The Japanese tea ceremony, often called Chanoyu, Chado, or Sado in Japanese is the ritual of preparing and serving tea. The tea ceremony emphasizes the considerate gestures and movements of the host, allowing guests to appreciate the bowl of tea served. However, the focus on the preparation and presentation of tea did not begin until the 16th century in Kyoto, when wealthy merchants would host lavish tea ceremonies for guests, despite the fact that tea has been around in Japan for over 1,000 years.
Even now, Kyoto is still one of the most popular destinations for tourism in Japan. Kyoto is especially well-known for producing the finest green tea, especially matcha green tea. More recently, tea ceremonies are hosted in tea houses where visitors have the opportunity to deepen their understanding of Japanese tea and experience the culture behind every cup. There are plenty of tea houses to explore in Kyoto, all ranging in price and unique menu offerings. In addition, consider staying at one of the best ryokans in Kyoto during your visit.
Below are our top three suggestions on tea houses for first-timers to have an authentic tea ceremony experience. We also have some options that are foreigner-friendly, where they provide English menus. Keep reading to find out which tea house best suits your preferences!
If you dreamed of wearing a kimono while taking part in an authentic Japanese tea ceremony, this is right up your alley. Located near the famous Kiyomizu-dera Temple, lies Camellia, where you can experience a formal, authentic tea ceremony in a relaxed setting.
The tea ceremony takes place in a traditional, sun-bathed tea room, which sets a calming and peaceful atmosphere. Although it is close to Kyoto’s popular sightseeing locations, the private room itself is quiet and allows you to fully immerse yourself in the tea preparation. In this tea house, they have two types of tea ceremonies (shared tea vs private tea), but both of them teach visitors about the culture and history of tea while enjoying a bowl of Uji matcha complemented by traditional confectioneries (wagashi).
In addition, they are foreigner-friendly and host their tea ceremonies in English and offer a kimono dressing service that you can book through their website. https://www.tea-kyoto.com/
Our second suggestion Saka Maruyama tea house is located on the corner of Mayuyama-koen Park, making it easy to miss. Its atmosphere is tranquil, traditional, and friendly. The interior of Sakamaruyama follows the classic Japanese tea house aesthetic with paper windows and bamboo or wooden furnishings.
They are renowned for their Fukamushicha, a blend of deep steamed sencha that is only available at this tea shop. Along with choosing which tea you’d like, you also have the option of choosing your own teapot to fully experience the Japanese tea ceremony process. Some popular and recommended treats include their sweet sesame-flavored tofu “goma dofu”, or a black bean pastry “houshoumaki”. http://sakamaruyama.com/
The third gem is located on Nishitouin-dori Street, but its entrance is discreet and easy to miss. Teahouse Motoan is foreigner-friendly, as they provide an easy-to-read English menu. Their menu offers many varieties of tea and treats to choose from. Throughout the menu you can choose usucha, meaning “thin tea”, recommended to those who are new to drinking matcha, or koicha, meaning “thick tea”, which is similar to a paste - recommended for those who are familiar with its bitterness.
This tea house is well-known as a supplier of high-quality teas and has been around since the late 1600s. Their seating area in the back overlooks a Japanese garden, where you can sit and enjoy the view. In the summer, Motoan serves kakigori (shaved ice), a popular treat in Japan sweetened with flavored syrup or condensed milk.
As for treats, they are famous for their matcha roll cake set. They have one savory dish of white rice sprinkled with fragrant tea leaves, served with seasonal pickled vegetables and tea. On their website, you will be able to view the entire menu of treats and teas they serve. https://www.marukyu-koyamaen.co.jp/english/nishinotoin/
As you can see, there are many Japanese tea ceremony houses in Kyoto to explore, depending on your preference of atmosphere (either traditional and formal or casual). Our three tea house suggestions are all affordable, each providing different quality products and offering the visitor a unique experience. However, no matter which tea house you visit, it will surely be memorable and delicious.
If you can't visit Japan right now, you can enjoy high-quality matcha at home with our ceremonial grade matcha from Kyoto.
If you want to read more articles on tea culture and travel check them out here:
- Shizuoka's Secret: The Best Green Tea in Japan
- A Green Tea Lover's Paradise: Shizuoka, Japan
- The Origin of the Name "Tea"
- Where Tea Originated: A Brief History of Tea in China, Japan and the West
- The Best Gift Guide for Japanese Tea Lovers
- Ultimate Guide to Japanese Green Tea
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