It is said that green tea was first introduced to Japan in the 8th century by a monk named Saisho. He brought back tea seeds from China, where he was studying Buddhism. During meditation, the tea was used by the monks to help keep them awake. In the 12th century, Eisai, a monk who had also been studying Buddhism in China, began to popularize tea in Japan. Eisai instructed that the tea should be consumed for its healthful properties. While in China, the monks had learned to prepare tea during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) by grinding it into a powder, then mashing it in a bowl before brewing it. Eventually, the Chinese stopped preparing tea in this way and the custom was appropriated by the Japanese and integrated into the tradition known as chanoyu.
In the 16th century, Sen No Rikyu codified the tea ceremony (chanoyu). From 1641-1853, about 200 years, Japan was isolated from the rest of the world. During this time, China was supplying many countries with tea while Japan was developing its own ways of processing and brewing it. Matcha was mainly used in the Japanese tea ceremony and it has now become a very popular tea due to its health benefits. Japanese researchers had studied the tea in the 1920s, proving that it contained catechins and antioxidants. More recently, numerous studies have been ongoing to uncover the health benefits of tea, particularly matcha green tea. Green tea has remained the most popular in Japan and although there may be some black teas produced domestically in Japan, the green teas are mainly the types associated with Japan. Tea trees in Japan are often covered with canopies to shade the leaves in order to help them produce higher levels of chlorophyll and amino acids, and fewer tannins. Primarily these shaded plants produce premium gyokuro, tencha and matcha. To process matcha green tea, the leaves are picked, cut into tencha and ground into a fine powder after being steamed. The result is an emerald green tea leaf that brews a brightly colored, almost fluorescent green liquor. To brew the matcha green tea, the powder is placed into a traditional Chawan or appropriate bowl, 175 degree Fahrenheit water is placed on top of the powder (just enough to cover it) and the tea is vigorously whisked with a chasen (bamboo tea whisk) to create a thick frothy, bright green liquid. At Sip Tea Lounge, we have adopted our own version of serving this healthy brew. The tea is whisked and prepared in a bowl similar to a chawan, but made for our tea lounge. Additionally, we have added matcha tea to some of our vegan sweet treats including our Vegan Matcha Bites. These can be a welcome tasty treat for anyone who would like to get a small taste of matcha, but is not ready to try the traditional Matcha Bowl by itself. First time matcha tea drinkers may find straight matcha to be slightly bitter. To balance out this bitterness, it is always nice to enjoy something sweet with the tea.