Tokyo’s Coolest Tea and Spirits Bar

souen-gyokuro

One of the most magical tea tastings I have experienced was at Souen. 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.

gyokuro-w-wagashi

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.

souen-whisky

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

Minato-ku, Minami-Aoyama 5-6-23, Spiral Building 5F 港区南青山5-6-23

http://www.sakurai-tea.jp/

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

03-5371-1620

www.yakumosaryo.jp

reservations required – may be made online

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

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2016/08/05/food/start-morning-serving-tradition-breakfast-joints/#.V94ymZN97uQ

Gotta Get – Green Tea at Tsukiji Market Jugetsudo

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Tsukiji Market is the most popular destination for our Food Sake Tokyo tours. Perhaps the most popular item that clients buy to bring home with them is Japanese green tea. My favorite tea shop in the market is Jugetsudo which is at the Maruyama Noriten Shop. The shop sells a variety of tea including mattcha, genmaicha, hōjicha, and seasonal teas like a sakura tea that has cherry blossoms mixed with the green tea.

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What I recommend for busy people who are not in the practice of steeping loose tea are these convenient tea packs. The tea can be served hot or cold. The cold tea is cold brewed simply by putting one bag with a liter of cold water in the refrigerator. A small package of 15 tea bags retails for 400 JPY. This larger package of 70 tea bags retails for 1,570 JPY.

Jugetsudo tea

Here is the cold brew green tea. It is refreshing and nourishes me through the summer.

If brewing hot tea, then only 15 seconds in 100 degrees Centigrade water.

Maruyama Noriten and Jugetsudo have three shops at Tsukiji Market. The photo above is in the outer market:

Tsukiji 4-14-17

The Main Shop, which has recently been renovated is at Tsukiji 4-7-5.

The inner market, jōnai, shop is at Tsukiji 5-2-1.