Why do we enjoy bitterness? As children we reject it, but as adults we seek it out. Does bitterness remind us that life is not always sweet? The pleasant bitterness of coffee perks us up. And bitter chocolate (or any chocolate, for that matter) causes the brain to release the same endorphins as it does when we fall in love.
For hundreds of years, the Japanese tea ceremony has been centered around a frothy bowl of one of the bitterest teas you can imagine—matcha. As a new student to the art of sado, I’ve discovered the calm tension, and beauty, of a carefully prepared bowl of tea. The bitter tannins and caffeine of the emerald liquid energize me, yet the lovely motions of the tea making, and the care and concern for the comfort and well being of the guest relax me.
Over the last several years, green tea shops have been opening all over Tokyo. One of the oldest, and best, Cha-no-ha, is in the basement of Matsuya Ginza Department store.
Hidden behind a linen noren, this tiny shop looks as if it’s been chiseled out of living limestone. The lighting is dim, cave-like, and a soothing gurgle of running water comes from a stone basin containing forest-sized branches of a seasonal ikebana arrangement.
Now is shincha season, the first flush of new leaves, and you can relax with a cup of freshly-made sencha tea, the lighter, everyday brew, prepared in a kyusu, the tiny Japanese stoneware teapot. You’ll make the tea yourself, after a short explanation by the attentive staff.
One pot of tea, which can be refilled with newly heated water, and a seasonal wagashi bean paste sweet costs 735 yen. Another more extensive set including three kinds of tea—the exquisite gyokuro, Japan’s finest green tea; a frothy bowl of matcha; and a pot sencha—plus three matching wagashi, will run you 1575 yen.
If you need a respite from the crowds of Ginza, seek out this refuge. Stoneware teapots and other utensils, as well as a fine selection of green teas, are for sale outside the shop.
Cha-no-ha B1 Matsuya Ginza Dept. Store. Tel: 03.3567.2635. Open everyday. www.matsuya.com/ginza