Brief History of Japanese Green Tea: A Cup Full of History and Mystery

Brief History of Japanese Green Tea: A Cup Full of History and Mystery

Since around the 9th Century, when tea was first introduced to the people of Japan by traders who sipped the beverage in China, green tea has evolved into a national obsession and become part of the country’s culture. Keep reading to learn more about the history of this magical drink.

A Plant grown in China crosses The Sea of Japan

Long before Genghis Khan and Mongol hordes began expansive explorations into China, its people had become a tea-drinking culture. Green tea, specifically, was given magical powers. Those drinking it expected health and welfare benefits. In some parts of 8th Century China, green tea was called “an elixir of youth.”

China wasn’t to keep this healthy beverage all to itself. Traders began transporting leaves and plants the short distance to Japan. Despite rudimentary communications systems, it took next to no time for the people of Japan to fall in love and make green tea drinking more than a pleasurable habit, but a ceremonial one as well.

Green Tea set

From herbal medicine to everyday drink

As tea preparation and consumption became commonplace in Japan, its reputation for having medicinal purposes grew to the point the growing process was often shrouded in mystery so cultivation methods could be limited to the rich and entitled. But during China’s Tang Dynasty, green tea had gone mainstream and while this transformation took longer to reach Japan, a declaration by Emperor Saga, who ruled from 786 to 842, made tea-drinking available to even the lowest class of society.

Japanese Tea History


Perhaps the most enthusiastic proponents of green tea drinking were Buddhist monks, some of whom had become tea drinkers during pilgrimages to China. Eventually, green tea cultivation and propagation attracted two leading proponents of Japanese tea consumption: Kukai and Saicho, Buddhist monks who became legends thanks to huge numbers of tea seeds they brought home each time they visited China.

green tea cultivation and tea drinkers

A green tea empire!

Having become the most popular drink in Japan thanks to the efforts of these two monks, tea growing had become commonplace as the 9th century came to a conclusion. By this time, it was grown in so many places, visitors to Japan’s imperial palace found themselves walking between rows of tea plants on their way to see the emperor. Zen Buddhist monks, meanwhile, used green tea to help them stay alert longer during lengthy meditation practices and only droughts brought this flourishing agricultural movement to the occasional stop.


By the 12th Century, and thanks to Zen master Eisai, called the father of the Japanese tea culture, this steeped beverage had become the nation’s most-favored beverage. Eisai recognized in tea a plant with the potential to do more than just quench thirst. He began to attribute myriad powers to green tea which prompted poets to publish tributes to green tea’s ability to be a transformative beverage.

Tea is a transformative beverage

From beverage to cultural icon

Green tea’s importance to Japanese culture can’t be understated. Used ceremoniously by monks, healers and even employed in matters of justice during Kugatachi divination ceremonies staged to determine whether someone was guilty or innocent, the accused was required to remove stones from pots filled with boiling tea or water.


Not every ritual associated with tea was draconian: tea competitions became a major part of samurai warrior training and students drank it before going into battle, too. Ornate tea houses built by wealthy homeowners to stage lavish ceremonies became status symbols. By the 16th Century, cups crafted explicitly for green tea ceremonies were brought from China to Japan, helping to launch the nation's ceramics industry.

green tea ceremonies

The inevitability of worldwide acceptance

Anthropologists with deep understanding of Japanese cultural practices often point to the nation’s propensity for remaining a closed society for centuries, but green tea helped introduce the nation to the world once Japan’s Edo Period dawned. Between 1600 and the mid-1800s, exports of green tea flourished and helped introduce the rest of the world to Japan.


Green tea is now the most consumed beverage in Japan next to water. Japan ranks as the 10th country exporting tea to the world with 1.7% of the total global tea export by volume.

 

This article was originally published as a Guest Blog on Air Kitchen

Buy Gold Leaf Premium Green Tea


Related Articles You May Be Interested In

JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY: WHAT NOT TO DO






Also in Japanese Green Tea Lovers in India

How to Select Japanese Green Tea?  - The Expert Advice
How to Select Japanese Green Tea? - The Expert Advice

0 Comments

Tea presents itself in many ways. Of course, visiting the grocery store you’re likely presented with a variety or different flavors and types. Loose leaf tea or tea bags? What options are available if I want something with less caffeine? Is there an ideal breakfast and morning tea for someone such as myself?

Let’s narrow our search and focus on selecting Japanese green teas based on your needs and what fits in your life. Hope this list helps you navigate the great world of Japanese tea variety!

View full article →

What is Japanese Tea Ceremony? – Explained in 6 simple steps
What is Japanese Tea Ceremony? – Explained in 6 simple steps

0 Comments

Chanoyu(茶の湯), Sado(茶道)or simply the Japanese tea ceremony is a ritual which is religiously followed in Japan. Japanese Matcha green tea is served in a series of choreographed steps with the host simply gliding through the whole ceremony. 

Tea Ceremony is so deep, that there can be books of information, but I tried to summarize the ceremony in easy simple steps so that you can understand what they are. 

View full article →

Used Teabag - Organic Waste or for My Garden?
Used Teabag - Organic Waste or for My Garden?

0 Comments

We know that given our love for tea, it’s easy to question a better use for the left-over tea. Luckily, the appropriate tea bag leaves tea drinkers with a serious supply for our compost or organic waste endeavors. Tea compost is already a safe bed for the health of many of your plants given its organic nature, it’s simply a matter of making sure the proper tea bag is thrown in there. 

View full article →