SAKURAI – The season of Autumn is upon us, though it hardly matters to those of us who reside near the Equator.
In Japan however, it means that temperatures are slowly dropping, typically reaching a cool range of about 23˚C to 28˚C in the day. With clear skies and cooling weathers, there’s no better time to explore Japan on foot. And if there’s one place that never stops giving, it’s Tokyo. A reason we love the capital of Japan is its ability to surprise you with a hyper-modern façade that hides pockets of centuries-old tradition in plain sight.
Enter Sakurai, a cosy 8-seater café that offers a comprehensive and exclusive inculcation into the world of Japanese tea making and appreciation. Helmed by tea master Shinya Sakurai, this small and intimate space is hidden five stories above the bustling alleys of Tokyo’s fashionable Aoyama district.
The entire space embodies the core design values of Simplicity founder Shinichiro Ogata, who helped conceptualise and design Sakurai. Ogata is well known for bringing the contemporary and the traditional together. What you get is a minimalist, but elegant space that places focus on the deep-rooted tea culture in Japan.
It is a full sensory ride as you enter the quaint shop of Sakurai. You’ll first smell the waft of the deep and earthy aroma of green tea leaves flowing through the air which soothes the mind and body. Your eyes then take a gander around the shop that is outfitted with copper fixtures and warm wood accents, adding to the calming atmosphere of the small café.
Behind the 8-seater bar are tea masters clad in laboratory coats serving up a wide array of teas and wagashi (sweets). You can choose your preferred tea leaf from the rather extensive menu or opt for a course tasting set that features a variety of tea leaves from steamed sencha, roasted hojicha, and powdered matcha. The tasting sets also come with small bites and traditional wagashi which pair amazingly well with the various teas.
The tea masters guide you through the process, educating and entrancing you with their methodical and delicate performance.
All in all, Sakurai offers up a masterclass in Japanese tea culture, exploring and imparting the intricacies of a time-honoured tradition through creative brewing methods and experiences hardly seen elsewhere such as eating the very same tea leaves that gave you those exquisite brews.
While Sakurai holds steadfast to its tradition, it doesn’t forget to keep up with the times and innovation is given equal importance. Apart from tea brews, Sakurai offers an exclusive range of sakes, tea-infused beer, and liquor that will perk anyone’s attention.
When you’re meandering through the busy streets of Aoyama, be sure to seek the quiet haven that is Sakurai. It’s just about the best way to learn about Japanese tea that has become so crucial in their culture, and take a breather from bustling Tokyo.
5-6-23 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Daily 11 AM to 11 PM
Top photo by jw.________ via Instagram.