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We first learned of Ippodo during a visit to Takashimaya’s basement tea section on a quest for matcha (powdered tea). We were immediately attracted to the distinctive traditional logo, which represents the company’s long history, and the heady aroma surrounding the kiosk. But the highest grade proved to be too expensive for our budget, and we settled for just one small container of medium-grade matcha, looking elsewhere for tea leaves to buy in bulk to take back home.

On subsequent trips, we passed by the main shop’s distinctive grey façade many times, curiously peeking past the noren (curtains) to catch glimpses of the staff scurrying about, helping customers, which were always plentiful. But it was only during a visit last year that we finally went inside.

We shouldn’t have waited so long. Ippodo is a beautiful shop. Large crocks of tea line sturdy wooden shelves darkened over time, and surround the central counter. Light streams in through sliding rear glass doors, which face a wide garden. And the staff wear white head scarves that make them look like they stepped out of a sepia-toned photograph. And then there’s the tea: a wide selection (40, if you’re counting) suitable for any pocketbook, as well as nicely packaged gift sets and brochures in English. And, its vision is global: not content to rest on its nearly 300-year-old history and a steady stream of loyal local customers, Ippodo reaches out to the world with comprehensive websites in Japanese and English (including an online shop). It also cares about education, offering one hour tea-making workshops (reservations are necessary) to help newcomers learn about the different varieties of tea and the best way to brew them.

Ippodo Tea shop in Kyoto, copyright 2009 Kirk Vuillemot
Above: The elegant façade of Ippodo's main shop in Kyoto during the season for shincha (new leaf tea). Left: the interior of the shop, filled with old ceramic storage jars.
Kyoto Main Store
Teramachi-dori Nijo, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 604-0915, JAPAN
Tel: 075-211-3421
Fax: 0120-21-0280
We recently took part in a lesson on sencha basics, learning how to brew the perfect cup of Sencha, Gyokuro or Hoji cha.
The interior of Ippodo tea shop, copyright 2009, Kirk Vuillemot

For those who don’t have an hour to spend, there’s also a handsome tea salon called Kaboku on the premises, where you can sample any variety of tea Ippodo offers. What you get is not only a great cup of tea and wagashi (Japanese sweet), but an interactive learning experience; as the helpful staff helps you brew your own tea for your very own private mini-lesson.

In addition to its main store, Ippodo has 14 branch shops throughout Japan. Visit their website for locations.

For more information on Japanese tea, visit the Tea page in the ingredients section.

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