Ritual Hype: Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremonies and Matcha
Almost everyone has heard about Matcha, but what is it exactly that makes this particular green tea so different? The practice of the tea ceremony and the history that encompasses its usage is what really makes it stand out from the pack.
The Japanese tea ceremony, also known as the “Way of Tea,” has been around for hundreds of years. In the early Kamakura Period (1185-1333), Eisai, the founder of Rinzai denomination of Zen Buddhism, introduced tea drinking culture into Japan after he returned from a visit to China. He wrote the first specialized book about tea in Japan, Kissa-Yojoki (Drink Tea and Prolong Life, A Note on Drinking Green Tea for Good Health), and in 1214 he sent this book together with the tea itself to the Shogun who had a habit of heavy drinking. Matcha was introduced into Japan at this time, originally as a medicine.
In the late Kamakura Period, Tocha - a tea competition in which participants guess the type - became popular and the tea ceremony became common among Samurai class. From the late 15th century to the late 16th century, tea masters such as Murata Shuko, Takeno Joo and Sen no Rikyu developed a new tea ceremony, referred to as Wabicha. This style of tea ceremony gained a strong following among Samurai and is the origin of the tea ceremony practiced today. After the tea ceremony was integrated into Japanese culture, three schools of tea were founded: Urasenke, Omotesenke, and Mushanokoujisenke. Each school has different customs of preparations and unique equipment used for the tea ceremony.
The ceremony can also be practiced in several different ways. From the celebration of the time of the day to the seasons of the year, each ceremony consists of specific equipment and decor, choreography and etiquette, spiritual and physical cleansing, and consistency and preparation of the tea and/or tea leaves.1
The tea ceremony is still practiced today, and is gaining popularity in the West. Matcha, commonly used in these ceremonies, is said to possess many health benefits, with low acidity being one of them. A study conducted by the University of Colorado used micellar electrokinetic chromatography to analyze and compare the catechins in regular green tea with Matcha to highlight any potentially significant differences. Through their research, it was discovered that Matcha includes much higher levels of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a type of polyphenol. Compared to regular tea, Matcha offers 137 times the amount of EGCG when compared to other green teas, making it three times more potent than your average, run-of-the-mill green tea bag.6
Put simply, all plants contain phytochemicals that are designed to protect themselves from the potential of encountering damaging or deadly diseases. Polyphenols are categorized as one type of phytochemicals and as for EGCG, this noteworthy phytochemical/polyphenol has been linked to numerous studies surrounding improved health and greater longevity in both animals and humans alike. While new research surrounding Matcha is being conducted every day, it is safe to say that the benefits greatly outweigh any potential negative effects, making Matcha an essential part of healthy lifestyles for people everywhere.