Monday, July 3, 2017

Tasting Japan's Best Tea in Yamecha Cafe Bunbuku - Yame City (Fukuoka)

One stormy day in Yame City, I ventured to try the world-renowned Yame Tea, voted as Japan's best tea for 9 consecutive years. Meanwhile, the prefecture of Fukuoka was being battered by the torrential rains of a typhoon that killed people in the ward. But would a tourist stop on his track to avoid a storm? Not me!

Yame City is known for its hillside green-tea plantations. I was there to check out some temples and its handicraft industry. Drove through the deserted streets of Fukushima's traditional houses called "Machiya" now turned into shops. Walked around desolate Yamanoi Park beside the river. Went up the mountain to pay homage to the Chinese monk that brought seeds from China which started the green tea industry in the region. It was a beautiful spot called Reiganji Temple overlooking undulating tea farms. Walked around the 800 year old Camphor Tree (so revered that the community built a pagoda for it) where hundreds of Wisteria flowers bloom at spring time. It was a full day despite the rains.

Before going back to Chikugo City's Hainuzuka Train Station for my ride back to Fukuoka, I passed by a roadside cafe in the middle of nowhere. There's a garden nearby but I was there to try the Yame Tea. It would be a travesty not to do so.

Yamecha Cafe Bunbuku is a quaint tea shop that serves all things matcha (green tea). Once seated, I had Yame Tea, Matcha Ice Cream, Green Tea-flavored chiffon cake; then a slice of another matcha-flavored crumbly cake that looked too inviting I couldn't pass it up. 

The Deal With Green Teas

What's the big deal with green teas? Aside from its rich, savory taste, they are healthy drinks that help block the formation of plaques that cause Alzheimer's Disease. They also help keep the blood sugar stable, thus beneficial for those with Diabetes. They also lower cholesterol and the blood pressure in general. They're rich in anti-oxidant that helps decrease incidence of cancer.

What I appreciated was their "tutorial" tea ceremony; i.e. the proper way of drinking your green tea. The storekeeper patiently taught me the basics: temperature, the swigging of your cup , how often do you refill; pouring sugar, milk or honey, etc. 

The controlled temperature (70 degrees C to be exact, the "temperature that does not burn the lips") allows the tea leaves to come up with amino acids which impart some sweetness to the beverage. Anything hotter destroys the nutrients. There was stark difference from the oolong tea ceremony I experienced in Hangzhou, China. What's better, the prices here are inexpensive (a scoop of matcha ice cream costs 430 yen).

The cafe also serves meals, although mostly, its raison d'etre is as a tea shop. One wing of the cafe is a souvenir shop. They have packets of green tea, postcards hand-painted by local artists, ceramic cups and figures, trinkets, etc. 

Through all of these, I realized that traveling this little corner of Kyushu was testy and ultimately rewarding. English language is almost unspoken. Even the local train from Fukuoka (via Kagoshima Main Line) didn't have English signs and travel advisories, I constantly had to check and ask around. This difficulty and seeming remoteness was what made this visit special. 

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