Tokyo is filled with unique places that embrace century-old traditions while keeping abreast of time. When you enter Sakurai-san’s exquisite Tea Bar you feel like you are in one of those one-of-a-kind spots where past and present harmoniously merge to provide the ultimate experience. As soon as you step inside the shop you can smell deep aroma of green tea leaves prevalent in the air. A small space is divided into two sections: a shop with a small counter and a display of different varieties of green tea in little glass containers lined up on the shelves; in the back a wide counter forming a square fills the space. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook busy Harajuku, and somehow that hustle and bustle seems too far away. The interior is rustic and chic at the same time with soft tones, clean geometrical lines and the presence of wood, iron and copper details. Soaking in the atmosphere of this zen bubble I make myself comfortable in the corner seat. Slightly hypnotized by the serene ambiance I opt for six-course tea tasting menu and intently watch Sakurasai-san’s every movement. The theatrics which accompany the ceremony certainly have soothing and somewhat hypnotizing effect. Sakurai-san first shows the dried leaves of green tea he is about to brew and then goes on to prepare the tea with patience and composure, calculating every move and adhering to the ancient traditions. It’s like observing alchemist at work – measuring temperature of the water and whisking, steeping and infusing aromatic and delicate tea leaves. Apparently, it took him 12 years to become a tea master. Amazing, isn’t it? What an incredible love, patience and dedication to the art! While I am in no way a green tea connoisseur I appreciated the possibility to taste multifaceted flavors of this seemingly simple, yet incredibly sophisticated herb. Don’t expect to get mugful of liquids here, each tea has strong qualities affecting the body and should be consumed in limited quantities, thus the tiny cups. Among the six unique and luxurious varieties of green tea I got to try jade-green sencha; tart and savory fukamushi; robust, smoky-flavored bancha; fragrant high-grade gyokuro prepared two ways – steamed and soaked in hot water – bringing out different flavors of the leaves. In fact, gyokuro is one of the most luxurious green teas in Japan. It’s grown in the shade, which gives it a unique, refined flavor that is less bitter and full of umami. While most of the teas were accompanied with sweet varieties of wagashi, it was gyokuro’s leaves slightly drizzled with yuzu sauce that was most unexpected. It tasted like spinach with a hint of bitterness. As a final “course” I thoroughly enjoyed a bowl of rich, frothy matcha served with a choice of Japanese orange wagashi. I also noticed a lady next to us order a beer permeated with the green tea… a note to those who might be keen to indulge in something a tad stronger that a gulp of green tea. At the end of my visit I felt like I learned a lot about the varieties and flavors of Japanese green tea and even felt spiritually enriched. I believe that for any tea, and especially green tea aficionado, visiting Tea Bar Souen would be a truly worthwhile experience.
Souen | 5 Chome-6-23 Minamiaoyama, 港区 Tokyo 107-0062, Japan
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