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Your cup of tea


tea02.jpg (19253 bytes)

Photos by Matt Wilce

Matt Wilce teas-off in search of pots of gold (and green)

An integral part of life for most Chinese - whose most popular colloquial greeting is "Have you had tea yet?" - oolong and more recherch�Eleaves are undergoing a major boom here in Japan. Premium bottled varieties are already stacked on conbini shelves and teashops are bursting onto the caf�Escene citywide. Unlike Japanese chado, the Chinese tea ceremony places more emphasis on drink than ritual. The tastes, aroma and qualities of individual leaves are compared in a less formal and more hospitable manner, and the practice is more common in Taiwan and Hong Kong than the mainland. A valiant patriotic effort to steal back some of the brewing glory has been made by a number of enthusiasts promoting greener infusions - we sipped up and picked the choicest leaves from the crop of new tea-shops.

Hua Tai Tea (Hua Tai Cha So)
With a history that dates back to 1842 in Taiwan, the Hua Tai Tea Company offers a great introduction to Chinese tea in authentic surroundings. Their latest shop opened last November in Shibuya, with four floors devoted to the world of cha - eclipsing their five-year old store in Daimon. Loose-leaves and tea sets are available on the first floor, the second features premium tea sets and a small tea-making area, while the main teahouse inhabits the third. On the fourth are a small private room (JY1000 for 30min) and a larger party space (JY2500 for 30min). Classes are also available in Japanese and Mandarin--see www.chinatea.co.jp for details.
1-18-6 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku. (Tel: 03-5728-2551) Open 10:30am-8pm (closed Tue). Nearest stn: Shibuya. Email: chinatea@t3rim.or.jp
102 Urbanist, 2-3-6 Daimon, Minato-ku. (Tel: 03-5472-7762) Open 10am-7:30pm (closed Sun). Nearest stn: Daimon/Hamamatsucho

A taste of Taiwan at Hua Tai Tea

Yuugatsu
This antique-packed teahouse opened at the end of last year inside Tokyu Toyoko department store in Shibuya and aims to provide a range of authentic teas, dim sum and desserts that will appeal to Japanese tastes. The food menu was revamped this May to include dim sum, ramen and chimaki (steamed mochi rice wrapped in bamboo leaf) as well as three kinds of Chinese sweets. The period furniture and Sino-accent pieces belie the location, offering shoppers a respite from the commercial hustle and bustle.
Tokyu Toyoko Department Store, 2-24-1 Shibuya. (Tel: 03-3477-4811) Open 10am-8pm. Nearest stn: Shibuya


Goku
This small teashop - there are only 12 seats in the modern Chinese interior - opened last December as part of the "Odaiba Little Hong Kong" area of Decks. Specializing in authentic teas from continental China and Taiwan, Goku adds a smart slant to an age-old tradition. The interior is replete with Chinese books and shogi (chess) sets, which are also on sale in addition to their range of teas.
Decks Tokyo Beach 6F, 16-1 Odaiba, Minato-ku. (Tel: 03-3599-6785) Open 11am-10pm daily. Nearest stn: Daiba


Ginpin
The 12-year-old Pu-erh tea from Taiwan - usually grown in Yunan province on the mainland and the only type of tea that is intentionally aged - and the blended and smoked Kuei Hua Oolong tea come recommended. Ginpin also offer tea - making classes-in Japanese, but gaijin are welcome - with two kinds of cha, dessert and a five percent discount on other items (reservations necessary at least two days in advance, minimum three people, JY2500 per person).
1F Muraii Kashiwagi, 7-20-12 Nishishinjuku (Tel:03-5389-7739) Open 11:30am-10pm (closed Sun). Nearest stn: Shinjuku


Cha Yu
This light and airy modern caf�Eat the top of Bell Commons has a French chef cooking up delicious Chinese/French accompaniments to the 80 varieties of tea in stock. In addition to Chinese leaves, a range of herb teas is also available, and the shelves are stacked with unique tea sets and related paraphernalia. Since they opened last fall, the caf�Ehas become a popular lunch spot - set meals are around JY1500 and come with free refills of the daily Chinese brew.
5F Belle Commons, 2-14-6 Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku. (Tel: 03-3475-8055) Open 11:30am-10:30pm. Nearest stn: Gainenmae


The tea is always greener

The private rooms at Hua Tai Tea are perfect for the quiet cuppa

Green Bird
Everything but the chazuke (tea poured over rice sprinkled with flavorings) can be takeout at this fast food-ish take on tea that opened last December. A pot of o-cha - there are 15 varieties to sip - comes in at JY200, and sets that include o-nigiri (rice balls) or traditional bean paste sweets start at JY500. For busy OLs - who are hooked on the health benefits of the low calorie tipple - and urbanites on the move, this 21st century twist to the green stuff hits the spot.
2-14 Yotsuya, Shinjuku-ku. (Tel: 03-5368-0785) Open 7am-11pm. Nearest stn: Yotsuya-sanchome


so-an
Featuring hand-picked Japanese tea leaves carefully selected from Kyushu and Shizuoka, this sleek shop offers a variety of green teas such as gyokuro (premium shade grown), sencha (steamed and rolled leaves), mizudashi (cold-water infused) and macha (powdered green tea) from JY380-JY800. The menu is topped by their trademark best-selling o-nigiri made with high-grade pickled tea.
Urbas Hiroo 101, 5-17-11 Hiroo, Shibuya-ku. (Tel: 03-5789-3290) Open daily 11am-11pm, closed every 3rd Wed. Nearest stn: Hiroo


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