A Sweet Tour of Japan: Tea, tea, tea.

As some of you know, my husband and I recently spent a month in Japan. We had a phenomenal time visiting Tokyo, Hirosaki, Kyoto and Osaka… and we tasted all the pastries and sweets we could at every stop.

Visiting Japan was fascinating from the perspective of a pastry professional. Japanese chefs and bakers have a meticulousness about their work, and I found it incredibly inspiring from a visual and flavor perspective. I wanted to share some of my favorite goodies with you guys. Oh, and I’ll be tying it all back to new recipes inspired by our trip! Check at the end of this entry for a preview of the first Japan-inspired recipe I’ll be sharing.

Today I’ll be writing about one thing and one thing only: tea-flavored sweets. I’m sure you may imagine that green tea sweets are basically everywhere, and they are. From low-end convenience stores to the fanciest shops in ginza, matcha was a beloved flavor. However, I was positively surpised to see just how many different teas got the pastry and candy treatment in Japan.

First of all, let’s get the matcha stuff out of the way. Yes, there was a lot. Yes, it was almost all phenomenal.

The very first bakery we visited in Japan was Gotran Cherrier in Shibuya. I had come in search of a much-discussed matcha croissant, but unfortunately they didn’t appear to make it anymore. It was the first time we’d be burned by Japan’s love for limited-time items, but far from the last. We soothed our disappointment with a matcha roll cake that did not skimp on the matcha flavor. It was a lovely start to the trip.

Over the course of our trip I came to love more than a few convenience store matcha items. Below are two of my favorites:

LEFT: A limited-time warabimochi (bracken starch cake) filled with Uji matcha cream and kuromitsu (black sugar syrup).

RIGHT: A Häagen-Dazs ice cream sandwich consisting of ice cream, a chocolate coating and a crisp waffle coating and

I also developed a deep love for matcha Kit Kats. It turns out there are three kinds of matcha Kit-Kats out there. On the right you can see the standard Kit Kat sold all over the world, but on the left is a special Uji matcha Kit-Kat that blows the former out of the water in terms of flavor intensity. I brought back 5 bags of the Uji matcha variation, and frankly I should have gotten more.

We also enjoyed matcha soft serve at various spots. Japan loves its soft serve, and I love Japan’s priorities.

The final matcha items I’d like to spotlight are from Renoir, a cafe chain I saw all around Tokyo. My husband and I enjoyed our drinks; his was fruit and yogurt based and mine was a matcha latte with coffee jelly. My favorite item, however, was Renoir’s matcha tart. It had layers of almond cream, whipped cream, and matcha cream. In addition to this, it was dotted with candied peas… an unexpected delight. The tart had a lot going on, but it was all complimentary and a positive surprise overall.

Now on to some of the more unique uses of tea!

The first item is not Japan exclusive, but I did buy it at Ladurée in Shinjuku. It’s the Marie Antoinette Tea Macaron! Marie Antoinette tea contains a mixture of apple, rose, and black tea flavors. That said, the macaron didn’t taste all that much like any of those things in particular… instead it had a cooling sensation and tasted like a mint tea macaron to me. In retrospect, I wonder if there’s actually a chance the macaron shells were mixed up in production, as both the Marie Antoinette Tea and Mint macarons at Ladurée are blue.

Next up we’ve got one of the first desserts I ordered after a dinner: a rooibos tea pudding from the Ippudo ramen restaurant located in the Lumine EST department store. I went back to enjoy Ippudo’s ramen a second time and ordered this pudding again, because it was utterly delicious. Creamy, subtly flavored with rooibos and topped with a delightful sauce… it’s a dessert I think I may have to give a shot at replicating for the blog.

Starbucks Japan also offered a ton of interesting tea goodies like earl grey donuts, but the two I found most interesting are outlined below. First: an earl grey cream and peach tart. It was frankly a little bland, but the idea was interesting and it’s a flavor combination I hadn’t seen before.

Second, a drink I truly adore: the Classic Cream Tea Frappuccino. This was a limited time item in Japan. The Cream Tea Frappuccino has a milk tea flavor made with a blend of earl grey, ceylon and mawali teas. The drink contains small cubes of honey sugar on top as well, which are chewy but somehow not cloyingly sweet. In fact, the whole drink was only delicately sweetened and had a great tea flavor. The honey sugar cubes mixed into the drink to create an experience similar to bubble tea, providing occasional pops of texture.

This was one of the best blended drinks I’ve ever seen Starbucks offer, and I was quite impressed. I’m craving one just writing about it.

Lastly, I want to introduce you all to my true tea love… hojicha.

Hojicha is a roasted Japanese green tea with a deep, earthy flavor. It’s got less caffeine than other green teas and is a bit less astringent, and the roasted flavor adds something I just find irresistible. I saw hojicha pop up in everything from convenience store parfaits to high-end tea shops, but I think my favorite use for it might be ice cream.

There’s the Häagen-Dazs variation, which I found at convenience stores and enjoyed more than a few times:

And then there’s, y’know, non-convenience store ice cream. My favorite was found at Yogorino, a chain gelato store we visited on the ground floor of an Aeon Mall in Osaka. We got 4 different flavors: tiramisu, banana almond caramel, hazelnut, hojicha (roasted green tea). They were all phenomenal, but I remember the hojicha most. The taste was incredibly rich and bittersweet. It cemented hojicha as one of my favorite Japanese flavors.

On that note, I’m ending this entry with a preview for tomorrow’s entry. That’s right, tomorrow! I took inspiration from all the wonderful tea sweets we tried in Japan and created a hojicha recipe to share with you all. Check back here tomorrow for a brand new recipe for delicious hojicha shortbread sandwich cookies!

4 comments

  1. Indya | TheSmallAdventurer says:

    I didn’t think it was possible, but now I’m dying to go to Japan even more! It seems like such a wonderful place for so many reasons, but it’s incredible food is definitely one of the top reasons.

    I absolutely love tea, but the only tea flavoured food I’ve had is green tea ice cream. It was amazing, but now I’m dying to try other tea flavoured foods!

    This trip must have been so inspiring. I’m really looking forward to you recreating the treats you had 😊

    • Katharina
      Katharina says:

      It was honestly a fabulous country to visit for food! The mixture of traditional and modern was just so interesting, and I think to a degree Japan isn’t scared to play with foods that we’d consider “weird” to change up (i.e. cod roe on Italian style pasta, cheesecake served in a crepe). I hope you get to go!

  2. Sarah M says:

    Oh man I can’t wait to see your recipe for hojicha shortbread!

    Hojocha is one of my absolute favorite teas, I drink it almost every day!

    And one can never go wrong with shortbread!

    • Katharina
      Katharina says:

      It’s such a lovely tea! I’m happy to find another hojicha lover. I’m afraid I’m alone in my family on that front… more for me, I suppose!

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