I was totally unexpected
And so true!
Yesterday, a sunny early march Sunday afternoon, my Japanese friend Akari invited me to have a tea in Omotesando, Tokyo’s city center. As for me it’s always teatime, I’ve accepted but, considering the central area covered by flagship stores of international fashion brands, I did not expect anything exceptional. So it goes without saying that what I’ve found at the 5th floor of SPIRAL building was a proper “Paradise of tea”!
“SAKURAI JAPANESE TEA EXPERIENCE”: an honest name!
As the name of this tea room express clearly, here a tea lover can enjoy a real “first time”, (tea speaking!).
And so did I, even if I’ve been visiting so many tea rooms in the last few years, nothing can be compared with Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience! First of all let me specify that I did NOT experience the classical Cha-no-yu Tea Ceremony, but I’ve enjoyed a kinda-contemporary-ritual that today ‘tokyoners’ seem to appreciate much more: no powered matcha tea, nor crouched-on-your-knees position… but mini tea pots – kyusu type – filled with selected green tea leaves comfortably sit on a chair. This ‘new Japanese way of drinking tea’ it’s a mix of traditional art of serving tea, in which the sommelier emulate the ancient Tea Master, and European style of sipping tea sit down on a contemporary design chair.
Around the tea counter – 8 sits available only – the deep silence was broken only by the sound of the running water. One of the tea-sommelier dressed with a formal uniform (calling them waiters would be too restrictive!) brought us a very elegant menu with a selection of green teas (Sencha – Matcha – Hojicha), followed by a list of typical Japanese sweets (okashi) to pair with. The menu included also some alcoholic liquors exacted with tea, for brave only! This special atmosphere reminded me HIGASHIYA in Ginza I’ve experienced last summer here in Tokyo (read here my review), but with an extra cozy touch, probably conferred by the intimacy of the counter.
But let’s stop looking around and order a tea!
After a careful study of the menu we’ve decided for two different types of hojicha, thinking that the “Freshly Roasted Hojicha” written in the menu actually referred to a specific one. Well, it was not so simple! After the while the tea-sommelier came back with a long tray of 8 different variety of hojicha tea leaves!
When she had done with a fascinating explanation of each type… to choose one became literally impossible! Closing my eyes, I’ve trusted my nose choosing a blend of deep scented Sayama Midori and Toyoka hojicha leaves. My friend, instead, went for a variety called Hokume, both of the teas we’ve selected has been picked in the Northwestern part of Tokyo, Sayama Prefecture.
I’ve said that I’ve been following my nose because, at first gaze, all leaves seemed to me too bright-green to belong to roasted tea family… but I would never contradict the skillful tea sommelier in front of me! So, for the first time in my life, I shut up and kept silent (I am becoming little bit Japanese living here!).
However, after a while I’ve understood the reason of the leaves’ brilliant color: the sommelier came back with an incandescent teapot in which she was roasting the leaves… “woah!” – I though – this is really what they mean with “freshly roasted”, indeed!
With opened mouths we have enjoyed the aesthetic of the tea sommelier’s movements, it was a real performance: he was pouring the water with the classical bamboo tool, called hishaku*, and brewing the tea leaves in small kyusu teapots. (*By the way, if you are a matcha addicted and wanna know all the terms used during the Cha-no yu – a list of 50! – I suggest you to read Primainfusione’s post about it here).
Well, better if I’ll let the pictures explain the aesthetic of the moment…
And now, let the teas talk:
Regarding the tasting notes of those two Mr. Hojicha, I can tell you without doubts that the extreme difference in aroma and taste was surprising!
My blend of two types of Sayama’s hojicha enclosed a deep roasted aroma, the tea liquor was round on my toungue and a little bit tannic in my mouth, I pared it with walnut Japanese sweets. Akari-chan’s one, instead, was characterized by a strong umami note and a soft-astringent note, which has been immediately removed by some pickles and a delicious yomogi dango sweet (a vegetable variety of sticky dessert..well, you have to try it to understand what it is!).
What else can I add? Just… if you are in Tokyo hunting the coolest Japanese tea experience ever, well, this is a MUST TRY TEA PLACE!
Words and pics by Elisa Da Rin
Read more about Elisa’s teatime on Il Bollitore blog
Official “Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience” Website here