One of Japan’s own Zen priests studying in China’s Buddhist monasteries returned to Japan in the early 12th century with tea plant seeds and bushes. The young priest, called Eisai, used his experience in China growing and drinking “beaten tea” to popularize what he called “the way of tea” as a meditation ritual within his community of Japanese Buddhist monks. Eventually, he spread the tea drinking custom throughout the rest of Japan.
It is used in castella, manjū, and monaka; as a topping for shaved ice (kakigōri); mixed with milk and sugar as a drink; and mixed with salt and used to flavour tempura in a mixture known as matcha-jio. It is also used as flavouring in many Western-style chocolates, candy, and desserts, such as cakes and pastries (including Swiss rolls and cheesecake), cookies, pudding, mousse, and green tea ice cream. Matcha frozen yogurt is sold in shops and can be made at home using Greek yogurt. The Japanese snack Pocky has a matcha-flavoured version. Matcha may also be mixed into other forms of tea. For example, it is added to genmaicha to form what is called matcha-iri genmaicha (literally, roasted brown rice and green tea with added matcha).
The polyphenols in green tea, especially EGCG, have been shown to have a particularly powerful effect in supporting skin cells and cellular DNA in the presence of UV radiation from sunlight. May different clinical studies have shown EGCG to help skin defend against UVA and UVB rays. And because these polyphenols can accumulate in the skin, regularly drinking green tea or taking a green tea supplement with EGCG can act as all-day supplemental protection.
Steamed: Like most Japanese teas, the tea leaves destined for matcha are first steamed. The leaves are treated briefly with steam heat within hours of plucking to both halt the oxidation process and bring out the rich green color of the shade-grown tea leaves even more. The steaming process creates a unique flavor profile that is often described as sweet and vegetal.
Shade grown: All matcha is made from shade-grown tea leaves—a labor-intensive process where tea bushes are protected from the sun and light is filtered to the bushes in a very controlled manor. Shading boosts the chlorophyll production in the plant, giving the leaves a rich green color. The lack of sun reduces the plant’s photosynthesis of the leaves, which in turn alters the naturally occurring levels of caffeine, flavanols, sugars, antioxidants, and theanine. By controlling the sun exposure, tea producers can significantly alter the chemical make-up and flavor of the final tea leaves.