Recently I met with friend Kyoto Foodie at Ippodo - a famous Kyoto tea shop on Teramachi dori north of Nijo dori and South of Marutamachi dori. He introduced me to Koicha - a very thick tea made from a larger than usual quantity of matcha (maccha) or high quality, powdered green tea. Michael tells me it has about 5 times the amount of tea powder normally used and therefore packs quite a punch of caffeine - however the buzz is not that of coffee (due to a component in tea that brings on a certain calm and relaxation) -so one is awake but not climbing up the walls.
Although the mixture has the appearance and viscosity of green wall paint its flavour is smooth, savoury and deep - meaty if you like.... I love Matcha but this is not a version I would opt for every day... a special occasion Matcha perhaps. It is certainly a must to try once.
As always with Matcha/Maccha a traditional sweet (Wagashi) is served alongside it. As it is the beginning of summer the colour of the top sweet reflects cool and calm. At formal tea ceremony you are usually invited to eat the sweet first before drinking the tea but its fine to be more casual at Ippodo - sipping and nibbling as the urge takes you.
Once you have finished the majority of the Koicha the waitress will remove your cup and whisk hot water into it so that you can enjoy the rest of the tea as the standard thinner matcha. A two for one deal - what's not to like.
I won't give too much detail about the tea itself or Ippodo - instead I will link you to Kyoto Foodie's post from 2007 plus a link to the shop itself. If you have never experienced a traditional Japanese tea ceremony but want to taste some professionally made matcha then make sure you check out Ippodo - its only a short walk north on Teramachi from the city shopping district. You can pick up a variety of tea to take home too!
While we are on the subject of sweets - ok so not quite on but lurking around it, any excuse and all that - check out these beautiful summer offerings. They both turn up in shops around May/June for the rainy season and early summer. The first, made from beans, with a jelly like top set with Kanten and green maple leaf promotes the "feeling" of cool.
The second is a speciality made from a seasonal fruit - Natsu mikan or summer mandarin/tangerine. The slightly bitter juice is sweetened and made into a jelly before being set in the hollowed out fruit skin. It is chilled and sliced into wedges for serving - and eaten with a small spoon. So refreshing on a hot day.