How to enjoy Japanese tea in Kyoto
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).
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.