The Tea Plant
The tea plant (Camellia Sinensis) probably originated in the mountainous region of southern Asia, and from there was brought to China. At first it was used as a medicine, but by the Tang dynasty (618-907), it came to be drunk mainly for the enjoyment of its flavor. In the course of time, Asian countries developed many ways to prepare tea, such as "cake" tea, steeped tea leaves, or fermented tea leaves. Tea was so important that it was the subject of a three-volume work called Chajing, the Classic of Tea. At that time, tea leaves were pressed into brick form. To prepare tea, shavings were taken and mixed with various flavorings, such as ginger or salt, and boiled. Later, during the Song dynasty (1127-1280), green tea leaves were steamed, dried, and then ground into a powder. This powdered tea was mainly used for ceremonial purposes in temples, but was also appreciated for its taste by laymen.
The tea used in chanoyu is picked fresh, steamed and dried and then ground into a green, chlorophyl-rich powder called matcha. Matcha is green tea ground from shade-grown tea leaves into a fine powder. In chadō, matcha powder is mixed with hot water to make either thick tea, koicha, or thin tea, usucha. In Japan today matcha is also used as a flavor, for example in ice cream or chocolate.