While Matcha is currently known to many as a Japanese staple, its roots stem from Japan’s neighbor, the Chinese. Before entering into the land of the rising sun, Matcha was mainly grown and produced in southern China. It was usually consumed by emperors, who used it for medicinal purposes. It was on a trip in China that the Zen Buddhist monk, Myoan Eisai, first stumbled upon Matcha in the 9th century. Eisai was traveling there to further expand his knowledge on Zen Buddhism, which focuses heavily on meditative practices and the importance of the mind and its health.
To live a Zen lifestyle is to always be living in the moment, and Eisai saw these qualities reflected in the Chinese tea ceremony and tea-drinking of Matcha in general. Meditation requires total mental energy and focus. Since Matcha is a natural source of caffeine, Eisai noticed that it also helped with long meditation practices because it kept monks awake and from losing focus. He also associated Matcha with longevity because of its many health benefits.
As a Zen master, Eisai was constantly on the lookout for new meditative practices that would bring one closer to attaining spiritual enlightenment. Meditation can range from differences in physical positions or mental focus. For example, one can engage in sitting or standing meditation and remain focused by concentrating on the breath or repeating mantras. Eisai turned Matcha into its own form of meditation. By concentrating on every aspect of Matcha, from the preparation to serving and how it is consumed, the Japanese tea ceremony became a form of meditation and cultural practice. Impressed by Matcha’s medicinal and qualities and health benefits, Eisai brought Matcha seedlings back with him to Japan, where he founded the Rinzai sect of Buddhism[i].
Confucian ideals believe that practicing an art was also a way of training, and the Japanese tea ceremony falls into that category. In order to truly learn and perform the Japanese tea ceremony requires years of practice and discipline. Eisai spent a majority of the rest of his life writing and researching about Matcha and Zen Buddhism. His book, Kissa Yokoji or “The Way of Tea”, is a culmination of his findings which discusses all aspects of growing Matcha, how to prepare the tea and its medicinal benefits. He preached, “Tea is an elixir for the maintenance of life[ii].”
Kissa Yokoji was written as a book for medicinal remedies. Eisai believed that the five main organs of the body correlated to Buddhist symbols. The most notable being the mandala, which represents the heart. He wrote that since the human does not like bitter flavors, it is all other flavors such as sweet, salty, and savory, that make us ill. Therefore, it is bitter flavors that make us well again[iii]n. At the time, Matcha was the most bitter of all teas, so if one drank Matcha, then a healthy and long life was in their future.
Matcha’s influence spread like fire among Zen monasteries, and its popularity quickly grew among those who tasted it and felt its health benefits. Both the Chinese and Japanese heavily relied on tea in general for its medicinal purposes, and Matcha quickly rose to the top of the list because of the way its leaves were consumed whole, rather than steeped. Another perk to the energy that Matcha provided was the fact that the boost was long lasting and there were no crash-like repercussions that usually accompany stimulants.
Japan and its traditions relies heavily on aesthetic art forms such as flower arranging and calligraphy, so it was no surprise that the tea ceremony soon became a part of that family. At first, Matcha was enjoyed by the Zen monks and wealthy men who frequented tea parlors for visits, however as years passed the tea ceremony became more developed and refined. It wasn’t until later in the 16th century that Sen no Rikyu, the emperor’s tea master at the time, reformed and ritualized the tea ceremony, and is the exact ceremony that you can see being performed today.
Rikyu placed his emphasis on tea’s simplicity. He thought that the tea ceremony developed up until this point in time had become too frivolous and took away from the actual tea itself. In one of his poems, he states, “the tea ceremony is nothing more than boiling water, making tea, and drinking it.” Rikyu’s focus on just the action of making tea also revitalized the Zen Buddhist teachings that came hand in hand with Matcha. He emphasized a tranquil atmosphere with simple decorations. The overall goal was to achieve an air of naturalness and calmness.
In the same way that Eisai wished to revitalize Zen Buddhism in Japan, he was able to breathe life into the beginning of what would become a traditional Japanese staple. It is no wonder that Matcha’s popularity blossomed throughout history. Not only can Matcha’s healing qualities keep you in good health, but also it has the ability to strengthen and elongate one’s life and mental energy. With its artistic and spiritual aesthetics and medicinal value, Matcha is a triple threat among the vast varieties of teas.
MetaMatcha was founded on the principles laid forth by Eisai, dedicated to connecting people to their best selves and promoting mainstream adoption and societal well being through the consumption of Matcha.
[i] “CHANOYU: THE JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY.” India International Centre Quarterly 3, no. 2 (1976): 159-61. http://www.jstor.org.duproxy.palni.edu/stable/23001948.
[ii] Kondo, Dorinne. “The Way of Tea: A Symbolic Analysis.” Man, New Series, 20, no. 2 (1985): 287-306. doi:10.2307/2802386.
[iii] Anderson, Jennifer L. “Japanese Tea Ritual: Religion in Practice.” Man, New Series, 22, no. 3 (1987): 475-98. doi:10.2307/2802501.