Tradition & Mastery At Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience

A Bar Dedicated To The Way Of Tea

By Nano Betts
February 22, 2017
Art & Culture, Food & Drink

A place for those looking to find a little bit of Zen in a bar dedicated to the way of tea.

Tokyo is filled with unique places that embrace century-old traditions while keeping abreast of time. One of those places is Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience, a tea bar located right outside Omotesando station, which invites you to explore, enjoy, and be surprised by the 50-plus shades of green Japanese tea it has.

Run by tea master Shinya Sakurai, this cozy tea bar makes you feel like you’re in one of those one-of-a-kind spots where past and present harmoniously merge to provide the ultimate experience and taste. Yes, it’s a rare venue; a true atelier of the master.  

[…] It’s a rare venue; a true atelier of the master.

As soon as you step inside the tea bar you can smell deep aroma of green tea leaves prevalent in the air. The rather small place is divided into two sections: a shop with a tiny counter and a display of different varieties of green tea in 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. Slightly hypnotized by the serene ambiance, I opt for six-course tea tasting menu and intently watch master Sakurai’s every movement. 

The theatrics which accompany the ceremony have a soothing and entrancing effect. Sakurai 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 an alchemist at work – from the measuring temperature of the water and whisking, to steeping and infusing aromatic and delicate tea leaves, it’s more than just a ceremony: it’s art.  

And it’s all about patience, dedication and mastery – all attributes of which Sakurai is deeply familiar with. It took him a whole 12 years to become a tea master before he opened Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience in its original location in Nishiazabu in 2014. As a former manager of a Japanese restaurant and a Japanese confectionery store, as well as a Japanese tea menu consultant for Andaz Tavern, Sakurai has devoted his life to the way of tea and finding ways to link the drink with Japanese sweets — a combination you can enjoy in various forms and shapes at his bar.

While I’m 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 leavesIn 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 teas at Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience are accompanied with sweet varieties of wagashi (Japanese sweets), it was gyokuro’s leaves slightly drizzled with yuzu sauce that was most unexpected. It tasted like spinach with a hint of bitterness and it was simply exquisite.

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.

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 Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience would be a truly uplifting experience — and a new discovery.

The Deets

Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience
Address: 5-6-23 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Access: Omotesando station, B1 exit
Business hours: 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.