As I crossed the Uji-bashi Bridge, I stopped to enjoy the Uji river view and the surrounding hills before finally arriving at the famous Byodo-in Omotesando Road in Uji. The short road leading to the Byodoin temple is chock-full of tea shops selling the best matcha in the world.
Although I had a list of matcha brands I wanted to buy, I strolled down the street looking for a quiet teahouse to relax in after the train ride from Osaka. Terashimaya is the first tea shop that caught my eye. The shop had hundreds of wooden tea crates and was extremely busy, which was a good sign, but what drew me was their outdoor seating area.
One of the shopkeepers was surrounded by customers sampling genmaicha, and so I approached another and asked if they had ceremonial matcha. After gesturing to explain I wanted to drink the tea, the shopkeeper lead me outside. The tranquil seating area was sheltered from the sun and the noise from the street.
While I had planned on trying to ask for their highest grade of matcha, I lost all of my courage when the shopkeeper didn’t come back with a menu. Instead, I was presented with a beautiful black and red tray. The tray had a hot cup of sencha, a bowl of vibrant green matcha, and two matcha flavoured Japanese sweets. I sipped on the first matcha of the day and relaxed.
The matcha served as part of the standard set was good, but not amazing. I later learned that many shops don’t allow you to taste their highest grade matcha. Luckily, I had done my research and was now eager to buy my first tin of the finest matcha powder.
After a bad experience at a restaurant I always wonder if I should even write about it. There is enough negativity in the world as is, and so many other great spots I could write about instead. My lunch wasn’t even that bad, the meal was just surprisingly bland. But the interesting part is that all of the factors that usually make a place great are the reasons it went poorly.
When a restaurant has tons of highly positive reviews, it’s usually a good sign. The downside though is that positive reviews elevate expectations. Since my meal was one of the more popular options on the menu, there were complementary reviews about this specific meal. Maybe my lunch had no chance against my high expectations.
When a restaurant has beautiful decor and friendly staff, it usually means they are successful enough to afford investing in their atmosphere. After tasting my meal though it became clear that the resources spent on the vibe should’ve been spent on the food.
A lunch set makes it easy for people to order, and can be a great way to showcase the most popular dish. Sometimes though a daily special means the restaurant is trying to get rid of leftovers and ingredients that are about to expire. I mostly ordered the lunch set because I like dishes with lots of variety. I hoped that the long wait was an indication that everything was being prepared fresh. While I couldn’t tell if anything was premade or borderline stale, I was surprised that not one thing on the plate was properly heated or seasoned.
When everything on the menu is plant-based, and even organic, it’s much easier to place an order without the stress of substitutions. Since this is pretty rare to find, especially in some cities, people tend to be more forgiving about the food itself. As much as people can’t help but being honest about any grievances, they usually feel the need to give a place 5 stars when it caters to their specific dietary needs. This is exactly why I don’t plan on naming this restaurant. I’m just grateful they exist, and hope they either had an off day or will get better.
On my way to lunch at Green Earth for the second time, I stopped by Public for a drink. I noticed the cute cafe when I first walked by, and planned to pop in if I returned to the area.
The cafe was beautifully decorated with various seating options. After picking a spot, I browsed the english drink menu on the table. The chalk menu by the counter was in Japanese, so I walked over to translate it. I was curious about the daily specials, and discovered they offered lunch and baked goods.
I ordered an espresso soda and their freshly baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. I had never heard of an espresso soda before, but should’ve known to stick with a latte as I don’t usually enjoy carbonated drinks. On the plus side, the sweetener was served on side making it easy to add as little at a time. The oatmeal chocolate chip cookie was huge and delicious. While breaking off a piece, I noticed the table had a “made in Canada” stamp. The strange coincidence reminded me of home, but the brief moment passed as I excitedly returned to mapping out my trip to Uji.
The good thing about arriving in a surprisingly busy area of Kyoto, was the amble choice of teahouses. In an attempt to be open to new experiences, I embraced under-planning and walked into the first teahouse I came across. After drinking matcha in Shinsaibashi in Osaka, I wanted to try a matcha flavoured food. The menu had a variety of matcha noodle dishes, and appetizing desserts. Since matcha is an acquired taste, flavoured ice cream, tiramisu, and parfaits are a great alternative for those who don’t yet appreciate ceremonial matcha.
There were many food items, but unfortunately no vegan options. Instead, I ordered a ceremonial matcha and hoped it would be served with a sweet treat. In Japanese teahouses, the most expensive matcha on the menu is the highest grade ceremonial matcha and is served with sencha and wagashi. Wagashi is a small Japanese confection, often made from sugar and rice flour. It is typically plant-based, even when it includes a filling.
The order did end up including a delicious pink wagashi. The matcha itself didn’t have that distinct umami flavour, however, it was still extremely fresh and skillfully prepared. I also ordered an iced matcha, which was smooth but much sweeter than expected as they added a generous amount of syrup.
Sometimes it’s nice to stroll around, and visit a place without looking at reviews. Though, I have extremely high expectations for my next matcha tasting as it would be in the highly regarded teahouses of Uji.
After months of searching for the best hojicha Kyoto has to offer, I’ve finally found hojicha worth sharing and have officially launched Hōjicha Co. Japan Today kindly featured the exciting news, including more about the origin of Hōjicha Co. and our future plans. If you’d like to celebrate the launch and taste my new favourite tea, use code: DANIELLE10 to get 10% off any of our products (yes, even the Hojicha Launch Pack).
If you have no idea what hojicha is, you’re not alone. Although it was invented nearly 100 years ago in Kyoto, hojicha is only now beginning to gain popularity outside of Japan. Hojicha is a roasted green tea that has zero bitterness and is reddish-brown in colour. I only discovered the naturally sweet tea last March in Osaka.
During that trip to Osaka, I also visited Kyoto for the first time. After wanting to experience the modern urban vibes of Tokyo on an earlier trip to Japan, I was now ready to slow down and explore nature. Kyoto was always described to me as a peaceful hiking destination. That is why I was utterly shocked when I arrived at a bustling shopping district.
As I tried to navigate through the crowded streets, I double-checked that Maruyama Park was in fact nearby. The cherry blossom season started early this year, and I didn’t want to miss out on the blooms near Yasaka Shrine. When I arrived at the park, I walked towards the cherry blossom viewing spot Google Maps had suggested. However, I was once again caught off guard as the spot turned out to be a festival area full of food stands. I continued to venture deeper into the park, determined to find a quiet spot.
A few moments later, I was surrounded by nature. On my stroll I came across ancient shrines, beautiful buddhist temples, serene ponds, and colourful cherry blossoms. It dawned on me that there was much to see in Kyoto, and it was best experienced first hand with an open mind. A realization I hope to remember throughout all of my travels.