We learn a little about Uji City and its famous tea and also try green tea sweets by Uji-born celebrity pastry chef Toshi Yoroizuka!

Uji is a quaint city located on the southern outskirts of Kyoto, only about 20 minutes away from Kyoto Station by express train. The area is famous not just for its world heritage tourist attractions but also for its production of superb tea, known as “Uji-cha,” literally, “Uji tea”.

Earlier this month, the Uji Tourism and Souvenir Association held a promotional event at the Shibuya Hikarie shopping/dining complex in Tokyo featuring a talk between star pastry chef Toshi Yoroizuka and Shigeki Koyama, who holds the unique title of Uji-cha Dendoshi, which literally translates to “Uji Tea Missionary” or Uji Tea Evangelist.” Naturally, the session was to include a tasting of one of Chef Yoroizuka’s sweet creations using Uji green tea, and happily for us, we were lucky enough to win a seat at the table.

For the promotion, a lovely stage (featuring the color of green tea, of course) was set up  in one of the open areas of Hikarie.


They also gave us plenty of brochures and maps with glossy pictures and illustrations containing information on both the Uji area and Uji tea. The material included guides on what to see in Uji, such as the Byodo-in Temple and the Ujigami Shrine, both registered UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1994, as part of the collective “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto”.


We actually see images of Byodo-in Temple literally everyday, as it is portrayed on the reverse side of the Japanese 10-yen coin. Further, the phoenix illustrated on the back of the Japanese 10,000 yen bill is also based on the statue that rests on the roof of the building.


Chef Yoroizuka described Uji as a beautiful city with a relaxed atmosphere, with everything located in a small enough area that you can easily explore the city on foot. The presence of green tea is everywhere, and there are many casual tea houses where anyone can enjoy tea without any formality at all. He recalled that at the grade school he went to, there was even a faucet from which you could drink green tea, which he didn’t know was something uniquely local until he moved away from Uji!

▼ Chef Yoroizuka talking about his experiences growing up in Uji.


Next, Koyama spoke about the tea in Uji and his work promoting the product.


Koyama explained that he is one of seven “Uji Tea Evangelists” currently appointed by the governor of  Kyoto Prefecture to promote Uji tea to the rest of the world as part of Kyoto Prefecture’s efforts to seek world cultural heritage status for its tea. He told us that tea production in the Uji region began around 800 years ago, and that the area has counted emperors and shoguns among fans of its tea over the centuries. Kyoto may not produce as much tea as Shizuoka Prefecture, the biggest tea growing region in Japan, but the people of Uji like to think that their tea is second to none in quality.

With that, it was time to try some green tea flavored sweetness, as Yoroizuka dazzled us with three new sweets he had specifically created using Uji tea!


The treats were presented to us by two lovely ladies dressed in traditional tea farmer garb.


Of course, the best part was that we got to try a sample of one of the confections called the Ujigawa (“Uji River”).


The sweet was basically a green tea mousse made from Uji tea topped with whipped cream and white chocolate. Just look at that beautiful green color!


It was gorgeous viewed from above as well!


Ahhh…that green softness looks so inviting! And yes, the flavor of Uji tea was fresh enough to prevent the cake from being too sweet, even with the cream and chocolate on the top. Plus, the texture of the mousse was as smooth as it looked.


The sample we received was specially made as a small portion, and this is what the actual Ujigawa looks like as a product.


We also got to see Yoroizuka’s two other Uji tea cakes. This is the Ujizakura (“Uji Cherry Blossom), a roll cake filled with plenty of Uji tea cream and topped with a thick layer of sakura-flavored cream.


And this is the third Uji tea cake Yoroizuka displayed, named Enishi, which means “fateful bond or connection” in Japanese. It’s a petit-sized tart artfully filled with a soft Uji tea mousse and flavored with a bit of rhubarb.


Chef Yoroizuka commented that while green tea is certainly an attractive ingredient to use in sweets, there are elements that make it delicate and somewhat difficult to handle. Firstly, there’s a fine balance when heating cakes containing green tea, as adding too much heat can cause the flavor of the tea to dissipate. Also, while green tea appears as a vibrant green color while fresh, it looses its color quickly once exposed to light, so ideally, these confections need to be consumed very quickly.


We also learned about a new type of green tea called tengyoku, which is a combination of tencha, a kind of steamed green tea that is ground to create matcha powder, and gyokuro, the valuable shade-grown tea which is the most prized of  all Japanese green teas. In case you’re wondering just how valuable gyokuro tea can be, Koyama-san told us that while 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of a typical gyokuro might be priced at 5,000 yen to 8,000 yen (US$44-$71), 100 grams of the most precious gyokuro could sell for as much as 100,000 yen!

Tengyoku is a new creation that hasn’t been released for public sale yet, and since they said it was difficult getting the balance of tencha and gyokuro just right, we’re guessing the recipe for the mixture is a trade secret. The tea we had here was brewed from cold water, which made it extra refreshing, and there was an elegant, subtle sweetness to the tea.


The presentation, which lasted for about an hour, finished with Yoroizuka commenting that he hopes more and more people make a habit of enjoying traditional Japanese tea casually and incorporating it into their daily lives, to which Koyama added that it’s wonderful for the tea industry that green tea is now receiving such recognition as an ingredient for sweets, as this has become a new source of demand for tea.

With those remarks, the event which we thoroughly enjoyed was over, but since we’d only tasted one of the green tea sweets, we decided we had to try at least one more. So, we then promptly made our way to Yoroizuka Farm, Chef Yoroizuka’s shop in the Hikarie complex.

Sure enough, we found the green tea confections in the showcase!


We bought the Ujizakura (priced at 531 yen) and were ready to try it right there at one of the dine-in tables in Hikarie.


Here’s the delicately beautiful Ujizakura cake, in all its green splendor!


The green tea cream looked divine, and we could also see some sweet red beans inside it too!


The cake looked like a work of art from above, too. The layer of sakura-flavored cream was topped with a dainty salt-pickled sakura blossom, as well as red beans on which a sliver of gold leaf had been placed.



And yes, it tasted as sublime as it looked. What was particularly pleasant was the green tea cream, which was not sweet at all but silky smooth and tasted distinctly of fine green tea. When that combined with the sweet sakura-flavored cream, it gave a whole new depth to the taste of the cake. The salted sakura blossom, of course, added a delightful dash of saltiness to the rich taste of the cream.


The dessert was a most satisfying end to the afternoon, and the fact that we got to learn a few things about the historic city of Uji was just icing on the cake! The promotion convinced us there’s much to see, eat, and drink in Uji, and the city certainly seems worth a visit. By the way, if you desperately want to try some of the Uji-tea sweets without traveling to Kyoto, they’re available for just a few more days until the end of March at Chef Yoroizuka’s shops in several locations around Tokyo, including the Shibuya Hikarie and Tokyo Midtown complex in Roppongi. However,  the cakes available at each location sometimes differ, so you may want to check with the shop beforehand if you want to get your hands on the Uji tea sweets.

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