The history of tea in Japan began as early as the 9th century, when the first known references to tea were made in Japanese records. Tea became a drink of the religious classes in Japan when Japanese priests and envoys sent to China to learn about its culture brought tea to Japan. The Buddhist monks Kūkai and Saichō may have been the first to bring tea seeds to Japan. The first form of tea brought from China was probably brick tea. Tea became a drink of the royal classes when Emperor Saga, the Japanese emperor, encouraged the growth of tea plants. Seeds were imported from China, and cultivation in Japan began.
A chashitsu (茶室, literally "tea rooms") in Japanese tradition is an architectural space designed to be used for tea ceremony (chanoyu) gatherings. The architectural style that developed for chashitsu is referred to as the sukiya style (sukiya-zukuri), and the term sukiya (数奇屋) may be used as a synonym for chashitsu.
Let’s look at some of the famous Tea Houses in Kyoto
Camellia is a superb place to try a simple Japanese tea ceremony. It's located in a beautiful old Japanese house just off Ninen-zaka. The host speaks fluent English and explains the ceremony simply and clearly, while managing to perform an elegant ceremony. The price includes a bowl of matcha and a sweet. The website has an excellent map and explanation.
Camellia GARDEN is the most luxurious tea ceremony house in Kyoto. Located just off Ryoanji Zen temple, in a 100-year-old house surrounded by peaceful gardens. You will have an unforgettable experience.
Okitsu-An is the given name of the Club Okitsu Kyoto's club house. It is named after the Cherry tree (Ou) and the Citrus tree (Kitsu) both of which are famous symbolic trees located within the Imperial Palace Courtyard.
During the 9th century, known as the Heian era, the land surrounding Club Okitsu-An found itself within the Imperial Palace grounds, and it is where the "Nishi-no-Tsuchimikado" Palace building was located. At the end of Edo period, in late 18th ~19th century, with the support of Edo government, the philosopher, Minagawa Kien established his school "Kodokan" here. This was said to be Japan’s first University where around 3000 students completed their studies. After Minagawa Kien passed away, in 1835, the construction started on the building currently standing at this location. The owners undertook some renovations at that time, however the final, major architectural changes took place in 1951. All the current amenities have been completely updated.
The house has 2 tea rooms, 1 incense ceremony room, 1 dining room complete with English style furnishings for your comfort, 1 Irori (Japanese cooking fireplace) room, and a vast 1600m sq² garden. The carefully carved wood details, together with other delicate finishes remind us of the past masters of the house who enjoyed sophisticated, private cultural events during both the daytime and evening.
This is probably the most famous of the Ochaya of Kyoto. Located on the corner of Shijo-dori and Hanamikoji-dori streets, it is only a few hundred meters from Yasaka Jinja and is in the heart of Gion. About 300 years old, the red walled Ichiriki Ochaya is noted for its traditional architecture and atmosphere, and also for the history that has occured here.
The term "Ochaya", is often translated into English as "tea house". However an establishment such as the Ichiriki Ochaya is not a place for drinking tea. This is an ultra exclusive, invitation only, place of entertainment where if you need to know the price, you definitely won't be able to afford it. A single night of geisha entertainment with Geiko and Maiko in attendance will cost anything from 500-800,000 yen upwards. You cannot enter Ichiriki Ochaya.
To visit requires a relationship (something that may take generations), and a lot of money. A lot of money alone will not suffice. Most of the customers are male, in many cases their connection between them and the Ichiriki is through their company, however female customers are not unusual and have been for more than 100 years.