The world of tea tends to have a reputation for rigidity and rules, but fortunately there are now some innovative and modern ways in which to experience this quintessential Japanese drink. Whether you want just a relaxing cuppa or a full-blown tea ceremony, both are easily accessible.
You can start by going straight to the heart of Kyoto tea commerce, at the historic Ippodo on Teramachi, which has been in business since 1717. The shop sells all grades of Japanese green teas, locally grown in Uji. However, just past the counter is the Kaboku Tearoom, a wonderful place to sample different types and grades of green tea. The tearoom has a hushed atmosphere but the staff are friendly and happy to guide you through the extensive menu. If you are keen to experience a tea ceremony, head to Ran Hotei on the Sanjō-Horikawa shopping arcade, a tea salon decorated in the Taisho-Art Deco style. If you book in advance it’s possible to have a 90-minute tea ceremony lesson in the tatami tearoom with the owner, a Canadian-born tea master.
Roaring into the internet age is the Iyemon Salon, on Sanjō-dōri, just west of Karasuma, possibly Kyoto’s trendiest teahouse and a complete contrast to the meditative atmosphere of a tea ceremony. It’s large and bustling, with a free internet café, bookshop, tea counter and a kitchen serving tea-inspired cuisine. Just across the road is Somushi, an artfully rustic Korean tea house that’s an incredibly calm space to try a variety of medicinal teas, such as ginseng and jujube (red dates), as well as healthy vegetarian Korean dishes. In eastern Kyoto, don’t miss Rakushō, a charming old teashop between Kiyomizu-dera and Yasaka-jinja. Enjoy a bowl of macha and warabi mochi (jelly-like cakes rolled in sweet soybean flour while gazing out over the pond of enormous carp. East of the Heian-jingu is the Kyoto Nama Chocolat Organic Tea House, in an elegant old house with a rambling garden. They serve a variety of teas and coffee, as well as their own brand of delectable fresh soft chocolate, which they make on the premises.