinese healers to the polished bowls of Japanese Zen monks. With each step, the narrative of matcha is enriched, evolving into a cultural phenomenon that transcends its humble beginnings as a medicinal beverage.

As we unfurl the story of matcha, we’ll trace its path from the high mountains of China to the serene temples of Japan, where it becomes entwined with the very fabric of Japanese culture. It is a journey marked by the hands of time, the influence of great minds, and the relentless pursuit of perfection in tea cultivation and preparation.

Ancient Roots: Matcha's Origin in China

Dive into the ancient roots of matcha tea, where in China, it began as a medicinal drink known for its healing properties. As the leaves of the green tea plant unfurled, tea found its way into the daily lives of the Chinese, evolving into a ritual that both nourished the body and stimulated the mind. It was during the Tang Dynasty that the art of green tea cultivation flourished, setting the stage for matcha’s emergence as a distinct form of green tea powder.

By the time of the Song Dynasty, the practice of whisking powdered tea with hot water had become a popular method of tea preparation. This technique, developed centuries before the Japanese tea ceremony, is the direct ancestor of the matcha preparation we cherish today. The powdered form of matcha, celebrated for its refined taste and versatility, was a testament to the innovation and appreciation of tea that characterized this period.

The Journey to Japan: From Seeds to Tradition

The seeds of matcha, both literal and figurative, found their way to Japan through the hands of traveling monks and scholars. It was the Japanese Buddhist monk Eisai who, upon returning from his studies in China, introduced the matcha green tea seeds to Japan. Eisai’s encounter with matcha during his travels had a profound impact on his meditation practice, compelling him to bring this treasure back to his homeland.

In the serene landscape of Japan, the cultivation of matcha took root, nurtured by the discipline and devotion of Zen monks. Matcha was not merely a beverage but a ritual, a symbol of the harmony and precision that are the hallmarks of the Japanese spirit. As the tea plants grew, so too did the significance of matcha in the fabric of Japanese culture, intertwining with the values of the samurai and the aesthetics of the tea ceremony.

Matcha and Zen Buddhism: A Spiritual Connection

The bond between matcha and Zen Buddhism is as profound as it is ancient. Zen monks, recognizing the tea’s ability to enhance focus and alertness, incorporated matcha into their meditation practices. The act of preparing and drinking matcha became a form of mindfulness, a way to achieve a heightened state of clarity and tranquility.

In the Zen philosophy, the matcha tea ceremony is a celebration of the beauty found in simplicity and the ephemeral nature of life. Matcha, with its vibrant green tea powder derived from the tea plant, sits at the heart of this ceremony, symbolizing the purity and presence required to fully appreciate each moment.

Samurai and Matcha: The Warrior’s Drink

The samurai, Japan’s storied warrior class, embraced matcha tea as part of their rigorous discipline and code of conduct. The tea ceremony, with its intricate preparation and deliberate movements, became a means for the samurai to cultivate mental fortitude and a heightened sense of awareness – qualities essential for the battlefield.

These gatherings over tea were more than social occasions; they were exercises in diplomacy and demonstrations of cultural refinement. The samurai adopted the austere values of ‘wabi,’ which emphasized simplicity and inner richness, finding in the act of brewing matcha a reflection of their own principles.

The Golden Age of Matcha: Cultural Flourishing

Matcha latte

The 16th century heralded the golden age of matcha, a time when the tea ceremony was elevated to an art form by the visionary Zen monk Sen no Rikyū. Rikyū’s aesthetic of wabi-cha, with its focus on rustic simplicity and genuine hospitality, became the cornerstone of the tea ceremony, influencing its practice to this day. His tea ceremonies were intimate and profound, often featuring koi-cha, a thick and potent variant of matcha that heightened the sensory experience.

Rikyū’s innovations, such as the nijiriguchi and the understated elegance of his teahouses, reflected a philosophy that transcended the mere act of drinking tea. By serving influential figures like Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Rikyū secured the tea ceremony’s place in the cultural and political landscape of Japan, with matcha as its crowning glory.

Decline and Modern Resurgence

As the Edo period unfolded, the allure of matcha began to wane among the Japanese commoners, who developed a preference for the more accessible sencha. Matcha’s association with the elite, once its hallmark, now became a barrier, confining its ritualistic consumption to the upper echelons of society. However, the tide would turn once more for matcha in the late 20th century, as a burgeoning global interest in health and wellness brought this ancient tea back into the limelight.

Recognized for its health benefits, matcha experienced a resurgence, capturing the imagination of a new generation eager to embrace tradition while seeking out natural remedies for modern ailments. The resulting green wave has seen matcha spread far beyond its traditional roots, becoming a staple in cafes and homes around the world.

Encha Matcha: Continuing the Tradition

ceremonial matcha tea

In the realm of modern matcha, Encha Matcha stands as a testament to the deep respect for tradition coupled with a commitment to quality and sustainability. By adhering to time-honored Japanese methods of tea cultivation and processing, Encha Matcha ensures that its products are a true reflection of the tea’s historical significance.

With certifications like USDA Organic and Kosher, Encha Matcha’s dedication to organic production is unwavering, promising consumers a product free from synthetic chemicals. The attention to detail in achieving a fine powder texture allows for a smooth, clump-free matcha that honors the traditional preparation methods while catering to contemporary tastes.


Matcha Grades and Their Uses

Matcha tea’s versatility is showcased in its various grades, each suited to different culinary applications. The different grades of matcha tea include:

  1. Ceremonial grade: Derived from the first spring harvest and known for its delicate flavor, perfect for the traditional tea ceremony.

  2. Premium grade: Has a bolder taste and is often enjoyed as a daily drink.

  3. Culinary grade: Has a stronger flavor and is commonly used in cooking and baking.

Each grade offers a unique taste and can be used in different ways depending on your preference and culinary needs.

The array of matcha grades extends to those tailored for culinary creations, such as café grade for lattes and smoothies, and kitchen grade for baking, where its robust flavor can stand up to other ingredients. Such diversity ensures that matcha’s unique taste can be appreciated in a multitude of ways, from the ritualistic to the innovative.

Health Benefits of Matcha Green Tea

Matcha’s contemporary appeal is bolstered by its array of health benefits, a vibrant tapestry of wellness woven from its bright green leaves. Among green teas, matcha is abundant in catechins, powerful antioxidants that combat free radicals and may reduce the risk of chronic diseases. In comparison to other green teas, Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), in particular, stands out for its potential in cancer prevention. Some of the health benefits of matcha include:

  • High in antioxidants

  • Boosts metabolism and burns calories

  • Detoxifies the body

  • Calms the mind and relaxes the body

  • Enhances mood and aids in concentration

  • Provides vitamin C, selenium, chromium, zinc, and magnesium

The energy-boosting caffeine content of matcha, coupled with its L-theanine, offers a balanced lift in alertness without the jitteriness often associated with coffee. Studies suggest matcha can bolster brain function, protect liver health, and even aid in weight loss by enhancing metabolism. It’s these therapeutic benefits that contribute to matcha’s revered status in the realm of health and wellness.


From ancient medicinal roots to a symbol of cultural refinement and a modern health elixir, the journey of matcha tea is as rich and layered as its flavor. We’ve traced the path of matcha from the rolling hills of China to the ceremonial tea rooms of Japan, and into the cups of a global audience. Its history is a testament to the timeless allure of this vibrant green powder, embodying centuries of tradition, artistry, and mindfulness.

As we savor the last drops of this narrative, we are reminded that matcha is more than just a tea; it is a bridge connecting us to the past, a source of tranquility in the present, and a beacon of health for the future. May the spirit of matcha continue to inspire and invigorate us, just as it has for generations before.


Encha matcha

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the origin of matcha tea?

Matcha tea originated in China during the Tang Dynasty as a medicinal beverage and was popularized during the Song Dynasty when the method of making powdered tea was developed.

How did matcha tea become part of Japanese culture?

Matcha tea became part of Japanese culture when Buddhist monks brought it to Japan for meditation, after which it was embraced by the samurai class and became an essential element of the Japanese tea ceremony.

What does the Japanese tea ceremony represent?

The Japanese tea ceremony represents simplicity, mindfulness, and the transient beauty of life, influenced by Zen Buddhism and centered around matcha tea.

What are the different grades of matcha, and how are they used?

Matcha comes in various grades, including ceremonial and kitchen grade. Ceremonial grade is used in traditional tea ceremonies, while kitchen grade is ideal for baking and cooking due to its stronger flavor.

What are the health benefits of matcha tea?

Matcha tea offers numerous health benefits, including reducing the risk of chronic diseases and cancer, boosting brain function, promoting liver health, and aiding in weight loss.

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