Tokyo’s Coolest Tea and Spirits Bar


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.

souen-wagashi-selectionGuests 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

Yakumo Saryo Asacha Breakfast

Yakumo Saryo is a tea lover’s paradise that is open for breakfast. It doesn’t serve coffee, so if you are like me, have an espresso before you come. The name of the meal is 朝茶 asacha, morning tea.

The restaurant does not allow photos, so the best I could do was these two pictures of the entrance.

If you are familiar with Higashiya, a lovely wagashi shop in Ginza and Aoyama, you’ll be familiar with the aesthetics and sense of Yakumo Saryo, as they are the same company.

The breakfast included a flight of tea served with breakfast. It’s a brilliant start to the day. The setting is a dark tea room with a small window that looks over the upper part of a garden. There is a large communal table and a small counter. The room is quiet and only interrupted by the sound of tea being roasted. Highlights for me was the colorful selection of pickles and the different tea that were served. The meal ends with wagashi, which was also a surprise. I don’t want to spoil the experience, but do consider putting this on your Go List as a special meal. It is not cheap, about 4,000 JPY, and it is a long meal.

Reservations can be made online. My only advice is to please dress up for the meal. Do not come in shorts and Tevas, please. If you plan on traveling in Japan without one nice outfit, then don’t bother coming to places like this that require a reservation.

Yakumo Saryo 八雲茶寮

Meguro-ku, Yakumo 3-4-7 目黒区八雲3-4-7


reservations required – may be made online

This restaurant first appeared in my column in The Japan Times on Japanese breakfasts.

Shibuya D47

D47 Tokushima

D47 Tokushima Sōmen

D47, on top of the Shibuya Hikarie building, is a restaurant the specializes in regional dishes from throughout Japan. The menu changes monthly and is a great chance to try kyōdo ryōri, hyper-regional cuisine, in Tokyo.

The above dish is sōmen from Tokushima. These summer noodles are normally very thin and served cold. These are much thicker than usual and bringing a richer texture and flavor to what is usually a light meal.

D47 Nagano

D47 Nagano Rōman

This second plate was from back in March while Tokyo was still waiting to warm up. I ordered this as I have a soft spot in my heart for paté and cured meats from Nagano. The main dish, Rōman, is a stir-fry of vegetables and meat, in this case, duck.

The wine list at D47 features Japanese wines by-the-glass including some of my favorites, Yamanashi Grace Winery Koshu and Tochigi Coco Farm Awa Coco. Diners can do a flight of Japanese wine as well. There is also a rich selection of Japanese tea.

The restaurant has floor to ceiling windows that overlook Shibuya station. It’s a popular restaurant, so time your visit accordingly. And, leave extra time in your schedule to visit their sister exhibit and shop on the same floor.

D47 is part of the d-department business that includes publishing, retail, and restaurants that showcase and keep alive regional cuisine and products. Near the restaurant is a D47 Museum and a D47 retail shop. The shop includes tableware, kitchenware, and food products sourced from artisanal

郷土料理 kyōdo ryōri – regional cuisine

徳島素麺 Tokushima sōmen

長野ローマン Nagano Rōman

食堂 shokudō – dining hall

D47 Shokudō

Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 2-21-8, Hikarie Bldg. 8F 渋谷区渋谷2-21-8, ヒカリエ8F

Gotta Get – Fresh Green Tea


It has been incredibly hot in Tokyo this last week. Record high for the month of October, 31 degrees C yesterday, almost 88 degrees F. I tend to drink a lot of water while out in the city, but another favorite, if I can find it, are these green tea bottles. Powdered green tea, sometimes sencha, or sencha mixed with mattcha, is in the cap of the bottle of water. When you twist open the cap the tea falls into the water. Just shake up the bottle and you have cold, fresh green tea. There are a few shops in Tsukiji Market selling this. Usually you’ll see it in front of a tea shop in a big bucket of ice.

Japanese Tea

Japanese Tea

Japanese Tea

As you’d expect of a people whose tea culture extends back hundreds of years, the Japanese enjoy every type of cha imaginable—pungent, sweet, soft, grassy, clean and earthy. Leaves can be plucked, steamed, packed, processed (dried and rolled) and refined (stems and debris removed), or ground for matcha and roasted forhoujicha. To get the most out of your drink, here’s a guide to the ABC’s of tea.

  • Bancha (番茶) is the third harvest of sencha (see below). Bancha can also refer to tea that is harvested in the late summer or fall. At this point, the plant’s soft shoots have grown and the leaves become brittle. Bancha is a plain-tasting tea made with stems and stalks. It is slightly astringent and yellow in color
  • Fuka-mushicha (深蒸し茶) is steamed for 2-3 minutes when processed, hence the name, which means “deep-steamed.” On the palate, fuka-mushicha is mellow and has a round flavor.
  • Genmaicha (玄米茶) is gorgeous to look at—bancha green tea flecked with small kernels of roasted, popped brown-rice kernels (genmai). The aroma is easy to recognize, and the flavor is soft on the palate and slightly savory. It’s also light in caffeine, making it a good tea to drink in the evenings.
  • Gyokuro (玉露) is a delicate tea, as the bush was shaded from the harsh sunlight for about two weeks prior to harvest. This gentle product is lightly sweet on the palate and is very mellow in its aroma.
  • Houjicha (ほうじ茶) is a blend of bancha and kukicha teas, heated to a high temperature to slightly roast it. It is known for being a good after-dinner tea, as it will help the body to digest food and is lower in caffeine than green teas.
  • Ichibancha (一番茶), or the year’s first crop of tea, is often picked around May 1. The first harvest is considered the best, with each successive crop somewhat inferior. Also referred to as shincha.
  • Kukicha (茎茶) is from the twigs and stems of the tea bush. It is slightly nutty and earthy, with a hint of sweetness on the palate.
  • Matcha (抹茶) leaves have been shaded from the sunlight (like gyokuro leaves) before being steamed and dried without. The veins and the stalks are removed, and the remaining leaf is ground into a fine powder. Matcha is what’s used for the traditional tea ceremony; its powder is also sold in an instant form (like coffee) that can be used for making matcha au lait or mixing with vanilla ice cream and adding into milkshakes. The instant form is very easy to work with.
  • Mecha (芽茶) is made from the buds and tips, and is harvested early in the season. This tea is aromatic, slightly bitter and astringent.
  • Mugicha (麦茶) is roasted barley tea that’s popular in the summertime served cold. It has a roasty, toasty flavor and is brown in color.
  • Sencha (煎茶) is the most popular type of tea consumed in Japan. The leaves are briefly steamed during processing, resulting in a refreshing flavor and grassy notes. Sencha pairs well with many types of sweets.
  • Shincha (新茶), or “new tea,” is the year’s first crop of tea; also called ichibancha.
  • Sobacha (蕎麦茶), or roasted buckwheat tea, is silky and round on the palate, with a nutty aroma

This article first appeared in Metropolis.

Posted in tea