The Dirty Stall

Souen

Posted on: October 29, 2016

Souen is the name of this modern teahouse but it’s also known as the Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience, named after the person who opened it – Shinya Sakurai.

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It used to be located in Nishi-Azabu but since a few months ago, it moved to the SPIRAL building at Omotesando. So these photos are from the old Nishi-Azabu location.

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It feels like some ancient pharmacy, with the “lab-coats” that the tea master wears.

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I haven’t visited their new location but I would imagine that it has much of the same tranquil zen feel as this spot.

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I opted for a tea tasting course which ran the gamut of gyokuro, hojicha, and matcha.

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It starts off with their gyokuro, which is some of the best I’ve tasted so far – probably a result of being curated personally by Sakurai vs the mass market kinds (even high-grade ones).

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It’s a lot smoother and rich than most gyokuros, which is already known for its luxurious taste.

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You need a lot of gyokuro leaves to produce a tiny amount of tea – it’s really the espresso of green teas! That’s why it’s so expensive as well.

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For the final infusion of gyokuro, he brews it over chunks of ice with shiso and sudachi.

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A throwback to his days as a bartender before becoming a tea master, a chilled gyokuro ‘cocktail’.

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After 3 steepings, the gyokuro leaves are presented for consumption with ponzu sauce. Not as bitter as one would expect!

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The next one is hojicha, freshly roasted on the spot over a stove.

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The warm aroma of roasted tea leaves wafts thru the room.

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Served with Japanese pickles! Strangely appropriate.

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Finally, the tasting course ends with matcha.

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Definitely buy back the tea that they sell – it’s really much better than the usual stuff at places like Ippodo or Fukujuen.

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