Japan is well-known for its high quality green tea and Tokyo as the shoppers’ paradise. This continuously revised guide to Tokyo’s most noteworthy tea rooms and shops is not only for the serious tea lovers but also for the occasional tea-to-tellers. In the gargantuan maze of the megacity’s districts it is useful to sieve through and focus on the top league players of the Tokyo tea game.
For anyone visiting the Japanese capital metropolis, sitting down and witnessing a tea ceremony (the real one takes hours as I witnessed in Kyoto), enjoying top quality gyokuro or just taking away a cup of the frothy matcha, deep roasted hojicha, new season’s sencha, smoky iribancha or the liquid tea popcorn known as genmaicha, will impart an authentic experience. Today, the trend-seeking young Japanese are not as much interested in tea, unless is has bubbles, cream and other good tea masking additions, even alcohol (Mixology Salon at Ginza Six shake sup inventive tea cocktails). The daily liquid bread of the past is also being challenged by coffee as hipster coffee labs, Starbucks et al. penetrated Tokyo. One man though, a seasoned local designer with a penchant for tradition, who has over the past decade revived the Japanese tea tradition. By employing his minimalist conceptual design, Schnichiro Ogata has rolled the Tokyo tea carpet for the young generations though his group Simplicity.
Higashiya Ginza tea room
He designed the decade-old Higashiya that strung the contemporary design chord in Ginza. Reinventing the Japanese tea experience by introducing afternoon tea (2-5pm), exquisitely crafted tea accessories alongside their irresistible range of signature wagashi Japanese sweets at the Higashiya Ginza tea room, the lost tea souls are brought back to live.
Higashiya dusted off the tea utensils in Schnichiro Ogata’s contemporary ceramic, bronze and copper works, while sustainable yet hardy and so pretty that multi-use comes naturally of the recycled paper cups, bowls and plates make any tea outing more ‘cool’. They roast houjicha in-house like their other sister tea rooms and houses in Tokyo. What sets Higashiya in Ginza apart is the fresh and approachable design as well as the six-seating private tea room available for extra charge. More details in my review.
Pola building, 1 Chome-7-7 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo
+81 03 3538 3230
Yakumo-Saryo transfers you to the gardens of Kyoto. Where the past meets modernity, as you feet set on the stone-paved path, this peaceful Sabo teahouse takes you away from the city centre into the residential corner of Meguro. Here, immerse yourself into tea and wagashi sweets by Baishinka (also sold at the boutique there) in the peaceful tearoom. Reservations via e-mail are essential, and the full Japanese “Asacha” breakfasts are so popular that two weeks ahead may or may not secure your seat. Hiru kaiseki or “Goshincha” tea lunch set are served from noon. Dinner is like a private tea club by introduction only. Although the staff can be quite stiff, the pleasant tea sommelier lady worked at Higashiya for many years prior to moving here and kindly explains and recommends tea to your liking. Seasonal tea like sakura leaf blend in April, new season sencha, top rank gyokuro, aged teas and house-roasted houjicha will make your head spin with caffeinated pleasure. Breathe and savour the moment.
〒152-0023 Tokyo, Meguro, 八雲３丁目４−７, Tokyo
+81 03 5731 1620
Sakurai Tea Experience
Sakurai Tea Experience is the newest addition into the Simplicity design group of tea-centric experiences. A small tea bar, hojicha roasting facility and a kitchen counter in one tiny room inside the Spiral Tower shopping mall in Omotesando. At the comfortable counter seats a simple seasonal bento lunch (we had water chestnuts with rice, pickles and grilled fish in April) is served, but most Tokyo tea connoisseurs come for the extraordinary wagashi and tea set. With the lunch different teas will be served, from cold brewed gyokuro through your choice from some unusual with bacteria or mould inoculated teas (an acquired taste I warn you!) and other more purist Japanese teas. Alcoholic cocktails with tea, miso aged camembert and seasoned nuts are also offered.
港区Minamiaoyama, 5 Chome−6−23 スパイラルビル5F, Shibuia, Tokyo
+81 03 6451 1539
Cha Cha No Ma
Cha Cha No Ma is the most interesting tea room in Tokyo to learn about and taste diverse top quality sencha from Japan. Directly from the tea farms delivered Japanese tea is the freshest mid to late spring so ideally come to taste the unique flavours of each vintage between April and May, to stock yourself for the year ahead. Talk to the the in-house tea expert about the perfect tea for you. Read more about the unique tea philosophy of Yoshi Watada, who now also teaches tea classes in Yokohama and Oomiya, in my in-depth article. Cha Cha No Ma’s desserts or chocolates paired with tea make for a nice treat next to the silent break in the small contemporary Tokyo tea room.
5-13-14 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001
+81 3 5468 8846
Originally from Kyoto, Ippodo is one of the oldest and most renown tea brands in Japan. In Tokyo, Ippodo has a branch in the busy shopping district in Marunouchi just steps away from the Imperial Palace. The original Ippodo store in Kyoto is also located in the proximity of the former Imperial Palace.
There is a casual tea counter, where you can watch the tea being prepared, and a tea room, where you can sit at a table and savour your healthful cup with snacks. A bowl of matcha will be skilfully whisked at your table. Ideally, the matcha attains a frothy consistence like a top-notch Italian cappuccino. You can select from a wide range of Japanese teas. Premium gyokuro, various grades of powdered matcha (top quality for tea ceremony, lowest quality for cooking), and everyday teas like bancha, the smoky iribancha (sold in giant sacks to their wide global fanbase of customers), hojicha and a plethora of refreshing senchas are all sold there.
The mostly bi-lingual tea experts behind the counter advise you on anything you might want to know about Japanese tea. Sparing later disappointment, most teas can be tasted before you buy. Take-away is available.
Kokusai Building, 1F, 3-1-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, 100-0005 Tokyo
+81 03 6212 0202
Ippodo has a small shop cum tea to go located just under the Michelin stared kaiseki restaurant Kajitsu in New York.
Another Japanese tea purveyor that has stretched across the borders of Japan is Jugetsudo. The Jugetsudo Tokyo tea brand was founded by the Maruyama family, that has been sourcing best seaweed in Japan since 1854. Their seaweed shop is still located at the renown Tsukiji Chuo-ku market, but now it is also joined by a tea house with an authentically rustic feel that is comforting. Order one of the tea sets served with the in-house sweets, buy tea utensils, seaweed or tea. The powdered matcha with yuzu is intriguing and refreshing.
I usually have a pot of their roasted hojicha with a superb green tea ‘Mont Blanc’ pastry. Inspired by the French creamy chestnut dessert the “white Mountain” cake was adopted by this tea house that now also has a tiny branch in the Paris’ edgy Saint Germain. The Japanese admiration of French wine, food and fashion meet in the sweet realm. Another branch of Jugetsudo in Tokyo is inside the building behind the Kabukiza theatre. It is larger and more contemporary than its Tsukiji home.
Tsukiji Kyoeikai Building 1F, 4-7-5 Tskukiji, Chuo-ku, 104-0045 Tokyo
+81 03 35474747
For a green Tokyo tea experience visit the Edo era Happo-en garden. Inside, the Muan Japanese tea house is enjoyable on a sunny and warm day in the surrounding traditional Japanese garden. Here, enter “Sado“, the ancient practice of relaxation and drinking tea. The tea master demonstrates the etiquette and spirit of the classical tea ceremony. You can select from tasting either the green powdered matcha made traditionally (2100 Yen, reservation required) or enjoy a quick tea with sweets (no reservation 840 yen).
1-1-1 Shirokanedai, Minato-ku, 108-8631 Tokyo
+81 63 3443 3111