Being in Japan gives you plenty of opportunities to knock back a beer. The country is filled with pubs, and alcohol consumptions is so accepted that should you tell people, flat-out, “My hobby is drinking,” they’re more likely to ask you to recommend a good bar than to stage an intervention. At the same time, Japan has countless places to sip a relaxing cup of tea, whether it’s the strong, frothy variety used in tea ceremonies called "matcha," or "hojicha," for which the green tea leaves are roasted before steeping. But with two tempting beverage choices to relax with and only so many hours in the day, how can anyone be expected to choose between tea and beer? As it turns out, you don’t have to.
Located in Tokyo’s Ningyo-cho neighborhood, Morinoen is a well-known tea shop that opened way back in 1914. As our field reporter approached the building, he was greeted by the pleasing aroma of tea leaves being roasted right in front of the store. On the first floor, customers can purchase high quality tea leaves to brew at home and the second floor houses a small café.
The café offers a variety of sweets, but the reason we stopped by was to sample two particularly unique menu items, matcha beer and hojicha beer.
Both concoctions cost 800 yen. In keeping with the old-school vibe you’d expect from a business that’s been around for almost a century, before our beers came we were served a complimentary cup of hojicha, along with some rice crackers and pickles. The tea was, as we expected, fantastic
When our order came, we started with the hojicha beer. We took a sip, and the flavor was just right. As a matter of fact, at first it didn’t seem any different from a normal brew. But if we closed our eyes, we could make out a trace of hojicha, fragrant and relaxing, sitting on the back of our palate.
What we were really intrigued by, though, was the matcha beer. Its color is a bit startling, as it’s an exact match for a cup of straight matcha. Ditto for the smell. But as it passed our lips, right on the heels of the flavor of chilled matcha came the unmistakable taste of beer. Deep and bitter, this is perhaps the perfect beer to enjoy sitting in a Japanese-style tea room.
But even if it was these unique beers that brought us here, the second floor of Morinoen is first and foremost a café known for its sweets. No way we were going home without trying some. We started with Morinoen’s 880 yen matcha zenzai, which was featured in the Japanese TV drama "Lonely Gourmet."
With sweet dumplings floating in a pond of deep green tea, it doesn’t get more Japanese than this. The flavor is refined and not too sweet, especially if you break up the eating experience with sips of hojicha or nibbles of the salty pickles. But to really make yourself feel like a samurai, we recommend pairing the matcha zenzai with a glass of matcha beer.
But what you can’t miss is the hojicha parfait at 1,050 yen. It goes without saying that the soft serve hojicha ice cream was delicious, as was the chestnut agar.
The real surprise was the monaka wafer in the middle of it. As we bit into it, we were struck by its perfectly balanced texture, neither crusty nor mushy, but sublimely crispy. The filling was so good that at first we couldn’t believe it was just ordinary sweet beans.
Honestly, even if you don’t ordinarily like sweet bean paste, it deserves a try. Whoever made this monaka is a genius, truly at the top of his field. Overall, the hojicha parfait is so good, we think it warrants a special trip to Morinoen, even if you’re only in Tokyo for a few days of sightseeing. It just might be the best parfait the country has to offer.
Morinoen Address: Tokyo, Chuo Ward, Nihonbashi, Ningyo-cho 2-4-9 Hours of operation: 1st floor 9 a.m.-7 p.m., 2nd floor 12 p.m.-5 p.m.
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