Before matcha became the matcha we know today—it was an obscure substance that no one knew what to do with. Though loose-leaf and green teas had made themselves comfortable on the grocery shelves, no one had heard of consuming that same tea in its 'whole,' powdered form. Partly because a pack of tea probably averaged around $2 to $3 ten years ago. The reason why tea bags are relatively inexpensive is because it takes less raw material to make them.
Matcha adorns a much steeper price tag, more than ten times the cost of a 20-pack of loose-leaf green tea. But with price also comes undisputable health benefits and flavour. Unlike steeped green tea, matcha has almost a velvety consistency and is full-bodied with that umami element that people, can't get enough of.
The deeply rejuvenating practice of tea ceremonies has been transferred to the West, breeding a new wave of matcha aficionados. With its high L-theanine content paired with a healthy dose of daily catechins, matcha is coveted by health enthusiasts, athletes, and high-performing entrepreneurs alike.
Before every café served matcha lattes or smoothies, matcha was secluded in Japan, as it had been for centuries.
Have you ever wondered how matcha made its way over to the northern hemisphere? We'll explain how it happened in this article.
Japanese History of Green Tea
Picture of Eisai, credit to Wikipedia.com
In the year 1191, a Japanese Zen priest, Eisai, brought back green tea seeds from China back to Japan. This transcended into the long history of green tea consumption and culture in Japan. Eisai brought more awareness to the health benefits of green tea by publishing his book, Kissa Yōjōki (Drinking Tea for Health).
Obuku, is an area in the Ujitawara region of Kyoto, also known as the birthplace of green tea. It's where the Buddhist monk, Kokhen laid the initial seeds of the green tea plants. Canopy shading of the tea leaves began in the 16th century, leading to the creation of matcha and Gyokyuro as we know it today. Later in the century, a Japanese tea master, Rikyu Sen introduced the tea ceremony.
Matcha was not always widely available to the common folk. It was produced in small amounts and perceived as a delicacy reserved for the noble class. The greater portion of the population drank Bancha (Houjicha), which is notably brown in colour. Soen Nagatani was 58 years old when he pioneered the unfermented Sencha tea method. He spread this knowledge to farmers in the vest of helping them become wealthy. This ended up having a ripple effect on the tea industry.
Tea Field in Kagoshima, Japan
Several centuries later, Bubhei Handa-san, a 12th-generation tea master, created the first company to export Japanese green tea directly to other countries. At the Paris Expo in 1855, Japanese green tea was enthusiastically received.
2005 - Conception of a Brand
In Vancouver, British Columbia, the founder and CEO of Andrews & George Company Limited and Ecotrend Ecologics, a premium natural product distributor, John Harrison, decided to travel back to his childhood home, Japan, in 2005.
John Harrison, Founder of Ecotrend Ecologics and Domatcha
His great-grandfather was Richard Andrews, who founded Japan's first North American import/export business, which was wildly successful. Growing up in Japan, John found a longing to re-connect to his roots. He spoke to Kenny Sembokuya, a long-time friend about some ideas for that re-connection. In the discussions, matcha was brought up and Kenny felt that he could make the necessary connections and introductions. Kenny was able to explain the long A&G history which was one of the primary factors for establishing a connection to the Handa Clan, a 16th generation tea master, as well as well as the Sugimoto Clan. The Sugimoto organization is one of the oldest and most respected matcha producers in Japan. Once the connections were made, the hard work of creating a business plan began. After 2 years of R&D, Domatcha, the matcha company, was born. "Do" to honor Sadō, the way of tea. Today, Kenny still plays a critical role in the continued development of the DoMatcha brand.
John Harrison with Handa San and associates
After 2 years of R&D, Domatcha, the matcha company, was born. "Do" to honor Sadō, the way of tea.
2007: Domatcha comes to North America
Initially, no major health store buyers heard of this emerald-hued powder. Little did they know what a nutritional powerhouse matcha was. One of the first interested grocers was none other than Whole Foods Market. They initially bought into the health benefits of the tea. However, John was experiencing some challenges regarding how to prepare and consume this product. North Americans he found, desired speed and efficiency above all else. Instead of whisking the tea like it was traditionally prepared, John got a bit creative and used a friendlier approach. He blended almond milk and matcha, dispersing samples using a jet spray. After a day of sampling almond matcha lattes, Whole Foods sold out of Domatcha products within the day. This was the beginning of the road to explosive growth.
Domatcha Gains Traction in North America
After that day of sampling, Domatcha quickly rose to become one of the top-selling SKUs in the Whole Foods West Vancouver location in a matter of months. The phone rang one day, and as John picked up, the person one the other end was someone from the head office of Whole Foods USA. They wanted to carry Domatcha across their locations in the states. From there, Domatcha would be carried in the majority of U.S. Whole Foods which helped massively with their growth.
John began to apply the same strategy he used at Whole Foods on other chains, and the sales started to accelerate.
It took about 7 to 9 years for matcha to become mainstream. In the year 2015, FOX Business published a piece on how matcha was hitting the North American shelves and becoming mainstream. They mentioned Domatcha, alongside Ippodo, as one of the major producers, specifically for the U.S. market, with a 30% annual growth year on year.
Other Matcha Brands Enter the Market
Matcha starts to gain acceptance, and at this point, consumers want to know more about the history of matcha and how to make it the traditional way. Other competitors start to enter the market.
Major coffee chains like Starbucks and The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf add matcha lattes to their menus. Matcha also makes its way into culinary options, pastries, chocolates, and other desserts.
Direct to Consumer Matcha Grows in Popularity
According to Business Insider, the term matcha started blowing up in 2014, hitting an all-time high in May 2014. By this time, the once elusive green powder was slowly making its way onto Instagram feeds, food blogs, and every nutritionist's recommendation list. Matcha is a double-edged sword—high in nutritional potency and the aesthetic ability to turn any concoction or food item bright green.
The growth of the matcha market in North America also calls into question authenticity. More and more consumers are interested to know the roots of their matcha, where it's grown, how it's produced, and how to prepare it the traditional way. You start to see more terms that aim to differentiate some matcha brands from others, including different grades, 'single origin,' region-named matcha (i.e. Uji matcha), and ready-to-drink matcha mix.
Current Day in Matcha - Steady Growth and Innovation
Over the past 16 years, matcha went from being a trademark secret in Japan to a food and wellness sensation in the U.S. and Canada. Even John never anticipated the widespread effect matcha would have over the entire continent. But he was confident that just the health benefits itself would make matcha a strong contender for many consumers. His hope was that matcha would become a staple in people's lives, helping them wind down, reconnect with themselves, and find peace in the mundane. As the Japanese often live fast-paced but also in tranquillity, John wanted to bring this similar ethic back to the West.
He never anticipated matcha to take off like it did—ending up in a meticulously crafted cocktail to the finishing touch on Michelin star-worthy dishes.
In 2020, the global matcha market hit $3 billion. It's projected to grow steadily in the next decade, with more innovations emerging. For example, Cuzen Matcha invented sleek machines that mimics the whisking, while achieving the optimal temperature and strength of the matcha; think like the Nespresso machine but exclusively for matcha.
Up to one million people search for the term matcha every month online. Because of the competitive value for the term, we will continue to see brands utilize a mix of earned and paid media and search engine optimization to win placement bids on search engines.
In the sea of matcha out there - how does Domatcha continue to stand out?
We hope that our first commitment to quality and respect for our partners in Japan will continue to result in consistently great matcha.
Tea field in Kagoshima, Japan
By sharing our journey of pioneering the matcha movement in North America, we hope to inspire and attract those looking for a friendlier pick me up to their routine. For the past 16 years, we’ve had the same business partners in Japan, only using tea leaves grown in Uji, Kyoto, and Kagoshima (for our organic lines). According to Business Insider, there are only 60 families that produce ceremonial grade matcha from Uji-- and we source our matcha from one of them!
The path to establishing matcha in North America has been humbling and at times difficult, but we’re ultimately proud to be a vector for those interested in reaping the health benefits of the beautiful matcha.