Matcha (抹茶), or powdered green tea, is a staple in the Japanese daily life and is the only form of tea used in sado (茶道) or tea ceremony. It is grown in shade for three weeks and often covered in blankets. This growing process produces tea leaves with higher caffeine content. Hand picked at harvest, tea leaves are deveined and prepared for the final grinding process in millstones. Matcha comes in different grades: ceremonial grade for tea ceremony in temples, premium grade for everyday consumption, and cooking grade.
If you are interested in matcha and would like to try making your own, Fukujuen Uji Koubou (福寿園 宇治工房) in Kyoto (京都) provides the unique opportunity to grind your own cup of matcha!
After paying for the session at the reception, the staff will start distributing 10 to 15 grams of tea leaves on top of each millstone grinder. Participants are then given a brief history of tea and explanation of its various available forms.
The grinding process begins by grabbing the bamboo handle and starting to rotate the millstone grinder counter-clockwise. The speed of rotation cannot be too fast. Otherwise, the millstone grinder will get warm. The rise in temperature can alter the taste and aroma of the matcha. The ideal matcha should be yellowish green in color with a fresh leave aroma. It should be sweet with hints of grassy bitterness. The soft leaves on top of the bush give the best texture and yield the highest grade matcha.
Manual grinding is a slow process. Two grams of matcha is needed to make a bowl of tea. It can take an experienced grinder a full hour to get 25 to 30 grams of powdered green tea. For inexperienced grinders, it can take 45 minutes to have a 5-gram yield.
The finished product is collected by brushing it into a container. Participants will then gather around the hot water pot. Matcha is placed into a tea bowl and the appropriate amount (50 to 60 mL) of hot water is added. The temperature of the water should be around 70 to 90 degrees Celsius. Then whisk quickly with a chasen, a special bamboo tool, in a clockwise direction until the green tea becomes frothy and no visible clumps appear.
Matcha is served with Japanese sweets or wagashi (和菓子). Depending on the season, different wagashi would be served with the bowl of tea. Eat the sweet first, then pick up the bowl with your right hand and place it in the palm of your left hand. For proper tea ceremony etiquette, rotate the bowl clockwise twice. Drink the tea in three to four gulps. Rotate the bowl counter-clockwise twice before putting it back in its original location. The rotation of the tea bowl is entirely optional but it would be good practice and shows respect to the host.
Time to grab a quick lunch after all your hard work at grinding. Fukujuen Saryo (福寿園茶寮) cafe serves green tea soba or buckwheat noodles for lunch. It is located at the entrance on the second floor. This cafe also serves tasty matcha ice cream, mochi, and different seasonal dishes. A perfect place to relax before moving onwards to explore the rest of Uji (宇治).
The featured green tea soba set costs 800 yen plus tax. It comes with green tea soba with green tea leaves sprinkled on top, soba sauce, and chopped green onions.
Making a reservation is recommended (especially on weekends and holidays) but walk-in appointments are also possible. The cost of the matcha-grinding experience is 1,200 yen plus tax per person. One session takes about 45 minutes. Tea ceremony and pottery-making experiences are also available on-site.
Do not forget to pick up some matcha in the tea shop on the first floor before leaving this famous tea area!
Fukujuen Uji Koubou Website *Japanese only