History of Tea in Japan

And then tea came to Japan…

In the early 600s AD, tea was introduced to Japan through contact between Zen priests and Chinese Buddhist monks. The Japanese Zen priest, Saichō returned to Japan in 815 after many years spent in China. He brought with him compressed tea bricks and tea seeds, which he presented to the reigning Emperor Saga. Interest in tea remained guarded and centered solely around the court and its high-ranking officials for several centuries, until the Japanese Heian era of 794-1185.

During this time, the Japanese Samurai class rose to power, along with a flourishing of the arts and intellectual pursuits, tea drinking among them. The Zen priest, Myoan Eisai introduced Chinese tea seeds and bushes to the island of Kyushu, and they were then transported to the outskirts of modern day Kyoto, where some of Japan’s finest teas are produced to this day. After many subsequent visits to China and a deep immersion in the tea culture, Eisai wrote, Kissa Yōjōki, translated as, “Drinking Tea for Health,” lauding the medicinal and health benefits of the ancient beverage. Many other writers poetically connected tea to the changing seasons and landscape.

The ethereal character of tea was praised in Japanese poetry, elevating the drink to forms of beauty, high art and a pure experience of otherworldly peace and well-being, experienced in today’s ritual of the Japanese Tea Ceremony. By the sixteenth century this ultimate artistic “Way of Tea” became known as Chanoyu. It is a ritual that combines tranquility, mystery, discipline, beauty, respect, complete attention and harmony in its appreciation of the preparation of tea.

This famous tea ceremony defines the ultimate ritual in the preparation of food and beverage and is revered for its hypnotic manners and mystical entrancement. As a Buddhist priest stated, “The taste of Ch’an (Zen) and the taste of ch’a (tea) are the same.”

Matcha Green Tea

Cha-Typing-Right-350Powdered green matcha, has a long, storied history. Currently it is enjoying rave status for its healthful properties and unique, vegetal taste. Matcha lattes, matcha energy drinks and other concoctions abound.

Tea first arrived in Japan with Buddhist monks from the Jin Shan area of China in the 800s, but it took until the 1100s for the cultivation and consumption of tea to gain a firm hold on the Japanese nation.

Initially, tea was powdered following the Chinese fashion of that time. It quickly became codified as a ceremonial beverage for the Imperial Court at Kyoto, Japanese monasteries and the noble warrior class, the samurai.

By the 1550s, Japanese tea master Sen Rikyu so ritualized the use of matcha that it became the basis for the time-honored Chado, “the Way of Tea.”dreamstime_m_13372969

It wasn’t until the mid-seventeenth century that other forms of tea emerged in Japan to satisfy the popular demand for a quicker method of steeping tea. With the advent of this innovative rolled Sencha method, finely powdered matcha became firmly associated with the exquisite Japanese tea ceremony.

Today the focus on matcha has shifted from the tea house to include everyday uses for this intensely vegetal tea with its high levels of chlorophyll, amino acids and other beneficial compounds. Recipes are plentiful for matcha lattes, matcha ice cream, even matcha banana bread. Its powdered form makes it easy to add to almost any dish.

Whether you drink matcha in its purest form or add it to baked goods, ice cream, or iced tea, you are in for a delightful, healthful treat.

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