Regions of Tea: Kyoto
Kyoto is the heart of tea, and in Kyoto is Uji, the home of Japan’s best matcha tea.
Kyoto Prefecture only ranks as the 5th tea growing region in Japan, but like the Aichi prefecture, the quality of its tea makes it a center of tea.
The city of Uji (Uji-shi, shi: city) is the birthplace of the three kinds of tea one usually thinks of when talking about “Japanese green tea”: matcha, the shaded tea that is ground into powder; gyokuro, the loose leaf, shaded tea; and sencha, another loose leaf tea that is unshaded. When the first tea recipes and methods were brought over from Japan, it was in Uji that tea was first cultivated commercially. The monk Myoue received tea seeds from Eisai, the man credited for bringing tea ceremony to Japan from China .
During the Muromachi Era (1336 to 1573), the tea farm called “Uji Shichimeien” (Shichimeien: seven great tea fields) was established by the General Yoshimitsu Ashikaga of the Ashikaga shogun family.
Now, only one of the seven tea fields remain. The enduring legacy of Ashikaga’s tea farm is the establishment of Uji-cha (Uji tea) as the finest matcha in the country.
Uji-cha has gained the patronage of many great men that shaped the history of Japan, from Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshii and Tokugawa Ieyasu to the leaders of the present day. The renown Uji-cha has held continues to the present day. Tea farms from Uji have won prizes for the outstanding quality of its tea, and the Horii Shichimeien, the last remaining tea garden from the Uji Shichimeien, is the only tea company to have won the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ awards for tea in Kyoto; winning for tecnha, gyokuro, sencha and kabusencha.
Horii Shichimeien was a pioneer in tea modernization. In 1924 they developed a method called “Horii’s Tencha Production Machine” that increased the quality of their tea. They spread this method in the locality that it culminated into improving the quality of tea in the entire city of Uji. The machinery used in modern Japan’s tea industry are improved versions of Horii’s Tencha Production Machine.
Uji-cha is listed as Japan Heritage, and now they are gearing up for its inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage. For its 800-year history, impact on Japanese culture and later on to the rest of the world, Uji-cha definitely deserves to be on that list. The support that a UNESCO billing has could help the farmers, and would go a long way in preserving the Uji tradition of tea and promoting it to the rest of the world.