I got back a week ago. It was a really amazing and enchanting trip.
Teawise, I was surprised how hard it was to get in Tokyo. I pretty much drank coffee or the occasional matcha latte at Starbucks (for the WiFi). Yeah, there was really awful bancha everywhere I went restaurant wise, but I was really disappointed.
Kyoto was another story. I didn't end up going to Uji because I was worried that I wouldn't get to see everything I wanted in Kyoto and the Phoenix Hall was shut down for renovations for a couple years. I drank lots of matcha in all the temples or gardens that offered it. I also hit Ippodo twice (had their matcha, gyokuro and sencha) and purchased a couple tins of matcha from them, some gyokuro, and some sencha. The ladies there were THE BEST. They taught me how to brew green tea Japanese style and were excited when I said I was from New York because of Ippodo opening there. They answered so many of my questions and made suggestions on teas to purchase.
I then went to Horaido which was a total nightmare of miscommunication. I had a list of things I wanted to buy. Among them were some gyokuro and a kyusu. In my mind the two were unrelated but the gentleman who runs Horaido (I can't seem to find his name online) began to lecture me on how to properly brew gyokuro and that a kyusu was the wrong vessel. I immediately got intimidated because I am a novice with Japanese greens. And then when I told him how much I wanted to pay for gyokuro (which was around $25 which, I know is not a lot for gyokuro, but for me it's a treat . . . I don't think I've ever spent that much on tea before) he made some comment about how that won't get me much. I think this was a "lost in translation" moment but I was already intimidated and just wanted to run out of the store, completely embarrassed and ashamed. So I just said I wanted a matcha and a gyokuro and a chashaku . . . which in my complete and total brain fart moment came out as "chasen" and I think my fate was sealed. When I tried to make conversation with him about his teas coming from Uji and how I was planning on visiting Uji but decided to stay in Kyoto, he just began playing on his smartphone and had his wife ring me up. I think this was just a wrong day for both of us, but it was really upsetting considering it was an atypical experience re: customer service in Japan for me. I'm also not a stereotypical American tourist. Many a time I preferred to struggle with Japanese one word at a time, apologizing and bowing throughout.
Then I hit this gentleman's store: http://www.japanesefoodreport.com/2007/ ... o-tea.html
since I read his houjicha was so good according to that article. I loved him. He didn't speak a word of English and I was telling him I read about him on the Internet and he got so excited and happy and I tried to show him the article on my phone, but I couldn't get a WiFi signal. He was just amazing. And he assured me his houjicha wasn't made out of bancha (I have no idea what else houjicha is made out of, but I haven't tried the tea yet to report).
Finally, I hit Marukyu-Koyamaen, where I had a delicious sencha (and they gave me a taste of another sencha they had on hand which was AMAZING). I got more sencha there and a gyokuro kukicha which I was hooked on thanks to the hotel I was staying in (they had a cannister with gyokuro kukicha in the common area for guests to drink and I made myself a kyusu of that every morning for breakfast).
I also hit the raku museum and oohed and aaahed. I did get a cheap clay kyusu and a houhin for my gyokuro and some large and small cups. Nothing fancy. Just stuff I liked. I didn't get a chawan because of course the ones I loved were $300+ and I find I prefer to drink my matcha in a smaller bowl. But I loved the raku and maybe I'll search for a local potter who makes chawans (I've seen some on Etsy) that will give me a bowl with some character that doesn't cost THAT much.
I also went to the tea ceremony at En. I was worried it would be too touristy, but I wanted to ask questions in English and I was able to do that and get information about the ceremony I may not have gotten otherwise.
I already miss Japan and I am ordering shinchas this year for the first time. Tokyo and Kyoto were already in bloom when I went and I hit so many gorgeous temples and gardens and had some incredible food and sake. I cannot wait to go back.