Awhile ago, I participated in a wonderful tea ceremony at En Tea House in Kyoto. My instructor for the class was Atsuko and after my return to Kyoto, she and I kept in touch. I was thrilled to see earlier this winter that she had fulfilled her goal of opening her own tea room and now serves clients at the Camellia Tea House in southern Higashiyama.
Camellia couldn’t have better real estate. Located on the Ninenzaka, just steps below the well-known “house with the umbrellas”, Camellia occupies a 100 year old former geisha residence. I was intrigued to see that it still retained the original layout, complete with front and back staircases that were designed to let geisha entertain clients while not having them pass each other on the stairs in between appointments.
Camellia has two tea ceremony rooms, meaning there is a greater chance of accommodating a large group or more than one group at a time. The larger back room looks out over the neighborhood and when the windows are open, you can hear the bells from the nearby temple ringing the hour.
As at En, Atsuko first explains the principles of the tea ceremony before offering a demonstration. One participant is chosen to be the honored guest and has the chance to taste the prepared tea. Don’t worry though – everyone has the chance right after that to practice whisking (and drinking) their own cup of grassy matcha as well as partaking in a traditional wagashi sweet.
You can take pictures of the ceremony and feel free to ask Atsuko questions. Her English is superb and I always pick her brain, from questions involving the intricacies of the tea ceremony itself (make sure you ask what the name of the tea scoop is that day … sounds odd, but it’s an interesting tradition) to where to get the best sushi in Kyoto. For ¥2000 per person (cash AND cards accepted), this is 45-50 minutes well spent.
You can learn more about Camellia Tea House here – Atsuko has even created a beautiful introductory video.