Experience: Sake Tasting at Kafu

Want to learn more about one of Japan’s most popular drinks but don’t know where to begin? If a trial and error tasting at a local bar isn’t for you, you can learn a lot about sake in a short amount of time at one of Kafu’s sake tasting evenings.

Kafu is an up-and-coming cultural experience center located in a beautiful old machiya in the museum district of Kyoto. A year ago, I took an ikebana course at a different location with Kimiko Yamamoto, one of Kafu’s founders. She has since joined forces with several other talented Kyotoites and together they offer flower arranging, cooking classes, calligraphy, and now an evening sake course.

The sake course occurs once or twice a month and is run by a professional tour guide and sake sommelier, Ayuko Yamaguchi. She was busy in Kafu’s kitchen when we arrived on an incredibly rainy night, preparing treats to accompany the tasting session. The class begins with an introductory lecture. Ayuko takes everyone through the process of how sake is made and you learn a bit about what makes a sake dry or sweet. I’ve always been confused by what makes a sake “junmaiginjo” or “daiginjo” but Ayuko’s explanations (and her useful powerpoint slides) were incredibly clear.

Learning about sake with Ayuko
Learning about sake with Ayuko

After the learning comes the tasting, of course! Normally, a sake experience includes five different sakes to taste, although Ayuko treated us to an extra two options that she had brought along and wanted to finish. They ranged from local sake from “down the road” in the brewery neighborhood of Fushimi to sake from prefectures like Niigata and Shiga. One was sparkling (amazingly good!), some were on the sweeter side and some were incredibly full-bodied. Ayuko gave suggestions for good food pairings and we all munched on her delicious treats (my favorites were the little phylo cups filled with a miso-based mixture).

A plate of nibbles to accompany our sake
A plate of nibbles to accompany our sake

A sake experience lasts between 55-80 minutes and costs between ¥2500 to ¥3800 per person (all drinks and food included). You can check out more information on Kafu’s user-friendly website and make reservations there as well. Spaces are limited so make sure you contact Kafu early to ensure your spot. If you want to get a good working knowledge of sake in a fun and relaxed setting, this is the place to do it.

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