Tea has been drunk in Japan since the ninth century. An old Japanese document states that a priest named Saicho in the year 805 brings the first tea to Japan from China.
In China, tea has been known for thousands of years and during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) many Japanese travelers went to China for art, culture and especially to learn about Buddhism, which was in full bloom at that time. During their travels, the Japanese also become acquainted with tea, which was an important cultural and social element during this period, where producing, preparing and drinking tea could be a complex and sophisticated affair. The most widespread form of tea in the Tang Dynasty was “tea cake”. These cakes were made by turning lightly steamed tea leaves into a paste which was then pressed and then baked. When preparing tea, you broke pieces of the “cake” which was then ground to a powder and then mixed with hot water, various spices, herbs and salt. During the latter half of the Tang Dynasty period, tea was quite widespread and consumed daily.
Tea was in Japan, for long periods, reserved for the monks, the upper class, the samurai and the “elite”. Tea was used as a stimulant during meditation in the Zen Buddhist temples (matcha tea sharpens concentration) and this is still the case in the temples to this day. Tea was also served in the finer homes, and the samurai used the tea as a purgative (for example, hangover) after wild parties that overflowed with sake.