A modern fashioned and traditional tearoom in one, Ippodo is one of the greatest places in Kyoto to enjoy premium quality Japanese tea. Ippodo is an institute in tea, with the flagshipstore in Kyoto and branches in Tokyo en New York. A beautiful place to spend the afternoon discovering the world of Japanese teas.
In the teahouse they offer a wide selection of teas that are for sale in the shop. It’s a good and relatively cheap way to taste a tea before buying. During my stay in Kyoto I visited the teahouse several times, sipping from their quality teas tucked away in the corner with a book.
I tried their most famous Sencha and the tea that the teahouse is named after, Kaboku, as well as their Gyokuro Rimpo, Hojicha and Genmaicha. I also had one of their Matcha’s, which they make on a counter in the middle of the teahouse under the customer’s eyes, a truly wonderful experience to see the skilled staff whisking that neongreen powder into a delicious foamy beverage.
The Ippodo Experience
The service in the Ippodo Teahouse is superb (of course, it’s Japan) and that makes it far more than just a drinking experience. When you enter the teahouse (walk through the store and go to the right or let the staff lead you the way) you will be seated and, as a foreigner, asked where you are from. Which is a good ice-breaker but a bit weird when you go there for the sixth or seventh time in a few weeks, like I did.
After you ordered, a staff member will bring you a giant thermo with hot boiling water, a delicious fresh wagashi (Japanese sweet) and the tea utensils you need for the tea you selected. For Hojicha or Genmaicha this will be a bigger Kyusu teapot than for a Gyokuro or Sencha, which will be steeped in a small Kyomizu-yaki Kyusu pot.
Then the fun part starts. The staff member will take you through every step of brewing your tea in the Ippodo-way. She will tell you how to cool your water, how long the tea needs to be steeped and that it is VERY, VERY important to get the last drop out of the pot when transferring the liquid to the cup. This because, according to the Japanese, the last drop is the most delicious and it prevents the little drop to make the next steep very bitter, because it has been sitting in the pot for too long.
For Gyokuro they will give you four cups to cool down the water – each transfer from cup to cup brings the temperature down by 10 degrees until the temperature is about 50-60 degrees. As the temperature for steeping Sencha needs to be higher, they will give you two cups for a Sencha.
The staff member will tell you that you can enjoy the tea three times, but I wouldn’t take that advise. I’ve spent hours experimenting with my Rimpo, steeping it up to 10 times and still there was a good taste in the liquid. In fact, the Rimpo only started to get good for me after 7 or 8 steeps. Before that it was mostly bitterness that filled my mouth.
And that’s a bit of a problem with drinking tea at the Ippodo Tearoom: they serve you a huge amount of leaves to steep (also with the Sencha), 10 grams for a small pot of no more than 60cc. Which is a common Japanese way of brewing tea (especially Gyokuro) that can be very, very delicious, but for people with no experience at all in brewing tea (like me that time) chances of ruining the tea and making it too bitter are huge. That’s why it took me so long to actually get some sweetness out of that Rimpo.
Still, drinking tea at Ippodo is recommended for everyone who wants to have a Japanese tea experience. Tea is taken serious in a place that at the same time provides an environment to casually catch up with your friends. O how I wish Amsterdam was filled with these kind of Japanese tearooms. O how I miss Kyoto. Discover the streets around Ippodo to see (and maybe buy) the most beautiful tea utensils you will find in Kyoto. Some shops are like museums, really! Opening hours:
Teramachi-dori Nijo, Nakagyo-ku
Store: Every day from 09.00-18.00
Kaboku Tearoom: Every day from 10.00-18.00
Discover the streets around Ippodo to see (and maybe buy) the most beautiful tea utensils you will find in Kyoto. Some shops are like museums, really!