Uji matcha tea is one of Japan's leading brands of green teas, along with Shizuoka and Sayama tea. This popular tea comes from Uji, Kyoto, the birthplace of the tea cultivation methods used to this day.
Standing amongst the quaint cityscape is Nakamura Tokichi Honten, a Japanese teahouse founded in 1854 and designated as an Important Cultural Landscape in 2009. Today, we paid a visit to try this delicious Uji matcha tea for ourselves. Rest assured that measures against COVID are firmly in place.
- Table of Contents
- Uji matcha: a popular tea since long ago
- Nakamura Tokichi Honten: Where the spirits of artisans from long ago remain
- Enjoy famous Nakamura Tokichi teas to your heart's content
- How to Brew Green Tea
- Ground Tea Experience: Embrace the Spirit of Japanese tea (Reservations Required)
- Relax in a chic cafe based on the original teahouse
- A Ton of Great Souvenirs!
- Measures Against Coronavirus
Uji matcha: a popular tea since long ago
The history of Uji tea dates back to the Kamakura Period (1185-1333). It was introduced to Japan by Eisai Zenji, the founder of the Japanese sect of Zen Buddhism. Full-scale tea cultivation began when Eisai decided to plant the tea trees grown from seeds he brought back from China in Uji.
Thanks to the Uji region's fog-producing diurnal effect and abundant rainfall, it was a prime location for producing high-quality tea. Even more cultivation methods developed throughout the Edo Period (1603-1867), leading to the production of two other popular types of Japanese tea, sencha and gyokuro.
As the birthplace of Japanese tea and the cultivation methods used today, Uji has gradually become the center of Japanese tea culture.
In the Muromachi period (1338-1573), Yoshimitsu Ashikaga created his own personal tea gardens in Uji, and Uji tea cultivation spread even more by the people's hands. With such a long history, the Uji brand has come to represent tea as a whole.
Uji matcha tea was even the beverage of choice at tea parties hosted by the shogunate and the royal family. Uji is located about 20 minutes from JR Kyoto Station via rapid train and is a popular tourist destination, as well.
Getting to Uji
■From JR Osaka Station: Ride Kyoto Line to Kyoto Station. Transfer to Nara Line and ride to Uji Station. (One-way: approx. 1 hour, 990 yen)
■From Keihan Line Yodoyabashi Station: Ride Demachiyanagi-bound train to Chushojima Station. Transfer to Uji Line to the last stop, Uji Station. (One-way: approx. 1 hour, 420 yen)
Nakamura Tokichi Honten: Where the spirits of artisans from long ago remain
Nakamura Tokichi Honten is located right next to JR Uji Station and about 10 minutes on foot from Keihan Uji Station. A large curtain with the Maruto symbol marks the entrance. This long-established tea shop, named after the first Tokichi Nakamura, is the essence of Kyoto's Uji no Sato tea.
Long ago, the original tea house was lined with a variety of famous teas and souvenirs, and tea leaves were sold by the measure. Today, it has been renovated into a cafe that also sells matcha sweets, and is crowded with visitors every day.
Beautiful 250-year-old pine trees fill Nakamura Tokichi's garden. One of the large pines, a beloved tree of founder Fujiyoshi, has even been selected as one of the 100 best trees in Uji. It is said that second-generation Mr. Fujiyoshi planted it in the garden himself while praying for the family business' success.
In 2009, Nakamura Tokichi Honten was designated as an Important Cultural Landscape of Uji. The entire site, including their Byodoin shop, has been recognized as a special cultural property passed down to future generations, just as the spirit of Uji tea and Japan's hospitality have been passed down since its founding.
Enjoy famous Nakamura Tokichi teas to your heart's content
Unique to this tea shop is the black-painted window hanging over the sales corner called the "haiken-mado" (looking window). The upper window illuminates the pedestal inside as a viewing area. Using the natural light, you can determine the delicate color and texture of the tea leaves. It is the same light that once illuminated the hands of the craftsmen.
There are many kinds of Uji teas, but Nakamura Tokichi's teas are only available here. This original brand was born in 1994 to commemorate the 1200th anniversary of when Emperor Kanmu moved the capital to Heiankyo in 794.
It gets its unique and profound taste from a blend of seven types of carefully selected tea leaves. We were even able to enjoy a special tasting during our visit (*tasting currently suspended).
How to Brew Green Tea
First, the hot water in the pot is cooled to about 80°C, and poured over the tea leaves.
Watch as the tea leaves come to life inside your cup as they naturally expand.
After about 30-40 seconds, use a strainer and slowly pour the tea into your tea cup. Repeat until you have poured out every last drop. You may be able to enjoy a second and third cup!
The flavor of the tea changes depending on how hot the water is. Higher temperatures enhance the tea's astringency and bitterness, while lower temperatures bring out a sweet, mellow, dashi-like saltiness. The second brew is often more refreshing than the first, and you can enjoy as many as three cups.
Ground Tea Experience: Embrace the Spirit of Japanese tea (Reservations Required)
Nakamura Tokichi Honten has a tea room called Zuisho-an. The Ground Tea Experience is a hands-on experience where you grind tea leaves with a stone mill and make your own matcha (reservations required). It is very popular with tourists, as well.
First, you will remove your shoes and enter the tatami room. After grinding the tea, you will be provided with sandals to wear to the elegant tea room. This valuable opportunity lets you experience Japan's unique tea-making process and enjoy drinking a rich matcha tea you made yourself (Time required: approx. 90 minutes; fees apply; currently suspended).
Relax in a chic cafe based on the original teahouse
The cafe was once a tea factory during the Meiji and Taisho Periods. In 2001, the building was renovated into the stylish cafe you see today, leaving the beams and columns intact.
Locals love this cafe, where you can enjoy many famous teas and handmade confectioneries. We recommend relaxing on the terrace as you look out over the beautifully landscaped garden.
This trendy treat is a special snack you will only find here. Namacha Jelly is a masterpiece combining plump matcha jelly, shiratama dumplings, sweet azuki beans, and mellow matcha ice cream. It is served to perfection in a bamboo bowl.
The natural bamboo bowl (10-11 cm diameter) is a completely original item sold at Uji Honten. The cool, aromatic flavor of this high-quality matcha will have you scraping the bottom of the bowl with your spoon to get every last drop.
The Maruto Parfait is another delicious treat that showcases the bright green color and refreshing aroma of matcha, served in a bamboo bowl.
Inside is a matcha castella cake and a mildly-sweet parfait cream that pair perfectly well together. You can also add crispy brown rice puffs and berries!
Dig a little deeper and you will find sweet-and-sour lemon jam, shiratama dango, and Dainagon azuki beans. Matcha jelly and soft-serve ice cream line the bottom. The combination of high-quality matcha and layers of flavors makes this parfait one of the most exciting treats in Nakamura Tokichi's shop.
It is topped with Senun no Shiro, a bittersweet and matured high-grade matcha sold at the souvenir corner that really rounds out the parfait's overall sweetness.
A Ton of Great Souvenirs!
This lineup of famous teas begins in the early spring and changes with the seasons. The refreshing summer Mizudashicha and autumn Fujiyoshicha are available in limited quantities.
They are deeply flavorful products, having been aged for anywhere from six months to a year and a half. Each tea has a nostalgic aroma, and are available in bulk bags, cans, and individual tea bags, making them perfect souvenirs, as well.
These high-quality matcha products come in adorable packaging. If you're not sure which one to buy, the knowledgeable staff will be happy to give you advice!
Every cup of tea is prepared not only with tea leaves and fancy utensils, but with a lot of heart and soul too. With its delectable aroma and taste, this tea is a treat for all your senses. Next time you visit Uji, be sure to stop by Nakamura Tokichi and indulge in some delicious Uji tea for yourself!
Measures Against Coronavirus
Shop and facilities regularly cleaned and disinfected; disinfectant solution available and partitions installed; all staff required to wear masks, wash hands, use sanitizer, gargle, and take temperature; may refuse entry to customers in poor health; all customers required to wear masks and take temperature
NAKAMURA TOKICHI中村藤吉本店 宇治本店
- Address 10 Uji Ichiban, Uji City, Kyoto 611-0021
Access: 1 minute walk from JR Uji Station; 10 minute walk from Keihan Uji Station
- Phone Number 0774-22-7800
Weekdays: Tea Shop 10:00AM-5:30PM, Cafe 10:00AM-5:30PM (L.O. 4:30PM)
Saturdays, Sundays, holidays: Tea Shop 10:00AM-6:00PM, Cafe 10:00AM-6:00PM (L.O. 4:30PM)
*Varies by season
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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