The character ch’a is represents wooden branches, grass, and a man between the two.
In 2732 B.C.E. green tea was discovered by the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung. He drank a brew made from wild leaves that had fallen into his pot of boiling water. Emperor Shen Nung loved the drink so much that he declared to have it made for him every day. He called this concoction ch’a. The written character of ch’a symbolizes the way tea made humanity at one with nature.
The origin of matcha with the Japanese Tea Ceremony comes after its discovery in China in the 9th-century C.E.
A Buddhist Monk named Eichu was one of the first people to bring the tea used in Chinese monasteries to Japan. He first introduced it to Emperor Saga of Japan, and three centuries later Japanese monasteries were drinking it. As a result, the relationship between the tea ceremony and Zen philosophy became a flourishing practice.
A Zen Monk named Eisai used a different process for making green tea and introduced it to Japanese monasteries in the 12th century. Even though the common way to make green tea back then was to brew the tea leaves, Eisai decided to ground the tea into a powder instead. He called this type of tea the “Elixir of the Immortals.” Its formal name is what we call it today: matcha.
So how did matcha become the tea in the Japanese Tea Ceremony?
Because of matcha’s effects on the brain, monks in Zen temples initially drank it to stay awake during meditation. Its ability to keep monks alert yet calm was astounding. These natural and simple qualities aligned with the values of Zen Buddhism. The Zen philosophy values mindfulness and inner peace. This, in addition to the harmonious and minimalistic approach of preparing ceremonial green tea, created a staple tea ritual. Ever since then, the Japanese Tea Ceremony has been practiced in Zen monasteries.
Monasteries still use matcha tea today because of its delicate practice of preparation, and its vitalizing and healing benefits. As the practice evolved, the ceremony encouraged participants to leave behind worldly attachments, and treat others with compassion and respect.