The Matcha Movement

If you’re new to the world of Matcha magic, buckle up, because this trendy beverage is anything but a storm in a teacup!

Rapid technological advancements and a plethora of social media platforms have ensured that this fine powdered variety of green tea remains a hot topic of discussion. The recent spotlight on matcha tea has led to a global fascination with its endless health benefits and extreme marketability. Held in high regard by lifestyle bloggers and medical practitioners alike, matcha seems more than likely to survive the fad diet culture that so many other products have fallen victim to. 

The origins of Matcha are firmly rooted in traditional Japanese culture. In fact, the name  itself is derived from the Japanese words, “ma” which means “rubbed or ground” and “cha” which means “tea”. During the 11th century, matcha became a popular drink of choice in Japan, not just for the distinct flavour profiles within the tea, but for the meditative brewing process that accompanied each cup. 

The concept of matcha is all-encompassing and intends to engage the entire spectrum of senses. From the growth of green tea leaves in specialised weather conditions, to the precise hand-picked harvest, matcha is anything but generic. The preparation of matcha is designed according to the tenets of mindfulness, and encourages people to immerse themselves in the authentic Japanese ritual of matcha-making.

Traditional tools, such as the chawan (tea bowl) and the chasaku (tea spoon) are essential to this ceremonial process. After the green tea powder is scooped into the bowl, the star of the show, otherwise known as the chasen (bamboo whisk) is used to create the beautiful frothy texture that matcha has become known for.

So, why go through all this effort for a cup of green tea, you ask? Well, apart from the immersive cultural experience, matcha is renowned for its array of health benefits. The composition of matcha is such that it allows for both psychological and physiological benefits.

The regular consumption of matcha has been linked to a reduction in blood pressure, an increase in metabolism, various anti-aging and immunity-boosting properties, as well as improved brain functioning. This antioxidant-rich beverage contains three times the amount of caffeine in regular steeped green tea, and has been shown to increase energy levels while decreasing anxiety and stress. 

So, how exactly did the matcha movement arise? It seems as though a new health trend pops up each day, rearing its mysterious head until we get sucked into product consumption for the sake of fulfilling our curiosity. Think about it, just five years ago, you would be hard-pressed to find a golden latte or an acai bowl in one of our local cafes. But today, these superfoods are commonplace on restaurant menus. Why is that?

Well, society’s fascination with multicultural cuisine and authentic travel experiences teed up perfectly with new age social media platforms. Matcha has offered high quality health benefits since the 11th century, but it wasn’t until platforms such as Instagram, with its universal reach and labyrinth of interpersonal connections, that new generations were exposed to different cultural norms.

The high marketability and aesthetic appeal of matcha joined forces with the human need for self-preservation, thereby popularising this healthy herbal beverage all across the world.

The phenomenon has taken South Africa by storm, with matcha lattes and iced matcha teas occupying prime real estate on local restaurant menus. From The Woolworths Cafe to Mugg & Bean, SA’s buzzing foodie scene allows customers to enjoy easy access to their favourite matcha beverages.

In fact, the health benefits of matcha have become so popular that the tea is no longer confined to gustatory realms. Skincare brand, Hey Gorgeous, has embraced the movement by offering Matcha and Manuka facials and body scrubs! Talk about a full bodied cuppa!

I first encountered matcha in 2014, while travelling across South America. During a tour of Argentina’s countryside, my family and I were invited for tea with a group of locals.

As proud South Africans, the concept of tea is synonymous with signature brands like Five Roses and Rooibos, so we were excited to explore the Argentinian art of tea making. To our surprise, we were treated to a live demonstration, wherein our tour guide showed us exactly how to brew the dominant Argentine tea, known as “Mate”. As it turns out, Mate and Matcha are inexplicably linked by the fusion of flavour and culture.

From the authentic tea-making tools to the traditional method of preparation, Japanese and Argentinian culture had collided in the middle of a tea room in Buenos Aires. I was blown away as I processed the power of a single cup of tea. Centuries of heritage and travel were intertwined in these precious tea leaves.

Two completely different hemispheres, climates and cultures had somehow crossed paths in history to share meaning over a cup of tea. If that’s not a Matcha Movement, I don’t know what is.