With Japan's consumption of green tea in steady decline, a new breed of casual cafe specializing in the traditional brew aims to reverse the trend by introducing customers to a wide variety of brands, as well as unconventional serving methods.
Customers including visitors from overseas and young Japanese are able to learn about green tea and perhaps find a new favorite variety at such cafes.
Tokyo Saryo opened in January in the Sangenjaya district of the capital's Setagaya Ward.
Part of the cafe's appeal is that customers can not only drink tea but also discuss it with staff.
In an overheard conversation, a customer said, "This tea tastes deep." A staff member replied, "When you make tea at a low temperature you get the (taste of) amino acids. Some told me the color of tea looks like broth."
The cafe's location is fitting, as the name Sangenjaya, literally "three tea houses," is derived from the fact three popular tea houses stood there hundreds of years ago.
The cafe staff makes tea using a method resembling the brewing of hand-drip coffee -- pouring hot water by hand onto tea leaves instead of brewing them in a pot.
It offers different menus each month, presenting a selection from among 25 brands of tea. Customers are served the first cup of tea brewed at 70 C to taste its richness, and the second cup brewed at 80 C for a bitter and astringent taste, according to the staff.
For people who are not familiar with different brands of green tea, the cafe has explanations about the feature of each brand on its menus.
A set for 1,300 yen comes with two different brands of tea and sweets, and a set for 800 yen comes with one brand of tea and sweets.
With plaster walls and only nine seats surrounding the service counter, customers can concentrate on just tasting tea, one of the staff said. "We are happy to answer any questions about tea, such as the production areas of brands and features in taste, so you can enjoy the depth of the (world of) tea."
A pioneering cafe specializing in Japanese tea is Iemon Salon Kyoto, which was opened about 10 years ago by the beverage industry giant Suntory group to propose unconventional ways of enjoying green tea.
It offers meals and sweets together with tea and some cocktails of tea mixed with alcohol.
On the menu are different kinds of green tea, such as "sencha" and "hojicha" for 518 yen per serving and "maccha" for 766 yen and "gyokuro" for 928 yen per serving.
Meals are for morning and lunch, as well as monthly specials for dinner. Maccha-based beer and sencha-based cocktails are also served.
Its interior is arranged to recreate the atmosphere of traditional "machiya" townhouses in Kyoto.
"We hope to deliver the culture and spirit of Japan to the world through tea," a manager of the cafe said.