There’s a misconception amongst many westerners, lingering like a bitter aftertaste, that green tea is by nature a sharp, astringent beverage. Perhaps that’s the result of too many cheap teabags or luke-warm, free thermos refills in down town restaurants.
But there’s a reason why millions of people around the world drink, and indeed become connoisseurs, of this stuff. When green tea is of good quality, brewed well and served with care, it has a smooth and sublime flavour.
In the temple district of Kyoto (teramachidōri), not far from the old Imperial Palace, is an historic tea house, the Japanese equivalent of Mariage Freres. It’s called Ippodo and it has been selling fine quality teas since 1717, nearly 300 years. That’s an intimidating record, but I found the place to be welcoming and the staff were very accommodating of learners like myself. I didn’t have time to sit and imbibe a slow pot, sadly (because: toddlers). However, it is possible to buy small quantities and the staff helped me choose from the extensive list of options.
Pictured in loose leaf form, above, and once brewed according to the shop’s recommendations, below, is the Kaboku Ultra Premium Quality Sencha. You can see the uniformity of the size and colour in the leaves, and the clean yellow colour of the liquid. It was mild and grassy (in a good way) both to smell and to taste. There was no bitterness at all, even upon subsequent brewings of the same leaves. I highly recommend this as the most lovely sencha tea that I have enjoyed.
The good news, for those who seek to educate the tastebuds and discover new types of green tea: Ippodo has an online shop and ships internationally.
And the other good news is that green tea is meant to taste good.
(Oh! The only decent photo I got of Ippodo tea house features me; dusty and weary).