A Walk Through The 800 Year History Of Japanese Tea.

Japan is known for its healthy and minimalist diet and it is said that every ingredient is treated with the utmost care. From the freshest sushi to the ramen that requires half a day of preparation, cooking is a complex art with the necessity to follow the instructions faithfully. Famous for its quality and flavor, Japanese tea does not escape the precise process of cultivation and care of the product.

But what do you know about these famous herbs that have already 800 years of history across the country?
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The 3 main teas exploited in Japan are:

-Matcha: Used as a flavor in many traditional Japanese pastries or during its tea ceremony, Matcha is purchased worldwide.

Tencha shoots are cultivated in a covered garden so the tea is not exposed to the sun, they are then refrigerated from May to November (which consists of keeping quality), then to be steamed and dried without being kneaded.

The Matcha is thus obtained by grinding the Tencha between two stone millstones called Ishiusu. The herbs then become a fine ground green powder.

Served with Wagashi (sweet Japanese dessert), this perfectly blends the deep taste of matcha.
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-Sencha: Literally meaning "infused tea", its fresh shoots from an uncovered plantation are subjected to a steam bath of 15 to 45 seconds to stop oxidation, then the leaves are rolled and dried.

The infusion is very green and slightly bitter .

It is the most appreciated tea of ​​the Japanese by its quality and its sweet aroma.
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-Gyokuro: Located in the Uji region near Kyoto since the Edo era, the fresh shoots of Gyokuro ("Pearl of Dew") are covered for 20 days to obtain a darker color than the Sencha. It is steamed then dried while being rolled.

It's so far a high quality tea with a fine taste and is highly concentrated in caffeine . Gyokuro tea is also accompanied by sweet products (chocolate etc ...) to alleviate the taste.
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The benefits of Japanese tea are indisputable: high in protein, vitamin A, C, E, B1, B2, caffeine, fluorite, and minerals ... These 3 teas are the must to try!

Dive into the history of tea during your stay:

Originating from the Chinese Tang Dynasty, tea was introduced in Japan at the beginning of the Heian period (794-1185). It was during the Kamakura period (1185-1333) in Kyoto that the monk of the temple Kosan taught the villagers the art of cultivating tea. And it is here that begins our 3-day stay with its rich 800 years of history.

1.Manpuku-ji. ( Day 1 )
Located in Uji(Kyoto), Ōbaku-san Manpuku-ji (檗 山 萬 福寺 福寺) is a temple of the Obaku Zen Buddhist School, considered the main temple of the 460 others,  . In the middle of the building, a splendid seated Buddha statue has a striking resemblance to the monk in charge of the places: Takayuki Hirose.

It is through his warm guided tour that it is here, in the middle of the 17th century, the founder of the temple, Ingen Zenji, introduced the Encha method (from the Chinese Ming dynasty) which consists of pouring hot water over dry tea leaves.

If you also visit this temple, you may surely have the chance to taste the delicious 100% vegetarian Buddhist meal cooked by authentic monks.

Address: 34 Gokasho Sanban-wari, Uji 611-0011, Kyoto Prefecture
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2.Nagatani Soen's birthplace (Day 1)
Inspired by the Encha method, Nagatami Soen introduced in 1738 a unique method called Aosei Sencha Seiho.

Previously abandoned, the site was renovated in 2007 by locals, which attracts many tea merchants and tourists from abroad.

Once installed in the main building, you will be led to watch an explanatory video about the making of the tea that will be served to us later (and the actors acting will make your day). From the old technique to the necessary modernization, this makes us realize the complexity of the procedure used to lead to the final result of this precious drink.
The surrounding woods give the Sencha tea tasting a mystical and unique vibration. Thatched roofs, imposing fir trees and flowering trees have brought a romantic connotation to this place filled with history.

Address: 〒610-0289 Araki, Ujitawara-cho, Tsuzuki-gun, Kyoto Nishide 10
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3.Okunoyama chaen (Day 1)
Uji green tea became famous throughout the country during the Muromachi period (1333-1573). Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, at the time shogun, developed seven tea gardens, which later became "Uji Shichimeien" (literally: the seven excellent tea gardens in Uji). However, of these seven, the Okunoyama-en (tea garden) is the only one to have remained today.

This field produces different teas, including the popular Tencha Narino and the Okunoyama Gyokuro. Here, these tea trees originate from a 300-year-old mother tree. Up to 1 meter in height until May, the new leaves are recovered, then the tree is cut after the leaves picking. The same process is repeated every year. About the remains, they are reused as fertilizer to fertilize the soil.

We are still concerned about ecology in Japan!
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4.Horii-Shichimean (Day 2)
In a building adjacent to this factory, I was allowed to attend a relaxing tea ceremony in an intimate and cozy atmosphere.

Served with its traditional wagashi (Japanese sweet), the tasting of matcha Narino tea is in the spotlight. It is also possible to buy omiyage (souvenirs) in the small shop of the building. The Oku no Yama Gyokuro and the matcha Narino are the most coveted teas by customers.

Address: 〒611-0021,84 Uji Myoraku, Uji city
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5.Kaijyusen-ji (Day 2)
Another temple.

But like the first one, during the Kamakura period its devout religious scholar played an important role . According to legend, it was the monk Myoe who transmitted tea seeds to the monk Jishin from the Kaijyusen temple, cultivation began in the area, in Harayama, below the Mount Jubuzan. We thank them!

Kaijyusen-ji's interest is also due to its deep connection with the establishment of tea in this area, and to its pagoda, which is the smallest in Japan, as well as its eggplant-like sculpture that will astonish most of visitors. This represents the fulfillment because the flower does not fade, it immediately becomes a vegetable.

Address: 20 kaijyusen, Reihei, Kamocho, Kizugawa 619-1106, Kyoto Prefecture
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6. Ishitera tea fields (Day 3)
What to say here, except that this small village in Wakazu is by far the best thing to see during this stay.

This verdant expanse will leave you speechless thanks the beauty of its Japanese tea fields.

A long walk in the farm is strongly recommended to feel how each tree is pampered with love. With their round cut and neat to the millimeter, this is like immersing yourself in a sea of ​​a brilliant green.

It is said that Wakazu tea is so sweet and delicious that it is worth the detour.

Address: Ishitera, Soraku-gun, Wazuka-cho 619-1221, Kyoto Prefecture
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7.Kamikoma, the tea wholesalers' quarter (Day 3)
With its 40 buildings from the end of the Edo period, now known as the "tea wholesalers' district", the vibrant Kamikoma district emerged thanks to its convenient location near the Kizu River.

A visit to these old places remains a pleasant experience and leaves us the opportunity to appreciate to the maximum the architecture of its buildings.

Not far from the city, you will find the largest Jizo in all of Japan. A real cultural wonder.
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8.Takumi House (Day 3)
Takumi no Yakata will be your last destination during your journey through the history of Japanese tea. A Japanese instructor will explain how to serve you properly Gyokuro, which is, to our big surprise, edible with ponzu vinegar!
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Address: 17-1 Ujimataburi, Uji-shi, Kyoto 611-0021

To conclude, this excursion completely changes our vision of Japanese tea.
There are so many possibilities with the Japanese teas, served by beating the matcha tea, or 3 times at different temperatures each time for the Sencha and the Gyokuro, with or without sweets as accompaniment.. Tasting this precious hot drink will be possible at home once the different techniques mastered.
A striking unforgettable time travel.

Lily Sergent