Go Green in Kyoto! Enjoy the Famous Tea Ceremony Then See How a New Generation is Serving up Matcha

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By Michael Lambe

Due to the close vicinity of Uji’s tea fields Kyoto has a long association with matcha tea: the powdered green tea used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. The monk Eisai first brought this powdered tea from China to Japan in 1191, along with Zen Buddhism, and the two traditions have been closely linked ever since.

In Kyoto, Eisai founded the city’s oldest Zen temple, Kenninji, and on its grounds you can find a teahouse designed by the legendary 16th Century tea master Sen no Rikyu, who is responsible for developing the refined tea ceremony that we know today. Called variously Chado, Sado or Cha-no-yu, this ceremony ritualizes the act of preparing, sharing, and tasting tea into a slow, meditative process that emphasizes simplicity, grace and serenity. Yet despite the simplicity of the ceremony itself, the Way of Tea is intimately bound up with many other traditional arts such as calligraphy, ceramics, flower arrangement, and Japanese cuisine. So if you want a gateway into Japanese culture and philosophy, a cup of matcha tea is where you start!

Cold Matcha tea in Nishiki market
Tea is of course known for its health benefits, but matcha tea is said to be especially healthy because when you drink matcha, you consume the whole leaf and not just the brewed water. One cup of matcha tea is said to have three times the antioxidants and nutritional value of normal green tea! For those craving caffeine, matcha also gives a longer and more sustained boost to your mood. Rich in vitamins A, C, E and Beta carotene, among the many health benefits claimed for this wonder drink, it is said to relieve stress, aid digestion, help prevent cancer, stave off the aging process and improve your cognitive ability!

Matcha cookies
If you simply don’t like the taste of matcha however, not to worry, these days there are many other ways to consume it. Matcha tea has always been served with sweets to offset its bitter taste, but then someone came up with the bright idea of flavoring the sweets directly with matcha powder. Now all kinds of matcha flavored sweet and savory food products are sold in Kyoto’s stores and restaurants. A trip into the basement food market of Takashimaya will turn up a lot, especially cookies and cakes. However restaurants too sell matcha-flavored spaghetti, dorias, noodles and the most recent trend among young women is for matcha fondue. Traditional Japanese sweets and fruits are dipped in a thick matcha sauce and later hot milk is added to make a matcha latte.

Matcha Milk Jam
The next time you’re in Kyoto, have a guide ensure you experience a traditional tea ceremony at any of the following:

  • Daitokuji Temple – Here you can experience both a tea ceremony and Zen meditation together in this 800-year-old temple
  • En – A small traditional teahouse in the Gion area of Kyoto where you can experience a tea ceremony
  • Tondaya – A machiya house where you can experience various aspects of Japanese culture including the tea ceremony
  • The Urasenke School’s Chado Kaikan – gives lessons to foreigners interested in performing a tea ceremony
  • Tsujiri – A very famous matcha tea specialist shop in Gion selling the very best matcha powdered tea. They also have a café serving hot and cold teas, and matcha-flavored cakes, parfaits and ice creams!
  • Marukyu Koyamaen – Located in nearby Uji. Gives free tours of its matcha tea factory and includes a tea making and sampling session.
Matcha chocolate tarts

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