In Japan, you’ll hear lots of different words for green tea. One of the most common you’re likely to hear is matcha, which refers to the finely ground, powdered tea. Matcha has a very special place in Japanese culture and history. The Japanese tea ceremony, called the Way of Tea, is a cultural activity involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha. It’s roots start very long ago in ancient China.
Introduction of Zen and Matcha in Japan
Over 800 years ago a young Buddhist priest by the name Myoan Eisai (1141-1215) left his native Japan on a spiritual journey for greater awareness and knowledge. Eisai returned to Japan with a new found philosophy called “Chan”.
Eisai also brought seeds of the tea plant from China, and presented the Sung style of manufacturing and drinking of ground tea, called “Matcha”. Using Chan philosophy Myoan Eisai created the Rinzai School of Zen Buddhism in Japan and became “Zen Master Eisai”.
The Buddhist monks at the Zen Monasteries soon adopted the drinking of Matcha for its valuable healing properties and focused “Chi” Energy in the quest for Zen meditation and enlightenment.
Emergence of Uji Tea
Master Eisai instructed his highly-talented monk Myoe Shonin to plant the special tea seeds on the grounds of his temple. The name of his temple was Kozanji and lay northwest of Kyoto in the region Toganoo.
Myoe Shonin began with the cultivation of tea in Toganoo, but looked after an area with a more suitable climate. Finally, he found a most sacred place with the perfect climate and soil to grow superior Matcha – Uji. Very soon the fame of the Uji Tea made widespread notice and from that time Uji has been well-known as the Best Tea-Growing Region of the country.
Shading Tea Field Technique born in Uji
In 1450, Shogun (General) Ashikaga Yoshimitsu built a Tea Farm called “Uji Shichimeien (the seven excellent tea gardens in Uji)” later, who also built the famous Zen Temple “Kinkakuji (Golden Temple)”, and it led to the world-famous Uji Tea. In the Age of Provincial Wars, each Shogun (General) enjoyed drinking teas and requested tea masters in Uji to prepare teas, and Uji tea increasingly became valued.
Around this time the technique of covering young tea buds (Shading Tea Field) was begun in Uji, and the quality of the tea was steadily improved through careful processing to date.
Uji Matcha Culture developed with constant supports by the Rulers
In the Momoyama period (1568-1615), probably determined by the aesthetic sense of Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591), the style of the tea making was defined with Cha-no-Yu or Chado “Tea Way”. In the West it is known as the so-called “Tea Ceremony”.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) supported the tea growers of Uji which was continued by the Shoguns (Generals) of the Edo period (1603-1868). Every year a Tea Parade “Chatsubo-Dochu” was performed. Uji Tea was therefore continually supported and promoted by the ruler of the land within the meaning of Tea-Way “Cha-no-Yu”.
Other Japanese Green Tea productions also born in Uji
In 1738, Nagatani Soen, a tea grower from Uji had the idea to roll the tealeaves to crush the cell walls and thereby facilitating a faster infusion, and developed Sencha, This treatment of the leaves, known as the “Uji method of growth and Sencha manufacturing” has been continued and further developed to this very day.
Towards the end of the Edo period, in 1834, the production of Gyokuro began in Uji.
Uji Tea is what people think of when asked what tea they see as the highest grade Japanese tea
The history of Uji, is the history of Japanese Tea.
What decides Matcha quality?
Matcha quality differs depending on where it is produced, and how it is treated during production process.
- Quality Green Tea production area must meet several natural conditions such as;
- Average yearly temperature is 14-16 degrees C (57.2-60.8 degrees F).
- More than 80 running days with minimum temperature of 15 degrees C (59 degrees F).
- More than 210 days with average temperature of 5 degrees C (41 degrees F) or above.
- Annual amount of rainfall is 1,300mm or higher, but stable rainfall, not having intensive rainy period or dry period.
- Less affected by Tyhoon, Hail, or Frost.
- Soils with good drainage, ventilation, and water retention abilities, and pH 4-5.
Uji (Kyoto, Japan) has Uji River around where the ground is fertile, foggy mist during night time, which helps to prevent frost, and humid weather in summer. Tea fields in Uji are on the rolling hills, and well-ventilated with good water drainage ability.
Matcha tealeaves are grown in, so called, the Shading Tea Field. Around 4 weeks before plucking tealeaves, the tea fields are covered from the top with the traditional straw screens or recently artificial fiber cloth to slowly and gradually decrease the amount of sunlight, and hence photosynthesis.
By doing this, tealeaves begin to crank out increasing amounts of both Chlorophyll and Amino Acids (Theanine) that makes Matcha color nice and bright green, and gives its intense “Umami” taste. Tealeaves are handpicked with special care, and processed with traditional method with a long period of history right after they are picked.
The highest quality Matcha tealeaves are only the smallest, youngest, and greenest parts of the plant – the two leaves at the tip of each new shoot, and its taste is not solely sweet, but a distinctive complex taste that is full-bodied, rich, and mature, never chalky, bitter, or bland. This top quality Matcha from the first harvesting days (First Flush) in Japan is used in the Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony, in which people enjoy and appreciate its delicate full flavor without masking with any additions.
- Depending on the methods of hand-plucking tealeaves, plucking amounts per day (8 hours) per person varies considerably:
- Two leaves at the tip (Highest Quality): 2.5kg (0.5kg after Crude Tea processing)
- Three leaves at the tip (High Quality): 20kg (4kg after Crude Tea processing)
- Four or Five leaves at the tip (Regular Quality): 40kg (8kg after Crude tea processing)
Tealeaves get harvested several times throughout the year in Japan, but the First Flush of the year is considered the most delicious and has the most nutrients. Tea-plucking in Japan begins with the spring warmth. During the winter, tea plants store nutrients, and the tender new leaves which sprout in the spring contain concentrated nutrients.
In Uji, only First and Second Flush are harvested, which gives tea trees more time to store the nutrients compared with other tea production areas.
Second Flush tealeaves treated with special care are also bright green color and have natural sweet taste, but compared with First Flush, the color is less vibrant, and have slightly refreshing bitter taste. Usually Matcha from these tealeaves is used for culinary purposes mixing with other ingredients for baking, adding it in smoothies, lattes, and etc., so called “Culinary Grade Matcha”. It is less expensive than “Ceremony Grade Matcha” and easier to have full of Matcha’s health benefits on daily basis.
Our Ujido Matcha is a blend with First and Second Flush so can be tasted with hot water to enjoy its original taste.
Ujido is proud to carry on ancient traditions and grow one of the finest Matcha green teas available.