Matcha history and benefits
The practice of drinking tea in the form of matcha, that is, grinding tea into powder, adding hot water, whisking until foam forms and then drinking the beverage, was brought from China (Southern Sung) around 800 years ago in the Kamakura period (1185–1333). Eisai, brought tea seeds and made efforts to cultivate the first tea crops in Japan. Eisai was also the monk who brought Rinzai Zen to Japan. Matcha was an integral part of his Zen practice.
At first matcha raced to popularity as an effective medicine to restore health. It was considered to be a medicine. A vestige of this can be seen today when referring to tea in Japanese. “O-cha o ip-puku” means one cup of tea where '服 puku' is the counter word for medicine.
Black and green teas are made from the same tea leaf as matcha. Only the infused tea liquor is drunk in their case whereas with matcha, the whole leaf is ground into a powder, mixed with hot water and ingested as a tea. Ingesting the whole leaf means matcha is much richer in nutrients than other teas.
The combination of theanine (relaxant) and caffeine (stimulant) in tea gives you a calm, sustained concentration. Matcha is the most potent of all teas, which is why matcha was a central element in the spiritual practice of Zen monks and samurai warriors alike. Whether in spiritual or physical training, or everyday work, matcha gives you the calm, sustained concentration to perform at your best, centuries old wisdom still relevant for our lives today.
Etiquette for drinking matcha
Almost 400 years ago, the founder of the Ueda School, Ueda Sōko wrote the following brief and easy to understand explanation of tea drinking etiquette:
“First take the chawan and raise it, showing your respect to the chawan by bowing. Then lower the chawan and look at the colour of the tea. Bring the chawan to your mouth, but don’t drink the tea straight away. Take a moment to inhale the steam. Drink the tea in three mouthfuls. Wipe the part of the rim from which you drank with your fingers.”
Until you learn the full etiquette I think it is fine if you follow the brief version Sōko outlines. The points about inhaling the steam and drinking slowly are important for achieving a tranquil mind.