Matcha has been around for centuries, but we might not be drinking it today if it weren’t for Buddhism. We owe matcha’s current incarnation and popularity to Japanese monks, who elevated the consumption of matcha to an art form.
One monk was especially influential in matcha’s history: Myoan Eisai. On a trip to China, Eisai discovered Zen Buddhism and matcha and decided to spend the rest of his life teaching about both back in his native Japan. He realized that drinking matcha improved his Zen meditation sessions by producing a state of calm alertness. (Today we know this is due to the interaction of matcha’s caffeine and L-theanine.)
Eisai went on to establish the first Zen temple in Japan. He loved his matcha meditation time so much that he wrote his super influential book, Kissa Yojoki, or "How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea." Its first sentence is "Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and has the ability to make one's life more full and complete." Totally down with that.
Although matcha consumption declined in China, monks like Eisai made it the must-have drink in Japan. Soon everyone was drinking matcha – even samurai preparing for battle!
As matcha’s popularity grew in Japan, monks were instrumental in finding new ways to refine the powder and improve its taste – which is how the matcha we enjoy today was created! Arigatou gozaimasu :)