I was inspired to write this after reading Robert Wemischner’s “Marriages Made in Tea and Dessert Heaven” where he talks about pairing a honey and salt-encrusted shortbread with matcha. That sounds so YUMMY!
My tea shop, Chiki Tea in Japan, is American-Japanese fusion for a reason. We LOVE Japanese green tea. But we’re not exactly enamored with all those bean paste cakes, concentrated sugary candies, and bland sesame seed cookies that the Japanese pair with these amazing beverages. That’s just not us. Having grown up in Japan, I’ve been pairing brownies with matcha for years! So I figured: why not take the best from both worlds? In one hand the perennial Western desserts (muffins, cheesecake, brownies, scones) and in the other the sweetest sip of kabusecha or the deepest, smoothest gulp of matcha! When it comes to tea, for me, Western desserts pair SO much better than Japanese ones.
This slightly unconventional pairing is at the heart of the Chiki Tea concept. I can’t tell you how perfectly a kabusecha goes with New York cheesecake! And you won’t be surprised to hear how well ceremonial matcha, whisked to perfection using the traditional sado method, then served in an espresso demitasse, goes down with a triple chocolate brownie! Chocolate and matcha…the Japanese have been combining these two flavors in desserts for ages but not drinking one while eating the other. Our modern Japanese customers love it and are Instagramming like crazy!
One of my favourite pairings is houjicha and a muffin. As you probably know, houjicha is considered the “builder’s brew” of Japan. It used to be the stuff the commoners drank while the Japanese aristocracy sipped matcha and gyokuro. Houjicha is one of the most-ordered loose leaf teas at Chiki Tea. I think people love it for its lack of caffeine but also its toffee, fruity depth. Anyway, pair this with one of our Dream muffins loaded with coconut, carrots, dates and raisins, and you’ll be pushing your laptop or book away in order to focus solely on the symphony playing on your taste buds!
I think what strikes a deeper chord with us, and our passionate customers, is that we’re making previously inaccessible drinks (even to the Japanese) more readily available by serving them in a less formal environment than a tea ceremony. Our customers agree that it’s simply more fun this way… trying different flavour combinations, served in a Western way, in a café rather than on the hard surface of a tatami mat. They even go further by saying they are relieved to not worry about the right etiquette when sipping their matcha shot, which makes it taste even better because they can relax.
We can always spot a newbie too. They’ve heard we are a Japanese green tea café and so expect bean paste sweets and matcha roll cakes. These are the customers that tend to order one of everything and multiple beverages with which to taste it all… in disbelief!
A visit to Chiki Tea becomes a game for people when they come in and about thinking a bit more laterally about what they’re going to eat with their tea. The only tricky question remaining is what to have with the s’mores!
Photos provided by the author.