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The Trip of a Lifetime & Uji City, Japan’s Charming “Green Tea Village”

Posted on 07/03/2023

My name is Stef and I am a Tea Consultant and blog writer at Upton Tea Imports. Every morning when I walk through our office door, I am surrounded by tea and tea drinkers. It is truly a tea lover’s dream job, and I couldn’t be more grateful that I have the privilege to be a part of our wonderful company. In May, my already cool job surpassed my expectations by providing me with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Our tea buyer, Tanya, and I were chosen, along with a few other colleagues, to travel to Japan. Our mission? To visit green tea at its origin and to learn as much as we could while immersed in Japanese tea culture and cuisine.

We couldn’t believe how fortunate we were. As a Tea Consultant, I was excited because Japan is home to the finest green tea in the world. As a tea drinker, it also felt personal. When I was a teenager, I first experienced the superior excellence of loose leaf tea when I sipped a cup of Sencha. I bought one tin, then another, and another. It was my first tea love. Each afternoon after school, I prepared myself a cup. Some friends asserted that my green tea tasted like grass, but I knew better. To me, Sencha tasted like a warm spring morning. It would taste even better in Japan.

And so, we departed on our tea odyssey across the globe. We saw an active volcano in Kagoshima, enjoyed the serenity of the Arashiyama bamboo grove in Kyoto, and went for a stroll at the Imperial Plaza in Tokyo. We tried every kind of Japanese food we could imagine, as well as several delicious dishes I had never heard of before. And, of course, we visited the processing facilities to see where the magic happens.  

Finally, I was face-to-face with the tea that I had admired for so long. When we first saw the endless rows of lush green tea fields, Tanya turned to me in disbelief. “This is our life,” she said, chuckling and shaking her head. I was speechless, barely managing a delighted “I know!”

While many of the things we did (like visiting tea fields and touring processing facilities) are often limited to tea professionals, I was delighted by one location we visited that our blog readers can visit: a city that revolves around green tea. Uji is located between the major cities of Kyoto and Nara. It is known for producing exceptional, high-quality Matcha powdered green tea, and for Byodo-in temple, the landmark on the back of the 10 yen coin. Downtown Uji is a tea lover’s paradise. Shops selling tea line either side of the street. Apart from Matcha, you can also find Sencha, Tencha, the popular Japanese blended Gen-mai Cha, and just about every variety of tea one can imagine.

There were also plenty of shops selling teaware, handmade pottery, ornate Matcha bowls and traditional Kyusu teapots. In the 15th century when the popularity of green tea in Japan was on the rise, wealthy merchants utilized the tea ceremony as an opportunity to showcase the beauty of elaborate Japanese folk crafts and craftsmanship. This led to the inception of countless tea accessories that are still made in Japan today. You can find many of them in Uji.

On the opposite end of the tea spectrum from ornate teaware, Uji also boasts many cafés that feature green tea themed sweets. No coercion was required to convince us to stop at a booth where tea flavored ice cream is sold. The cones were sweet, but a strong tea flavor added bitterness to counteract the sugar. It was creamy and delightful, like a cup of tea with milk and sugar.

For me, the main attraction of our trip to Uji was our tea ceremony experience. My coworkers and I stepped over neatly placed stepping stones, removed our shoes, and bowed our heads to enter the screened tea house. As we knelt to await our cups of Matcha, I thought of the article I wrote about the history of the Japanese Chadō tea ceremony for our Upton Tea Quarterly catalog in 2019. The purpose of the tea ceremony is to unite people through tea, and I felt it. Our long days of sightseeing and touring melted away in that moment, and we were just eight people in a room, sharing in tea that united us all. The tea that brought us to Japan, and brought us together on the trip of a lifetime.

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