Have you tasted Japanese green tea? If not, I highly recommend visiting Wazuka town in Kyoto prefecture for an unforgettable, unique Japanese tea experience. I had the pleasure of visiting Wazuka town recently with my friend and participating in a tea cooking class at Wazuka-ya. It’s a vegetarian friendly cooking too. Let me tell you all about it!
Where is Wazuka town?
Wazuka town (和束町) is located in the southern part of Kyoto prefecture, known as the largest tea-producing region in the prefecture and also recognized as a Japanese heritage site for its beautiful tea plantations. The town has over 800 years of tea-producing history since the Kamakura era. The scenery of the tea plantations in Wazuka town is breathtaking, and it is no wonder that it is often referred to as the “Teatopia.”
*Access by public transportation is indicated at Access section at the end of this blog.
What is Wazuka Town is about?
Wazuka town is the largest tea production area in Kyoto, producing approximately 40% of all tea leaves produced in Kyoto Prefecture. With the neighbor region called Minami Yamashiro village, about 70 % of Uji tea is produced. In recent years, the production of Tencha, the raw material for Matcha (powdered green tea), has been increasing, but the town has also long been blessed with excellent Sencha (green tea) production thanks to its weather and topography. The tea fields spreading out on the slopes of the mountains were recognized as the first scenic asset of Kyoto Prefecture, and Japan Heritage.
The Unforgettable Tea Cooking Experience 🌱
As soon as we arrived at Wazuka-ya, a 150-year-old traditional Japanese house renovated for this cooking experience classes, we were greeted with a warm welcome from the staff.
There are some cooking classes, but we chose the class called Ishidera set (¥5,800 p.p.), that includes tea picking, making tea soba, and tea leaves tempura!
First, we went tea picking at a tea plantation field. We are guided by Mr. Taketani, who is born and grownup here in Wazuka town. We went to the tea picking spot by his lightweight truck.
Mr. Taketani’s family runs a liquor shop in this town, and sells tea beer as well!
Tea leaves picking
After arriving at the tea picking point, Mt. Taketani talked about the history of this area, the method of tea picking, types of tea (various types of tea are produced depending on the time of year, cultivation, and roasting method), and so on. He taught us a lot about tea, including how tea is picked throughout the year, how it is grown, and the different types of tea that can be roasted.
Here we picked young buds for tea tempura.
Can’t wait to eat them!
After picking tea leaves, we took a tea break with Wazuka tea, of course! Mr. Takeya made tea in a teapot he had prepared for us. He said that if you brew tea at a slightly lower temperature (around 40~50 degrees Celsius), you can brew a sweeter tea with more umami (deliciousness) ingredients. This is because the Theanine (amino acids), which is the flavor components, dissolve easily in water, but the catechin and caffeine, which are the bitter components, dissolve more easily when the water is hotter.
We can even eat the tea leaves after drinking the tea! Adding a bit of ponzu (citrus soy sauce) makes it taste nice. 😋
This is not included in the plan, but we were given a special taste of it.
After a tea break, then we headed back to Wazuka-ya to start making tea soba and tea tempura!
Making Tea Soba Noodles
This one was taught by Yukie, the owner of the cooking class. I joined with my friend, Sumile-san.
First of all, we make soba dough. we mix the soba tea and flour (it’s prepared by them) and add water several times and mix. She also gives us tips on how to mix it.
As we mix the soba dough, we can smell the nice aroma of the tea. Kneading the dough is very fun and pleasant!
Yukie-san taught us how to make soba noodles from scratch, and we got to try our hand at rolling and cutting the noodles. It was a fun and interactive It was a fun and interactive activity that brought us all together. After cutting the soba dough, they boil it in the kitchen. Meanwhile, we make tea leaf tempura!
Tea leave tempura
Next, we made tea leaves tempura, which was a unique twist on the traditional Japanese dish. The tea leaves were lightly battered and fried to create a crispy texture and a subtle tea flavor. It was delicious, and I never thought I would enjoy eating tea leaves so much!
After all the cooking, we sat down for lunch and enjoyed the fruits of our labor. The tea soba and tempura were served with a side of freshly brewed green tea, and it was the perfect combination. The flavors were delicate and balanced, and it was a meal I would never forget.
Well, it looks a lot different from what you see at soba noodle stores 💦(it’s thick like udon!). But it’s very special to have soba noodles made by myself! It should be much thinner. It was just my poor cutting 😅 I could perceive the delightful fragrance of the tea, and its taste was wonderfully refreshing and delicious!
How to eat soba?
First, add yakumi (condiments) to the soba tsuyu (sauce) as desired. Take a piece of soba with chopsticks, dip it in the soba-tsuyu, and enjoy.
Soba sauce is made with animal broth, but it can be arranged for vegetarian use.
The tea leaf tempura is served with natural salt. It was crisp, crunchy and delicious. It had a slightly bitter and refreshing taste of tea!
At Wazuka-ya, they also serve tea soba lunch as a restaurant.
It looks much nicer than our handmade soba. Well, handmade is still as tasty as we made it!
The tea cooking class at Wazuka-ya was an unforgettable experience that I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Wazuka town. The town’s rich history and stunning scenery make it a must-visit destination for tea lovers and anyone interested in Japanese culture. The class was both fun and educational, and it gave me a newfound appreciation for the art of tea-making. I left Wazuka town feeling relaxed, refreshed, and inspired.
How to join the cooking class at Wazuka-ya?
You can book online (Japanese only)
Please make an effort to use Google effectively. I kindly encourage you to give it your best shot!
Or Wazuka-ya website
It will be a great opportunity to learn Japanese culture and language!
Access to Wazuka-ya
Aright at JR Kamo Station (JR Yamatoji line), take a Nara-kotsu bus for about 8 minutes, then drop-off at Wazuka Takahashi. From there, 3 minute walk to Wazuka-ya.
Approximate travel time:
From Osaka station 90 mins
From Nara station 30 mins
From Kyoto station 110 mins
What other things can we do in Wazuka town?
Aside from the tea cooking class, there are many other things to do in Wazuka town. You can go for a hike or rent a bike and cycle through the tea plantation village, visit local tea shops, etc.
Please find more at Wazuka tourism website: https://wazukanko.com/english/
Just a gentle request
There is no fence around the tea field, but we kindly ask that you refrain from entering without prior reservation. Sometimes, there are items such as plastic bottles or trash that seem to have been dropped by tourists in the tea fields. This can be very disheartening for the tea farmers. In order to preserve the beautiful scenery, please be mindful of your actions and behave with discretion. Thank you for your understanding.
If you’re planning a trip to Kyoto, Osaka, or Nara, I highly encourage you to visit Wazuka Town. And while you’re there, don’t miss out on the wonderful opportunity to partake in the Wazuka-ya cooking experience! It’s a truly inspiring and unforgettable way to immerse yourself in the local culture and create lifelong memories!