U is for 宇治

U is for Uji, one of the most famous places in Japan for green tea, and especially matcha. As I promised during my R is for ラリー post this month, I’m going to talk a bit about the green tea store we went to while we were there for the stamp rally. It was truly amazing – the shop owner there is actually the 16th generation of the family that has owned the tea shop for the last 500 years. He showed us all sorts of articles he has been in all throughout the world, and interviews for television, and explained that his shop was actually the “Champion” of Japan – that is, voted best matcha in Japan. It was really exciting to get that sort of explanation before we went back into the cafe to have a taste of his special matcha. There were machines grinding the matcha fresh in an alcove beside the cafe, and only two tables in all the shop. The shopkeeper explained to us later it was because for the last 500 years, they have only worked on refining their tea, not making their enterprise bigger…. boy, could you taste it! It was so good!

ca8f2-shapeimage_1-18After tea, the owner encouraged us to go up to the top of the shop with us, where the store’s personal historical items were on display. It was really awesome, to get a personal historical explanation from the store owner and nationwide champion for nearly twenty minutes in Japanese. He said it was because we had shown so an interest in the tea, more than he saw in most Japanese people who visited his shop. I learned all kinds of cool stuff- for instance, many famous people have drunk this shop’s tea, including the Emperor. At one point in history, the emperor had them hand carry a barrel of tea in royal procession from Uji (near Kyoto) to Edo (now Tokyo). Also, Uji has the least amount of land devoted to tea growing, and is ranked 6th in the country in terms of quality, but despite that, his own shop is #1- not just in age (it’s the oldest at 500 years), but also in taste and quality. His family’s techniques are nearly identical to the methods Sen no Rikyu used, and he teaches tea classes every so often for around $9 that let you grind your own matcha. I really want to try and do this before we leave!

Images hosted on Flickr.

Genji Monogatari Rally - Uji

Genji Monogatari Rally - Uji

Uji with Friends

https://flic.kr/p/nZY2ah

https://flic.kr/p/nY1TzL

Uji with Friends

https://flic.kr/p/nHze19

https://flic.kr/p/o14C1R

30 thoughts on “U is for 宇治

  1. Such a wonderful history. I would love the opportunity to learn about such a long standing family tradition. I’m not a fan of green tea, but something tells me I’d change my mind if I tasted the magic of Japan!

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  2. Alex, what is that in the bowl? This shop is indeed a treasure – I love the fact that Japan has people who are designated national treasures, preserving various unique aspects of their culture!

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    1. The picture of the bowl above the certificate is shaved ice, green tea flavored, with sweet red beans and ice cream. 🙂 It was super tasty.

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  3. He clearly told his story to the correct guests! Thank you for sharing. I’ve only seen matcha once, in a tea shop in….Wyoming. It was good, but Wyomingites don’t appreciate tea and it closed. I’d love to try some really authentic matcha someday. If I ever wander to Japan, I want to try the matcha that focused on tradition over monetizing!

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  4. The 16th generation of the family that has owned the tea shop for the last 500 years? Such a wonderful sense of history! And I love that the family have adopted a ‘quality over quantity’ work ethic! Really wholesome.
    I love my tea.
    Have you tasted our South African Rooibos tea? It’s caffeine-free and has numerous health benefits.

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    1. I love Rooibos tea! I used to get it from Tazo teas, I think. I’m more of a caffeinated tea drinker, but when I choose herbal, I go red or bush. 🙂

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  5. Wow! I am so intrigued by that. I am very fond of tea – ginger honey, Indian Basil, lemon tea and of course the ginger tea with milk. Green tea – I still have to develop a taste for it. The ones that I have had were not as good.

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  6. I’m not a tea drinker and I had no idea what matcha was until I looked it up. Now I’m very intrigued. I will have to add this to my list of 52 New Things to try this year.

    I’m impressed with any business that has greater concern for their craftsmanship than growth. I think the rest of the world needs a lesson in that.
    Perhaps that is the real secret of their amazing longevity.

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    1. Depending on where you live, you could probably find a shop close to you! I know a great place in Berkeley, CA, and I know there are plenty in SF, too. The important thing is to make sure they include the sweet with the tea, because that’s part of the tasting!

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      1. Thanks – I live in Toronto which has a very large Asian community so I’m sure to find a shop. Thanks for the hint about the sweet to go with it … that explains the ice cream 🙂

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