Experiencing Chadō, the Japanese tea ceremony, is the dream of many foreigners. Yet, Chadō still has an image of being strict and expensive and only for an exclusive circle of people.
Canadian tea master Randy Channell Soei wants to cut right through these barriers. His goal is to make Chadō accessible to a wider audience and to hopefully “plant a seed of interest” in tea.
In 2007, he opened ran Hotei, a ‘tea shop’ in central Kyoto where guests are able to have a “tea experience” using a special table-and-chair setting called 'ryurei' in Japanese. It was developed 140 years ago to host visiting dignitaries from overseas attending an International Trade Fair in Kyoto.
The shop is a traditional 'kyomachiya' that is over 100 years old. Channell totally renovated the space with a design concept of 'Taisho Roman meets Art Deco'. This is reflected from his choice of lighting right down to some of the designs on the shop's porcelain and cutlery!
The name ran Hotei is kind of play on words. Hotei is of course one the 'Shichifukujin' (Seven Lucky Gods) and 'ran' is not only a diminutive form of his name it also means shop in Thai. (Channell has spent a great deal of time in Thailand.) So if translated would mean Hotei's Shop! It is easy to miss amongst other shops in the Sanjokai Arcade, the longest of Kyoto’s traditional shopping streets. Once you found it though, and you step in, you enter a world of quiet nostalgia ideal for relaxing, reading a book or contemplating life.
ran Hotei is the perfect setting for an introduction to Chadō. While there are tables and chairs in the front of the café, there is a tatami sitting area looking out to a small garden in the back of the shop. The setting for experiencing tea is upstairs. In the 6 years ran Hotei has been open Channell has served hundreds of different people from all over Japan and from around the world. He says there is no average “tea person” in terms of age and background. Although matcha, powdered green tea and pastries are the specialty at ran Hotei, you have the choice of ordering other tea, coffee, soda, smoothies, fruit juices of floats (drinks plus ice cream) at a price of around yen 500 to 600. If you combine your drink with a cake or Japanese sweets, then you might want to order a matcha / Japanese sweets set or a coffee/cake set at yen 800 or yen 1,000 respectively. The matcha used at ran Hotei is Channell's original. Working with tea growers in the Kyotanabe area of Kyoto it took 3 years to develop. There are 2 varieties of usucha (thin tea) and one koicha (thick tea).
If you prefer a hardy meal and a glass of wine rather than tea and sweets, then don’t despair. “Randy Sensei” offers a special curry & nan set or curry & rice set or Bagel & soup or quiche & soup at yen 850 to 900, as well as other dishes. Everything is home-made adding to the warm and friendly flair of the café. If you are lucky, you might be able to meet the Sensei at his café. He is a very busy man though. Hence, if you would like to make sure, please book a tea session at ran Hotei. Don’t miss the opportunity to ‘experience the way of tea’ in Kyoto, all explained in English, with an Urasenke Master!
Opening times of ran Hotei:
Mon - Wed 11:30 - 20:00
Fri 11:30 - 23:00
Sat, Sun 11:00 - 20:00
You can experience tea at his café, ran Hotei, by making an advanced booking: yen 2,500 per person, minimum 2 people.