Kyoto is known as the cultural capital of Japan. It was the actual capital of the country for more than 1000 years (between 794 – 1868)! When the capital of Japan was moved to Tokyo, a lot of significant culture still remained in Kyoto. Even today, Kyoto is home to over 2,000 temples and shrines. It has a lot of traditional crafts including kimono, folding fans and pottery. Iconic to Japan, geisha culture is still active in Kyoto. Interestingly Kyoto is known as both a tourist and a student city. The traditional culture and numerous tourist sites are attracting millions of visitors every year. Kyoto also has a large number of universities and about 150,000 students, that makes about 10% of the city’s population.
Popular abroad, Kyoto is the origin of manga. The very first manga, called Animal Creatures, was created around the 12th century in Kozanji temple. Today you can learn all about manga in the Kyoto Manga Museum. Additionally Kyoto is famously home to Nintendo – one of the largest video game companies in the world.
Kyoto is known for tea, both domestically and internationally. It is said that tea cultivation started here in 1191, when the Buddhist monk Eisai brought tea seeds from China to Japan and gave some of them to another Buddhist monk Myoe Shonin, who planted them around Kozanji temple, north of Kyoto city. Even today, tea is grown there and you can visit the very first tea garden (which is definitely on my bucket list). Kyoto is immensely important in the history and culture of Japanese tea, it was here that the iconic Japanese tea ceremony started forming in the 15th – 16th centuries and even today the main tea ceremony schools – Urasenke and Omotesenke (that we’ll be learning more about in one of my future Matcha Monday Masterclasses), have their headquarters in Kyoto.
Kyoto also gave the start to the now very popular Japanese loose leaf teas – Sencha and Gyokuro. In 1738 Nagatani Souen, a tea farmer in Uji, invented a loose leaf tea processing method that includes steaming, rolling and drying; and this was the start of Sencha production in Japan. In 1835 Gyokuro – shaded loose leaf green tea, was also created in the Uji area and thanks to its umami taste, became really popular in Tokyo. Today, Kyoto is ranked No.5 in tea production in Japan, and in 2020 made 2,360t of tea. Most of the tea cultivation is concentrated in the south of the prefecture; and the largest tea producing area is Wazuka town that makes about half of Kyoto’s tea. Other tea producing areas include Minamiyamashiro village, Ujitawara town and Kizugawa city.
The main tea produced in Kyoto is Matcha, that includes both ceremonial and cooking grades. Other teas made here include Sencha, Kabusecha and Gyokuro. In terms of Gyokuro, it continues to be a strong leader in Japan. The tea made in Kyoto is known as Uji tea. The brand has been famous in Japan and around the world for a long time and finally in 2007 Ujicha was registered as a trademark.
In today’s session we were again able to talk with and learn more about two tea producers, The first of which was Yoshida Meichaen. Masahiro Yoshida is the 17th generation tea farmer and the future general manager of Yoshida Meichaen, a very traditional tea farm in Uji region of Kyoto prefecture. They have a tea farm size of 2ha and use conventional methods, 85% hand picked tea. This family also manage the oldest tea field and have been doing so for around a century as their grandfather was asked by the president of the temple if he would take care of it.
The Yoshida family started tea farming a really long time ago – in the Edo period. Even today they are still producing tea the traditional way: using dry reeds for tea shading and picking tea by hand. They also manage the oldest tea garden in Kyoto close to Kozanji temple, where the first tea seeds were planted about 800 years ago. Yoshida Meichaen makes various Japanese teas, but their focus is on the highest grade teas: Gyokuro and Matcha. They have taken part in the national tea comp since it started over 75 years ago and have received first place over 20 times.
For today’s session they provided a Gyokuro and the processes they follow to produce this tea are as follows: shelf shaded tea fields, leaves are then picked by hand (1 needle 5 leaves), leaves taken into factory for light steaming (40s), tougher leaves taken out, soft rolling, medium rolling (machine), separation of leaves, tougher leaf and stems, fine rolling machine for needle shape, dried with shelf style dryer and finally sorted by hand.
They prepared their Samidori Cultivar Gyokuro in the following way for today session: 5g of tea leaf, 50-60C, 70ml water, steep for 2 mins. Tea lovers in today’s chat described this tea in the following ways: dry leaf aroma like rice porridge mixed with stock, cigar tobacco, algae, aloe vera juice, and chlorophyll. Taste: Very creamy, thick, viscous, syrupy, almost salty, umami, herbaceous, sweet as well, beef stock, roast beef, spinach. This sounds like an interesting Aracha Gyokuro and the use of the stems being included is not something you see too often, I would be interested in trying this and their finished product to see how they compare.
Samidori is chosen because this cultivar grows very straight and holds a lot of moisture in it’s leaves. It’s very well known in Kyoto and Uji and often used for Gyokuro and Matcha.
The second producer we spoke to and learned about today was Imanishi Seicha. Testuya Imanishi is the 5th generation tea farmer and future general manager of Imanishi Seicha, a small family tea farm in Wazuka region of Kyoto prefecture. The Imanishi family started tea farming in 1912 and has over a hundred years of history. Currently Imanishi Seicha manages about 3ha of tea fields at the foot of mount Yubu in Wazuka town. A few years ago they built a new Tencha factory and now focus on producing Matcha. Other teas they make include Sencha, Kabusecha and Hojicha. They use conventional methods to produce their teas. Their tea fields are the origin place of tea in Wazuka.
Wazuka town was originally a non shaded tea town but they changed from producing Sencha to Kabusecha and now finally Tencha. Now they are the number one Tencha production area in all of Japan. This producer produces their Matcha in the following way: Light steamed, blown up and down in nets to filter the leaves, conveyer belt takes them into a furnace 15m in length, it has 4 layers with each layer having a different temperature. Once they go through that step they are then ground into a fine powder and become Matcha.
They provided some of their Meiryouku cultivar (created by combining a few cultivar Yabukita and Yamato Midori) Matcha for today’s session and prepared it in the following way: 1,3g Matcha, 50ml water at a 100C. Other tea lovers in the chat described this specific Matcha in the following ways: Not bitter, very smooth and umami. No astringency at all. Being from Kyoto I have no doubts about the fact that this matcha was probably absolutely fantastic and I’ll be keeping my eye on this company going forward.
Sorry for the shorter post today my pain level have been high and I just wasn’t able to talk as many notes and concentrate as much as I have been doing in the previous sessions. I was still able to learn a lot though and I’m hoping that tomorrow things will be better and I can concentrate more and be able to bring you all another in depth post like I have done previously.
Until tomorrow, Happy Steeping – Kimberley