One of the most magical tea tastings I have experienced was at Souen Sakurai Tea. The original shop was in Nishi-Azabu at a terribly inconvenient location. Souen has moved to Minami-Aoyama’s Spiral Building on the 5th floor, which is easy to access. Woo-hoo!
Souen offers a simple tea with wagashi tasting, but the flight of tea and tea-infused spirits is an experience that can only be had here. Allow time for for the full course, I believe we were there for almost two hours, which included some shopping in the tiny retail shop.
The afternoon started with a sampling of different infusions of gyokuro. The savory and meaty tea was steeped in warm, not hot, water, bringing out notes and aromas I have never experienced with green tea. After the tasting with the wagashi, we were presented with the steeped gyokuro leaves and some ponzu. We were instructed to dress the gyokuro with ponzu and eat. It was like a rich spinach sunomono, and a perfect palate cleanser before the tea-infused liqueurs.
We were presented with four different spirits that were infused with four different tea leaves. The alcohol is very strong and the pours are generous. Be sure to have big dinner plans following a full flight. I have had the date stuffed with butter and walnut before so I was thrilled to be reacquainted with it, and preferred it with the spirit than with tea.
The tea-infused Japanese whisky was served with iburigako, a smoked daikon pickle from Akita, and pickled greens, this too was a nice match.
Guests are presented with a selection of wagashi for the final course. A friend and I couldn’t decide on which to get so we each ordered one and they kindly cut them so we could each try both.
The course ends with a green tea spirit and we selected a cinnamon and apple jelly with a sweet that included ginkgo nuts.
This is a very special experience. Even a cup of tea is lovely here. There is a wall of windows overlooking Aoyama and Shinjuku, but that contrasts the quiet tea space. Reservations recommended. We tried walking in earlier in the week and could not get in.
Souen Sakurai Tea
Minato-ku, Minami-Aoyama 5-6-23, Spiral Building 5F 港区南青山5-6-23