Having woken up quite early and having polished off breakfast, my sister and I decided to take a quick walk outside the hotel. Nothing quite like a little exploration before a tea-tasting session.
We were told that Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, has over 1300 temples and shrines, and we didn’t have to go very far to find one of them… in fact, there are quite a few temples within walking distance of the Kyoto-Tokyu hotel. One is immediately on the right (when you’re walking out) of the hotel! 🙂
While we didn’t have enough time to explore it (from the inside) that morning, here are a few snaps of it, taken as we walked past. It was absolutely stunning!
We got our first taste of the summer season humidity and I can tell you, even after spending over 2 decades in UAE summers (which can sometimes cross 50 degrees celsius), summer and humidity in Japan is not to be taken lightly! Remember the essentials: Fan + Water! 🙂
And now… on to the tea-tasting session!
The tea-tasting was a very friendly and casual session conducted in the hotel (different from the more formal ‘Tea Ceremony’ which we attended later on in our trip and I’ll be blogging about later in the series). We were very lucky to have the current owner of possibly the oldest ‘Tea Shop’ in Japan prepare the different types of green tea for us. His tea shop is over 850 years old and has been family-run for generations. I believe the name of the tea shop was: “Tsuen Tea Shop”, and, if I’m not mistaken, the current owner is the 24th generation of the family managing it. Also assisting in the tea preparation and tasting session was another gentleman, from the Kyoto Prefecture Tea Cooperative Association. Sadly, I cannot remember his name 😦
The session involved the preparation of 3 types of green tea:
– Matcha: (see my earlier blog post for a description)
– Sencha: From Wikipedia: Sencha (煎茶) refers to Japanese ryokucha (緑茶, green tea) which is made into the green tea beverage by infusing the processed whole tea leaves in hot water. It is the most popular tea in Japan.
– Gyokuro: From Wikipedia: Gyokuro (Japanese: 玉露?, “jade dew”) is a type of shaded green tea from Japan. It differs from the standard sencha (a classic unshaded green tea) in being grown under the shade rather than the full sun. Gyokuro also differs from another shaded tea called kabusecha (lit., “covered tea”), in the length of time it undergoes the final growth under the shade.
All were prepared in both hot and cold versions…. and, of course, we were able to try them all.
Well, at least those of us who were able to… 🙂
In case you’ve never tried any of these types of green tea before, be warned, they are quite strong, even bitter. I guess you can say they are an acquired taste… with significant health benefits.
Just in case any of us found the tea too strong or bitter, we were also provided with some beautiful sweets.. which like everything else in Japan were ‘Kawaii’ (cute).. 🙂
I tried the following teas:
– Hot Matcha: LOVED IT.. 🙂
– Cold Sencha: Apparently less strong than Matcha, however, I found it a bit too bitter.
– Hot Gyokuro: I added some sugar to this to go for a hot-sweet combination. It was still strong but the more I drank it, the more I started to like it.
We also had the opportunity to buy any of the tea that we had enjoyed, which was quite convenient, and several members of our group picked up some packets to take back home. The tricky part isn’t actually acquiring the tea but it’s actually understanding the art of preparing it, which is quite different from kettles & tea-bags, etc. 🙂 Thankfully, we were each given educational material which explained the difference between each type of tea, the art of preparation and the health benefits!
So, all in all, we kicked off the ‘local’ flavor of our tour with some fantastic tea and sweets, and were all set to head off to the ‘Kiyomizu Dera’ – which I’ll cover in my next blog post! Enjoy! 🙂