If you are a Japanese tea aficionado, you’ve probably already heard of the famous tea producing region Uji, in Kyoto Prefecture. But have you heard of Uji kintoki? It actually refers to a traditional Japanese tea dessert. It’s basically matcha shaved ice with an elegant twist!
Uji kintoki is a type of shaved ice topped with matcha syrup and red bean paste (ogura an in Japanese). In general, shaved ice called kakigōri in Japanese is the go-to dessert during the hot humid summers of Japan. It’s refreshing, delicious and kids simply love it! Families with children in Japan often own their own shaved ice maker but it can also be enjoyed at cafes and dessert shops. In fact, shaved ice served outside the home is special because the syrups are often custom-made, from seasonal fruit concentrates and the toppings can get creative, too! Each kakigori place may have their uniqueness with respect to the shaved ice. Whether that be fluffy, soft, or crunchy piles of yummy ice…
Left; shaved ice photo by チリーズ, right; typical sign for shaved ice that one encounters in Japan.
Going back to Uji-kintoki, this type is perhaps especially seen in the famous tea producing regions in Japan. In fact, I specifically recall a refreshing Uji kintoki I had in Wazuka, Kyoto Prefecture a couple of years ago in August. I was helping with weeding work on organic tea farms during that time so it was a perfect treat to myself on a hot humid off day! Depending on where one encounters this delicacy, the Uji kintoki may come with ice cream, soft serve, or shiratama (Japanese mochi ball) toppings. The one I had in Wazuka was special because it had a tea leaf adorned on it! The classic Uji kintoki however is simply enjoyed with matcha syrup and sweet red azuki beans.
Unfortunately, I couldn't dig up the photo of the Uji kintoki I enjoyed during my stay in Wazuka. This is a current one from the Wazukacha cafe. If you're visiting Wazuka this summer, it's definitely worth stopping for one of these! Photo by Wazukacha Cafe.
History of Uji kintoki
The origin of Uji kintoki is unknown in much detail but it is said that this delicacy was enjoyed in the Edo Period, when sugar and matcha were poured over shaved ice and bean paste was placed on top. This version differs slightly from the syrup used today which is made by adding water and sugar (or any type of sweetener) to the matcha. With respect to who came up with this dessert idea, there is a theory that Uji kintoki was created by the warlords at the time. The first iteration of Uji kintoki had matcha mixed with sugar cane syrup poured over shaved ice. Bean paste was then added by the famous shogunate Tokugawa Ieyasu who had a sweet tooth.
Is matcha from Uji always used?
Because it is called Uji Kintoku, one may think that the matcha syrup used is made from matcha from the Uji region. This is not the case however, and there is no rule or restriction with respect to what type of matcha is used. Nowadays, Uji kintoki is enjoyed all over Japan and sometimes called Matcha-azuki (i.e., matcha red bean paste). These do not differ from one another. If you really do want to have an authentic Uji matcha syrup, the best bet is for you to enjoy one in the Kyoto area or make the shaved ice and syrup yourself with matcha from the Uji region. My personal recommendation is to try to find an Uji kintoki with all organic ingredients, including the azuki beans. Below, are some recommended matchas (standard ceremonial grade) from the Uji region:
Make your own home made Uji kintoki!
(*Please note that you will need a shaved ice maker!)
It’s actually quite easy to make your own matcha syrup for shaved ice. It’s worth trying at home. Just mix your preferred matcha powder in hot water with sugar, honey, or without any sweetener (this will depend on your personal preference). To ensure that the matcha has optimum taste and aroma, I personally prefer it without any sweetener. I make the matcha like I typically would but lean more towards making a koicha (thick matcha) as the melting ice from the shaved ice will dilute the matcha. When the matcha is combined with azuki bean paste which is sweet, it is a wonderful combination that complements the delicate snow of shaved ice!
To prepare the sweet red bean paste, in Japan, you can cheat and buy already prepared sweet red bean paste in a can or package. Of course, the quality is higher when one makes it at home. I like to make homemade azuki beans with crushed/cut up raisons (as a replacement for sugar) and walnuts. If you don’t want to add too many raisins, you can add a little bit of honey, too.
Lastly, you make the shaved ice, add toppings and bon appetit!
Chagori: Shizuoka Prefecture’s Tea Shaved Ice Campaign
To wrap up, while I was writing this post, I stumbled upon Shizuoka Prefecture’s “Cha-gori” (tea shaved ice) campaign which is ongoing through the months of July to September. Basically, it refers to shaved ice that uses Shizuoka tea as its topping. Many of the tea shops and cafes in Shizuoka Prefecture have come up with their own creative and unique tea-based shaved ice. If you are curious to see, check out the different and beautiful shaved ices on the website! And if you are traveling in Shizuoka Prefecture, it may be fun to go on a shaved ice tour while the hot humid weather continues. I very much enjoyed the one I tried on my recent visit to Fujieda. Stay cool!
Featured image: Uji Kintoki from photoAC by akizou