A Walk Through the History of Japanese Tea in Kyoto’s Minamiyamashiro Region

Different Types of Uji Tea to Suit Your Taste

Teas grown in the Minamiyamashiro and surrounding areas and processed in Kyoto Prefecture are designated “Uji-cha” (“Uji tea”). The three most famous types of Uji tea are “sencha,” “maccha” (aka “matcha”) and “gyokuro.” The leaves are identical, but the cultivation and processing techniques produce different flavors.

Sencha tea leaves
Sencha tea leaves

Sencha is perhaps the most common type of green tea enjoyed by Japanese people. The leaves gets lots of sunlight and are then steamed, kneaded and dried.

Tea stone ground into maccha
Tea stone ground into maccha

The tea used in “Sado,” or “tea ceremony,” is maccha. Firstly, “tencha” tea is cultivated from new buds shielded from sunlight, then steamed, and finally stone ground into powdered, maccha form. Known for its bright green color and umami-rich flavor.

Maccha and utensils used in tea ceremony
Maccha and utensils used in tea ceremony

Aside from being enjoyed as tea, maccha is often used to flavor sweets and ice cream.

Gyokuro tea leaves
Gyokuro tea leaves

Known as a premium quality tea, gyokuro buds are shielded from sunlight much longer than maccha, then steamed, resulting in a softer, deep green color. The leaves are kneaded and dried. Gyokuro is brewed at a lower-temperature of 50-60°C (122-140°F), which brings out the umami more gradually (pouring boiling water directly will result in a bitter flavor).

More About the Cultural Heritage of Minamiyamashiro

Minamiyamashiro region
Minamiyamashiro region

South of the city of Kyoto, the Minamiyamashiro region encompasses 12 cities, towns, and villages. Tea was first introduced from China some 800 years ago, with Minamiyamashiro taking the lead in Japanese tea production thereafter. Additionally, with nearby Kyoto being the center of tea ceremony culture, tea production in Minamiyamashiro expanded and developed into what it is today.

From JR Kyoto station, take the JR Nara line approximately 30 minutes to Uji station.

Tsuen Tea
Tsuen Tea

Uji City’s Tsuen Tea is said to be Japan’s oldest “chaya,” or tea house. Serving both as a rest stop for travelers and purveyor of tea and sweets, it has been in business since the 12th century! Uji is also the birthplace of seven special tea plantations, known as Ujishichimeien, which contributed to the cultivation of tea leaves staring in the 15th century. One of the plantations, Okunoyamachaen, operates to this day.

Tea field in Ujitawara Town
Tea field in Ujitawara Town
Try your hand at picking tea leaves in the town of Wazuka
Try your hand at picking tea leaves in the town of Wazuka

Cultivation of the ever-popular sencha began in the 17th century in Ujitawara Town’s Yuyadani quarter. As demand increased, production spread to the nearby mountain town of Wazuka. Visitors can take in Wazuka’s beautiful, jade-colored tea fields.

Tea field in Kozuya
Tea field in Kozuya

High grade gyokuro tea grows best in sandy soil, and has been cultivated along the Kizu River in areas such as Yawata City and Kyotanabe City since the 19th century.

Using the Kizu River for transport, tea was then delivered to Kizugawa City’s Kamikoma for blending and wholesale.

Immerse Yourself In Uji’s Tea Culture

Visitors can learn how to prepare and drink green tea
Visitors can learn how to prepare and drink green tea

Visitors looking to learn more about the cultivation and production of tea must visit Marukyu-Koyamaen tea makers in Uji City. Experience tea ceremony workshops and of course maccha testing.

The ritual drawing of fresh water for the Uji Green Tea Festival
The ritual drawing of fresh water for the Uji Green Tea Festival

How about a festival devoted to tea history and culture? The Uji Tea Festival takes place on the first Sunday of every October. The ritual drawing of famous fresh water from Uji Bridge is a must see. The water is then brought to Kousho-ji Temple for tea ceremony, where the use of the year’s newly-picked tea is celebrated.