Translated by Tom Brodie Williams
CHOYA's SPECIALTY HANDS-ON UME EXPERIENCE SHOP - Make Your Own Plum Wine
Famous for its umeshu (plum wine), CHOYA has opened their very own SPECIALTY HANDS-ON UME EXPERIENCE SHOP in Kyoto. Here you can not only buy many kinds of umeshu but also experience making umeshu and ume juice yourself.
Written by Elaine
Experience Umeshu Culture In Kyoto
CHOYA UMESHU is one of Japan’s most famous umeshu (*1) brands. In the spring of 2018, they opened a "SPECIALTY HANDS-ON UME EXPERIENCE SHOP" in Kyoto.
In this article, we will introduce you to the specialty store in the heart of Kyoto where you can not only buy umeshu but also experience making your own umeshu and ume juice.
*1 Umeshu: a fruit liquor made by soaking sour plums (ume) with sugar.
CHOYA - The Story of Umeshu
Japanese plums, also known as ume, have long been said to have healing properties and are considered one of Japan’s traditional health foods. Left to ferment as a plum, sugar and alcohol mix it creates a wonderful sweet and sour alcohol with an intoxicating fragrance.
During the fermentation process, the plum’s nutritional content is dissolved into the alcohol. This creates a delicious, rather healthy beverage containing all of the minerals and dietary fiber found in the plum.
Picture courtesy of Choya Umeshu
CHOYA UMESHU is distinctive for using the highest quality Japanese plum without any artificial additives. They ferment still unripe green plum in alcohol for over a year before packaging and supplying their flavorful, nutrient-rich product to their customers.
Plum Experience Specialty Shop - One of a Kind
Contrasting to the rich, sweet image of the umeshu they produce, the CHOYA store itself has a simple White and Wood design. The shop's "Japanese Plum Experience" is extremely popular. It is a fun experience for friends, couples or people on vacation.
Choya puts great effort towards preserving the freshness and shortening the fermentation process. In order to share that special production process with their customers, they have carefully considered the recipes they can archive during this experience.
Making your own Umeshu - The Basics
Before making your own umeshu, the staff will introduce different varieties of Japanese plum and their distinctive flavors. They will also teach you how the type of sugar affects the flavor of the umeshu. It is important make note of their explanation because you will choose your own plum and sugar.
Once you have chosen the type of plum and sugar as well as how much you want to make, you can start. Every participant will receive the Choya Ume Kit. This kit contains a bottle, Japanese plums, and sugar.
You can choose from three payment plans according to the bottle size. The small size(one serving) starts from 1,000 yen, the medium size(three servings) from 2,000 yen and the large size (six servings) from 3,000 yen. All prices are excluding tax.
There are two types of plum you can use, the Ripe Nanko Ume or the NK14. If you want to use premium plums you will be charged an extra 30 yen for a small bottle, 60 yen for a medium bottle and 90 yen for a large bottle plus tax.
They have regular sugar, rock sugar, and beet sugar. If you want to use konpeito, honey or agave nectar it will cost an extra 50 yen for a small bottle, 150 yen for a medium bottle and 300 yen for a large bottle plus tax.
The alcohol is sold separately and not contained in the kit. You can choose from four types of alcohol: vodka, brandy, white rum, and gin. The price varies depending on the size. You will be charged 250 yen for a small bottle, 500 yen for a medium bottle and 750 yen for a large bottle, all prices excluding tax.
Ingredients can also be bought separately. Plum for 100 yen, plum, and sugar from 200 and plum, sugar and alcohol from 450 yen. Dry Ice to keep the ingredients fresh costs 200 yen.
If you choose a small kit, you will pay 1,000 yen for the kit and an extra 250 yen for the alcohol. So the total will be 1,250 yen, excluding tax. If you would like to order extras like konpeito, for example, it would cost 1,300 yen in total.
Making your own Umeshu - The Experience
In our umeshu experience, we tried a Ripe Nanko Ume, konpeito and gin mix.
First, using the specialized tools provided, remove the stalk. The plums you use are kept frozen at minus 40 degrees after being picked. This ensures their freshness.
After you removed the stalk, put the plum and konpeito in a bag.
After putting in the gin and sealing the glass, you are already done.
After you return home, keep it at room temperature and make sure to mix it once a day.
What you need to know about the SPECIALTY HANDS-ON UME EXPERIENCE
The Umeshu Experience is Only for Participants Over Twenty
The drinking age in Japan is 20 so please make sure you are carrying an ID. For those under the drinking age or those who don't drink alcohol, there is an Ume Juice Making Experience available as well.
English Translations Provided
Although the experience is primarily conducted in Japanese, there are English translations available for tourists and non-Japanese speakers.
Bring an Airtight Container for your Umeshu
It takes anywhere from a week to a month for both ume juice and umeshu to be ready to be consumed.
The containers that are provided are not 100% airtight. If you are planning to transport the mixture, we recommend buying an airtight container at a 100 yen store or supermarket to decant your mixture before putting it in a suitcase.
The HANDS-ON UME EXPERIENCE Reservation System
Reservations for the HANDS-ON UME EXPERIENCE can only be made online through the official website. Cancellations are also done via the website. Cancellations within 3 hours of the estimated start time are invalid.
The reservation page is in Japanese only, so here is a reservation guide. There is only one option in the top pull-down bar, so choose that. Then choose an open day from the calendar. The days that show an orange box with a white kanji character are fully booked.
Select an open day and continue to the reservation form. Enter the number of participants (①) and select the blue button at the bottom left of the form. (②)
Next enter the participant’s details. From the top, surname, first name(s), surname in katakana, first name(s) in katakana, email address, email address confirmation (the same address again) and phone number.
Then select the blue button to move to the reservation confirmation screen and check your details. Select the grey button on the left to make changes or the blue button on the right to confirm your reservation.
Once you confirmed, your reservation complete!
Fall in Love with Umeshu
Ume Nectar Tea (500 yen, excluding tax)
During the 30-minute "HANDS-ON UME EXPERIENCE", you can see for yourself why Japanese people love umeshu. Even those who don’t take part can enjoy buying and trying the umeshu and ume juice on offer.
There’s nothing better to help you get through a hot summer day than an iced glass of umeshu and it's even better if you made it yourself! Why don't you try it out?
*This article has been translated and edited from the original.
In cooperation with Choya Umeshu