Uji (宇治) is a small city situated between Kyoto and Nara, two of Japan's most famous historical and cultural centres. It’s famously known for its green tea. While Kozanji Temple in Kyoto is believed to be the original site of tea cultivation in Japan, Uji's tea became better known for its superior quality in the 1100s.
Our journey began at Kyoto Station where our lovely hosts met us for the day. A 50 minute train journey from Kyoto takes you to the town of Uji. From here a short car ride takes us out into the countryside and to our first destination…the tea farm!
“The perfect amount of sunlight is very important to grow quality tea”
Although the harvesting season hadn’t yet begun. We’re able to see here the process of shading the tea plants which usually happens in April once new buds appear. This is the secret to the exceptional health benefits of this tea.
Here you can see the tea plants grown in neat rows. Making it more accessible to harvest. The bamboo forest on the right is there to help strengthen the soil.
Our next stop was the factory. This gave us a great insight into how the tea goes from tea leaf to finely ground matcha green tea powder.
First, the Tencha tea leaves are steamed, dried and sent to the cutting machine to produce this.
The next step is to separate the stems from the leaves, which is done using an air jet. Once stems have been removed the tea passes through a sorting machine according to size. The smaller leaves pass through the holes and the larger leaves that do not are taken back to the cutter! And so on….
The tea is then further dried to bring out its unique aroma and put through the classification machine to check all stems, and old leave are removed. Making sure we have a quality product to take to the stone grinders.
We then head upstairs to the millstone machines. The tea is fed into these specially carved and calibrated grinding stones. Here is where you can smell the richness of the matcha tea in the air.
As the Tencha leaves are ground down into a fine powder, it passes along the groves into a container. This process is the most exciting part and is what creates a fine, smooth matcha powder ready for drinking or baking with.
We ended the day with a deliciously prepared meal at a local puffer fish restaurant and a trip to Byodoin Temple.