A Sophisticated Cuppa at Hatou, Shibuya
It is a rare and wonderful thing for one’s IQ to jump ten points simply by entering an establishment, but this is certainly the impression one gets on stepping into Hatou. Classical music gently swells and falls in the background, and vintage trinkets cover every surface. Trees are set within nooks and on tables to lend their leafy calm to the cultured atmosphere, whilst customers read, catch up, chat business or sketch under their branches. Hidden in an alley of Shibuya, Hatou offers an oasis of calm and sophistication in complete contrast with the general atmosphere of the district. The real draw, however, is the tea.
When your tea arrives, the teapot is carefully set over a small candle to keep it warm for the duration of your visit; this action alone should provide some indication of how serious Hatou is about tea. I enjoyed a delicate Darjeeling (¥950), perfectly brewed so as to preserve the natural perfume of the tea without allowing it to become too bitter. Just on a superficial level, the golden liquid looked very handsome in a fashionably mismatched china set.
Since a visit to a teashop is never complete without cake, I chose the green tea chiffon cake (orange and maple flavors were also available, each priced at around ¥520). The sponge was a curious mix of sweetness and that hint of bitterness one encounters with green tea, brightened by the fluffy white icing, the purpose of which is seemingly to balance the texture of the sponge, rather than to augment the sugar content. This all resulted in a taste that did not overwhelm the delicate tea (although it may be underwhelming to palates used to the Japanese habit of adding sugar to oranges, omelettes, and anything that stays still long enough, really…). The first thing you notice, however, is its sheer size: it is a true doorstopper of a cake. Since it is so perfectly airy and moist, however, it vanishes extremely quickly, so you may need to treat yourself to a second slice in order to feel properly sated.
Service is not quick; the servers seem to pour a little of themselves into each cup of tea or coffee, so the delay is understandable. The value in this is obvious in the smiles and nods of the customers as they sip their iced coffee, Assam tea or other brewed delight. They are also determinedly unobtrusive, so you will have to wave them down if you need a refill.
Given the quality of the tea, it is surprising that the place is not crammed with British expats like myself (on my visit, the clientele was exclusively Japanese). The most obvious explanation is that there is no English menu. The staff speak some English, however, and if you can struggle through katakana you should be able to get through most of the menu. If you’re unfamiliar with the Japanese alphabets, here are prices of a few key items: a pot of Assam or Darjeeling, ¥950; iced coffee, ¥850; cappuccino, ¥950.
Smoking is allowed, so perhaps Hatou is not a place to bring the kids, but for a grown-up tea it’s a very refined experience. One might even say “tea-riffic”; that is, of course, if one were accustomed to indulging in such awful puns.
Address: 1-15-19 Shibuya, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo
Open: Daily, 11 a.m.–11:30 p.m.