It seems like matcha is everywhere nowadays, but where did matcha originate? This is a question we get asked often, and in this blog article, we're going to attempt to answer it!
We'll take a deep dive into the history of matcha and how it made its way from the temples to tea shops all around the world.
Where Did Matcha Originate in China?
So before asking where did matcha originate in Japan, we first need to ask where did matcha originate in China. Matcha can trace its roots back to the Tang Dynasty 600-900AD. Tea was originally consumed in Southern China where it was pressed into cakes in order to be transported easier.
Some would break off pieces of this dried leaf cake, grind it into a powder and mix it directly into water. This powdered tea was likely very bitter compared to the matcha we know today, but it can still be considered a precursor to the world famous beverage.
If you want to learn more about matcha and it's history, we suggest you read our full matcha encyclopedia 👉 What is Matcha? The one and only Matcha-Encyclopedia
Where Did Matcha Originate In Japan?
Now that we’ve answered where did matcha originate in China, let’s talk about the Japanese side of the equation. As far back as the 8th century, we have records of powdered tea being consumed in Japan.
The full history of Japanese green tea is as complicated as it is fascinating, and if you'd like to learn more about it, we recommend you read this article 👉 History of green tea in Japan
The Temples of Nara
During this time period, the capital of Japan was in Nara, the nations first permanent capital. The monks that worshipped in the temples of Nara would frequently travel to China to learn about buddhism from the Chinese monks.
In addition to bringing back knowledge, they also brought back physical goods like tea, that could actually improve their focus and concentration during long periods of meditation.
Again, the powdered tea of this time was likely very bitter, so if we truly want to know where did matcha originate, we need to go forward a few hundred years or so.
The First Cultivation of Japanese green tea
Although tea was being consumed in Japan, it technically couldn’t be considered Japanese tea yet. It was produced in China and brought over to Japan by the monks who studied there. So if we want to know where did matcha originate we have to the grounds of Kozanji temple, just north of Kyoto.
The First Tea Plantation
If you’re wondering where did matcha originate, the short answer is in Kyoto. It was here, at the grounds of Kozanji temple that the monk Eisai planted some the first tea seeds on Japanese soil. These seeds soon grew a crop of tea plants that could be turned into Japanese green tea for the monks that worshipped here.
Nowadays, Kyoto is just one of many growing regions for Japanese green tea. If you want to learn about the others, we suggest you read 👉 Where Does Japanese Tea Grow?
The Introduction of Matcha
Matcha is technically the oldest type of tea native to Japan. This is because the consumption of powdered tea predated loose leaf by hundreds of years. It began as a drink only consumed by the monks for meditation, but soon reached every strata of Japanese society.
Many began to take note of the health benefits of this drink after the book Kissa Yojoki was written by Eisai in 1211. This was the oldest book on tea in Japan, and kicked off an explosion of interest in the field of green tea.
Matcha Becomes a Status Symbol
Between the period of 1211AD to the 1500s, matcha was primarily consumed by the upper classes.
During the turbulent Sengoku period, different warring factions within Japan would compete not only for territory and wealth, but also for prestige.
Tea ceremonies took place during this time, but it was mostly an excuse for the wealthy and powerful to showcase their expensive tea and teaware.
Matcha in The Tea Ceremony
To find the answer to the question where did matcha originate, we have to talk about the modern Japanese tea ceremony. During the Sengoku period, a man known as Sen no Rikyu came along with a more humble vision of what the tea ceremony could be.
Instead of opulent palaces and fancy teaware, he opted for a more rustic approach - a single, modestly decorated room inside which all were equal. The purpose of this tea ceremony was to foster a strong bond between the host and their guest, and make tea accesible to all people.
If you're curious about the Japanese tea ceremony, you may find this guide helpful Japanese tea ceremony: Description, History, & Facts
Where Did Matcha Originate in the Modern Day
Sen no Rikyu's tea ceremony matcha famous all around Japan, but it was still not finished yet. It underwent a lot of change over the next few hundred years to turn it into the delicious beverage we know today.
Farmers began experimenting with shading and harvesting techniques and the industrialization of the late 20th century made the tea more affordable and easier to export. Soon, people all around the world began to take notice of matcha and celebrate it for it's unique vegetal and savory flavor.
Where Did Matcha Originate - Final Verdict
So finally, where did matcha originate? The short answer is Japan, but in reality it is far more complicate than that. Matcha had to go through a lot of different stages to become the world renowned beverage it is today.
The matcha we consume today is likely the best its been in history, thanks to innovations in the growing, harvesting and processing of the tea. If you'd like to try some for yourself, we encourage you to browse our assortment of teas and order some for your collection!