Aug. 01, 2018 UPDATE
The tea culture of Kyoto
Part 1

How to enjoy Japanese tea in Kyoto

Green tea and matcha are probably the most famous types of Japanese teas, and the area of Uji in Kyoto is especially famous for matcha. But there are actually many other types of teas enjoyed in Kyoto (although it must be said that many of them are types of green tea).
Matcha is one of the easiest teas to enjoy in Kyoto, as you have many great restaurants and cafes that serve both matcha drinks and desserts. If you really want to enjoy matcha, consider making a detour to Uji and trying the single origin matcha espressos of Gochio Café – but don’t forget to also try their Dassai sake ice cream topped which matcha.

When talking of green tea in Kyoto, you rarely hear the word for green tea – ryokucha – unless you’re buying tea in a bottle. Usually, tea is called by its name, be it gyokuro, sencha, bancha, or hojicha.

The tea that is considered to be of the highest quality and which packs most umami and sweetness is gyokuro. The taste is at the same time both strong and very delicate, but it also hits you with a lot of umami. In Kyoto, if you want to enjoy great gyokuro, the place that comes to mind first is Tsujirihei Uji Honten, where they take brewing tea very seriously and make sure to brew gyokuro at the right temperature (which seems to be around 50 degrees Celsius).
If you feel that gyokuro is a bit too expensive (or that the umami is a bit too much), you could try kabusecha, a type of tea that offers you the middle ground between gyokuro (shaded for around 20 days and the not-shaded type of green tea known as sencha). With kabusecha you get both the umami of gyokuro, but you also get some of the stronger (and a little bit bitter) taste of sencha. Kabusecha is shaded for three to ten days before it’s picked, so it does pack a nice amount of umami, but it’s still a lot easier on the wallet than gyokuro. If you want to try kabusecha (or sencha), the shop of Itohkyuemon Uji Main Branch should have both.

Then there is bancha, which differs from sencha in that bancha is made from lower quality leaves. The leaves are often also bigger than those used for sencha. The color of bancha is usually not considered to be as nice as sencha, but bancha is a very popular everyday tea in Kyoto. However, there is a special type of roasted bancha in Kyoto known as iribancha or Kyobancha that has a strong smoky flavor. Maybe the most famous tea shop in Kyoto, Ippodo, also sells iribancha, and a visit to Ippodo is an excellent opportunity to get many types of teas – they have everything from gyokuro to iribancha. If you just want a cup of iribancha, you could also consider having the dinner course at Obase, an excellent restaurant that mixes kaiseki with Italian influences. Just be sure to say that you want iribancha when you’re asked if you want coffee or tea.

Then we’re probably missing only hojicha (not that there aren’t many more types of Japanese tea), which is a type of roasted Japanese tea with a nice reddish brown color. The mild taste of this tea means that it goes well with many dishes, and it’s also a popular choice when it comes to the bottled form of Japanese tea. It’s also a popular soft-serve flavor in Kyoto, along with matcha and vanilla.
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