Translated by Hilary Keyes
Face To Face With Japanese Tea At Kaboku Cafe In Kyoto
At Kaboku, a tea room in Kyoto, you can get to know more about Japanese tea. You can see several types of tea being prepared before you, and even try your hand at making tea using traditional methods!
Written by Anna Namikawa
Just how much do you know about Japanese tea? At Kaboku, a tea room in Kyoto, you can get to know more about Japanese tea, maybe even things that Japanese people aren't aware of.
Although all of Kyoto thrives on its rich cultural history, the Teramachi Nijōdōri area is especially known for this. While there are hundreds of buildings and homes that have kept the atmosphere of old Kyoto, there is one conspicuous place here that has four large noren (*1) outside. With a history spanning 300 years this is the Japanese tea specialist shop Ippodō Tea Shop. And found within is the tea room Kaboku, where you can get the full Japanese tea experience.
*1 Noren: large hanging sunshades found on the front of stores bearing the shop's logo; used as billboards.
A Place to Get More Familiar with Tea
Inside the shop an extensive variety of Japanese tea can be found. As prices differ greatly, it's not unusual to find teas here that might be ten times more expensive per 100 grams than those that are lined up next to them. The subtle differences in the variety and flavor of each tea is something that can't be understood from sight alone. As the world of Japanese tea is quite expansive, the original Japanese author of this article felt somewhat awkward approaching the specialty shop. In order to take steps to lessen that knowledge gap, today we visited Kaboku.
There Are Many Ways to Enjoy Tea Up Close
Kaboku has a great menu with many different types of teas available. The shop staff prepared this green tea in advance, but if you'd like, they can prepare it in front of you as well. To begin with, you'll learn how to make tea using a traditional small teapot (kyūsu). As the shop staff lecture on how to brew the perfect Japanese tea, it's possible for visitors to Japan to really get a feel for how it's done. Today, they prepared "usucha" (clear green tea) right in front of me. This is the first time I've ever watched tea being prepared this close to me before.
The matcha (powdered green tea) in this cup has a really vivid color. The tool on the left is a "chasen" or bamboo tea whisk, one of the most important tools when making green tea.
Once you add the hot water, it's time to start.
The tea is whisked by waving the chasen in the shape of an "M".
Here is freshly prepared tea. It has such a fresh, green color, and a mellow taste that leaves you speechless. The flavor of the tea really lingers in your mouth.
Japanese sweets, or "wagashi", accompany the tea. The cuteness of this cake belied the smooth sweetness of the red bean paste inside. The wagashi cookie that comes with your tea changes with the seasons.
Spreading Japanese Tea Culture at Tea Room Kaboku
Travelers from all over the world come to Kaboku."I wanted to learn more about Japan so I came here" was a sentiment often repeated by the various customers that came to the tea room that day. But, with its 300 year continual history in mind, just what does Ippodō mean by "come face-to-face with tea"? We asked the staff.
"Through the knowledge and guidance of Kaboku tea room's staff, it's possible to discover your own method of making the perfect tea. Even if you use the same small teapot and tea leaves, if you change the water temperature or how long you let it brew, you can change the flavor of the tea. By pairing the best tea, preparation style and sweets together, we can offer a truly enjoyably experience to those that visit here. So, if you'd like help in discovering just what 'delicious' means to you, please come to Kaboku tea room."
In other words, the whole experience is meant to bring the customer face-to-face with the true depth of Japanese tea culture. Even if people make the same type of tea in the same way, their own uniqueness will affect the flavor that they create. "We want to help customers discover just what 'delicious' tea means to them."
Other Items to Enjoy
You can get tea take-out at Kaboku. At the moment, this is available from 9:00 to 18:00.
If you would like to try your hand at making Japanese tea at home, you might want to buy the "Hajime no Ippodō" (a green tea making set).
Or, if you'd like to try something a bit more casual, they also sell green tea bags. All you have to do it boil your own water to enjoy the tea. Doesn't that sound like a great souvenir of your time in Japan?
Here is green tea mixed with granulated sugar; simply dissolve it in water or milk and enjoy.
And this is a special winter-limited tea known as "Obukucha",which is a tea made with the first water of the New Year and is considered to bring good fortune for the following year. In the 12th century, diseases spread easily throughout Japan, but drinking this tea seemed to prevent or cure these diseases and as a result it's drunk to this day to pray for health. Even amidst the other teas here, Ippodō's Obukucha is an incredible roasted tea. One teabag costs 540 yen, making it a treat that you can readily enjoy by yourself.
Why not come face-to-face with Japanese tea and really learn more about this fascinating facet of Japanese culture at Ippodō tea shop and Kaboku tea room?
And, if you'd like to refill your cup once you've gotten back home, Ippodō's online shop is available here.
Ippodō Tea Shop & Tea Room Kaboku
Address: Kyoto, Nakagyo, Teramachi Nijōdōri, Agaru
Hours: 10:00-18:00 (last order 17:30)
Closed: At New Years only
Credit Cards: Accepted
Other Languages: English
Menu in Other Languages: English
Nearest Station: Subway Kyoto-shi Yakushomae Station (地下鉄京都市役所前)
Access: 5-minute walk from exit 11 of Kyoto-shi Yakushomae Station
Price Range: 540 yen plus
Religious Considerations: -
Phone Number: 075-211-3421
Home Page: Ippodō Tea Shop