Japan has an extensive and rich tea culture. It made the perfect travel destination to enjoy a family holiday and combine a little bit of tea schooling. In the first part of our tea travel post I have included all the fun aspects of our tea experience in Japan. I will write more about the true tea highlights in my next post.
Green tea (matcha) ice cream
The hot and humid weather made it easy to indulge in soft serve matcha ice cream. Many of the ice creams were made from green tea powder and lacked the bitterness and richness of matcha but they were still enjoyable. I desperately wanted to make it to Nanaya, a specialist matcha gelato store that opened recently in Tokyo and rates its matcha flavour from 1-7. Sadly, we passed by it on the bus and it already had an established queue (there are only so many lines a 3 year-old can endure) and the next time we were in the area it was raining and too cool for ice cream. Next time.
Green tea (matcha) chocolates
With so many tea flavoured chocolates readily available in Japan you are spoilt for choice. Above you can see my KitKat haul: Uji Matcha, Matcha and Sakura Matcha. I was searching for the Gyokoro and Hojicha KitKat’s but found out they could only be purchased from KitKat Chocolatory. In reality, there is only so much tea flavoured chocolate one can consume and I will be gifting the remainder. We really enjoyed the matcha chocolate biscuits (seen in the first image) and they were readily available in most convenience stores.
I have been reading about the ready-to-drink (RTD) tea explosion occurring in a number of markets including Japan. I was able to appreciate this more after seeing the vending machines and the types of tea drinks available everywhere. I admit I tried a lot of these drinks out of curiosity and my son found it a very novel way to use up our yen. Overall, they were not great, they varied from the intensely bitter to the overly sweet. My husband tried many of the coffee RTD's and had a similar impression. But convenient and popular, tick!
Lining up for Gong cha (bubble tea)
Probably the guiltiest pleasure I harbour is that for bubble tea. Milky tea with tapioca pearls is a match made in heaven but not quite Japanese. We walked past a Gong cha (Taiwanese bubble tea chain store) in Harajuku and I couldn’t resist jumping in the queue. Anyone that has been to Japan knows that queuing in lengthy (yet civilised) lines for food and drinks is a normal part of life. I started to question my decision when we got jostled from the doorway to a sign post a block away marked Gong cha. Fortunately, I think the security guard found great amusement in this and we were ushered back to the line in the doorway within a couple of minutes.
You will probably notice the little baby bump in this photo! Part of the reason for this family holiday was to have something special for our family of three before October when we grow by one >.<
Tea can be ceremonial, refined, sophisticated and elaborate in Japan but this fun side of the way tea is incorporated into the everyday makes it relevant, interesting and accessible to everyone.