Named the cultural capital of Japan, Kyoto is steeped in culture. That, of course, includes tea.
Kyoto has a long history of tea production and appreciation. It is here that some of the first tea seeds were planted and here that the Sencha production method was invented. Kyoto is also the centre for the Japanese tea ceremony and related arts. So if you come to Japan for tea, you should not miss this city.
In this article I would like to introduce the top 7 places for tea in Kyoto. It is no way a conclusive list, but should help you to get started when exploring tea in this city.
Ippodo is one of the most traditional Japanese tea shops born in Kyoto. It counts over 300 years of history since its start in 1717. Today there are three shops in Kyoto, Tokyo and New York.
The Ippodo shop and tearoom in Kyoto has a really authentic feeling. It is decorated with chatsubo – ceramic tea containers traditionally used for tea storage. At this shop you can try various high grade Japanese teas.
If you choose Matcha, it will be prepared in a traditional way – whisked with a chasen, and served with a delicious Japanese sweet wagashi. If you choose Gyokuro or Sencha, you will be able to brew the tea yourself, with instructions from Ippodo staff. Quite surprising to those who often visit various Japanese tea shops is that Ippodo uses quite a lot of tea leaves. Thanks to that you can get at least 5 brews; and if you have time – even more.
A wonderful place for authentic Japanese tea experience.
Marukyu Koyamaen is also a really traditional Japanese tea shop. Apparently, it began as a tea farm in 1704, and even today it continues to produce its own tea. The pride of Marukyu Koyamaen is their Matcha, but they make and carry other high grade Japanese teas too.
While the headquarters of Marukyu Koyama are in Uji, they also have a tearoom and a tea shop on Nishinotoin street in Kyoto. The teashop has a very traditional vibe. There is even a traditional tatami tearoom and you can often see guests in kimonos.
The highest grade teas produced by Marukyu Koyamaen factory are available here, most of which will come together with a Japanese sweet or a small snack. If you choose their Matcha you will also be able to pick a wagashi out of 4 offered that day. Sipping delicious tea and admiring the beautiful Japanese garden outside the teashop it is hard to notice where the time goes.
For a peaceful and quiet time with tea.
In the line of traditional, it is also worth mentioning Bikouen – a small Japanese tea shop about 10min on foot north of Kyoto Station. Bikouen was established in 1872, and since then it has been managed by five generations of the Hashimoto family.
Bikouen proudly sells the teas from Uji and you can see the lineup of their teas as well as some utensils at the front of the shop. Their Matcha selection is wide and they will guide you to select the flavour that fits you the most. At the front there are also some tables and chairs where you can pause for a moment to enjoy some of their teas.
At the back they have a proper Japanese tearoom with a beautiful garden next to it. Hashimoto-san is the teacher of samurai style tea ceremony, and in the tearoom they hold various tea ceremony experiences. Depending on your interest, you can have a short Matcha experience or a full-fledged tea ceremony.
A still rather hidden gem in Kyoto.
Gion Tsujiri is a traditional Japanese teashop in Kyoto, known for plentiful tea desserts. It was founded in 1860 and since then it has been managed by 6 generations of the Miyoshi family. Apparently for a period of time it was relocated to Taiwan by the third generation owner of the family, but later was reestablished in Kyoto again. Today Gion Tsuji has 6 shops: 4 in Kyoto and 2 in Tokyo.
The headquarters in Gion, has a cosy traditional atmosphere. On the walls you can see chabako – traditional tea boxes used for tea export. The shop sells and serves tea from Uji. They have a wide variety of Matcha and other Japanese teas. You can have a cup of tea here, but the most popular on their menu are their tea desserts: icecream, mouse, parfaits. The most famous among all the desserts is tokoroten – jelly noodles with green tea or brown sugar syrup.
Come here for a sweet tea bite.
Yugen is a new modern teashop in Kyoto, that opened in 2018. Housed in a hundred-year old building, from the outside Yugen looks traditional, but the feeling inside is more modern. Bare concrete walls are exposed to the eye and contrasted well with the wooden tea shelves and other attributes of the interior.
Yugen set up as a tea bar or a tea stand. It has just a few seats and most people enjoy their drinks while standing. Yugen mostly serves and sells single-origin teas that they source directly from the tea farmers in Kyoto. Unlike many other teashops they focus more on Sencha rather than Matcha, so you can experience and appreciate the difference between different tea cultivars and producers.
Popular with the younger generation, Yugen also serves tea to go, if you are in a hurry.
Opened just in 2019 Fukucha is a new trendy Japanese teashop. It belongs to Fukujuen company – one of the largest tea companies in Japan. Fukujuen story started in 1970 in the countryside of Kyoto and now it has over 80 teashops across the country. Fukucha is perhaps the newest in their list.
Located inside Kyoto station, it has a modern Japanese design. Generous use of wood elements creates a warm and inviting atmosphere. You can simply choose to sip one of the Uji teas on their menu, but it is common and recommended to combine it with one of their delicious and elegant sweets, such as a matcha tiramisu, hojicha macaron, strawberry monaka.
A wonderful stop for tea before heading into the town.
Horaido is a sweet little teashop on a popular Teramachi shopping street. Started in 1803, it appears as if it has been preserved in a time capsule. Traditional dark wooden panels, typical for Kyoto, and old clay tea storage jars – chatsubo, on the shelves breath of the past.
Inside the shop area is quite small, but they have plenty to offer. Horaido sells tea from the Uji region and has a wide selection of all common Japanese teas: Sencha, Gyokuro, Matcha, etc. Along with tea they also offer a range of beautiful teaware, that many tea enthusiasts cannot hold back from getting.
A tea shop with a spirit, a calm shop on a busy street.