Matcha has slowly been increasing in popularity in the West over the years, turning up in desserts everywhere. I’ve always been a little surprised by this because the first time I tried Matcha chocolate, I found it way too bitter for me. Oddly, in recent years I’ve really come around on it and just cannot get enough. I always assumed it was an acquired taste but now I just guess most people have a much more refined palate than myself.
Matcha literally means powdered tea though the tea used to produce it is very specifically farmed through shaded growth in order to produce more theanine and caffeine. It is extremely rich in nutrients due to its lack of processing and is considered one of the healthiest teas in the world. Matcha is historically associated with the Japanese tea ceremony and for a very long time was only consumed by Japan’s nobility. Now of course, it’s widespread and is especially prevelant in sweet dishes where it’s bitterness adds a complexity of flavour.
Powdered tea was first introduced to Japan through China in 1191 by the monk Eisai who also helped to introduce Zen Bhuddism. Eisai grew tea plants on some temple grounds in Kyoto and as such, tea (and matcha especially) has strong associations with Kyoto today.
Powdered tea gradually fell out of favour in China but remained popular in Japan as development of the tea ceremony progressed and became something uniquely Japanese in itself. You can’t go many places in japan without coming across Matcha in some form, whether it’s mixed with salt as an accompaniement to Tempura or if it’s Matcha flavoured soft serve ice cream in a tiny stall in the middle of nowhere. And of course, Matcha’s home is still Kyoto so any visit to that city will present you with a huge range of Tea stores and restaurants specialising in Matcha items.