Favorite Places // Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience
Hidden five stories above the well-heeled, bustling streets of Tokyo's fashionable Aoyama district, Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience offers tea lovers - and the tea-curious - a quiet space to partake in a sensory experience of Japan's most beloved beverage.
Outfitted with copper fixtures and warm wood accents, the light-filled tasting room feels earthy and calming. It's manned by tea master Shinya Sakurai, who spent 12 years perfecting the artful science that plays out like a slow, methodical dance for guests perched at his sleek 8-seat counter bar. Choose your preferred leaf from the extensive menu or go for the full tasting, a 6-course parade of teas such as steamed sencha, roasted hojicha and powdered matcha, each prepared before your eyes in a series of beautifully calculated movements. Sakurai imparts his extensive knowledge through the use of creative brewing methods, coaxing out the full flavor profile of each tea by taking the same leaves though a variety of infusion techniques. Bar patrons are walked though the process and invited to smell and taste each iteration of the leaf in an educational and wonderfully theatrical event.
While the use of traditional tea-making utensils serve as a nod to the drink's rich cultural heritage, the experience at Sakurai is far from conventional. For starters, there's an enticing selection of tea-infused liquor and beer on the menu, and a late-night closing time of 11PM. And you'll do more than just sip brewed tea here: at one point we were instructed to eat our tea leaves (yes, you heard me right). In its final iteration, the high-grade gyokuro leaf is dressed with a sauce and presented as a delightful superfood snack. If eating your tea sounds off-putting, know that there's a variety of tantalizing wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) to cap the experience. Sakurai knows a things or two about desserts as well: prior to opening the tea room, he worked at Japanese confectionery shop Higashiya.
Looking to make a day of it in Aoyama? Pair a tasting here with a visit to the nearby Nezu Museum and some window shopping at one of Aoyama's architecturally famous retail institutions (Prada is a must-see). If you're lucky enough to be visiting Tokyo during sakura (cherry blossom) season, don't miss the Aoyama Cemetery for a breathtaking stroll.
SAKURAI JAPANESE TEA EXPERIENCE
Location: Spiral Bldg 5F, 5-6-23 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Access: Omotesando station, exit B1 (Ginza, Chiyoda, Hanzomon lines)
Phone: +81 3-6451-1539
Hours: 11AM to 11PM Monday through Friday; 11AM to 8PM Saturday and Sunday
***Reservations are recommended
Note: This article is available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.