Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I Love Coffee, I Love Tea

     The Espressamente cafe in Nihonbashi is one of the places I keep going back to, and of course I had to take Yuri there since he loves espresso. It's run by Illy, and obviously serves Illy coffee, which means it's far superior to anything I could make at home or get at Starbucks (or as it's called here, in a very Japanese and very cute abbreviation, Sutaba. Similarly, Banana Republic is BanaRipa).
     The cafe is very modern and bright, with red-orange bars and tables, lots of spotlighting, and bottles of Campari alternating with miniature cacti as decoration all down the central communal-seating area. There are little individual tables along the wall and a glass-enclosed smoking area. They have not only coffee and cakes but also a variety of sandwiches and lunch sets - a Japanese touch in what otherwise feels like it could almost be an Italian cafe. There are even real Italians working behind the counter sometimes. I like to go there for a caffeine boost before the workout of shopping for china in Takashimaya next door.
     After Yuri and I had looked at china and had lunch, we continued to the next spot on our drinks tour, the Mariage Freres tea store in Ginza. They sell tea loose from gigantic black metal canisters - there must be a hundred - stacked ceiling high on wooden shelves that make it look like the hold of a ship just back from the East Indies. The clerks will haul the canisters down and let you smell the teas to compare them, and you become so intoxicated by the scents and the names (like Rose of the Himalayas, Marco Polo, and French Blue Earl Grey) that it's inevitable that you will purchase several of their black metal cans, miniatures of the big canisters, complete with logo.

     If you need to rest afterwards, or if you'd rather taste before buying, they have a cafe on the second and third floors where a teapot containing four or five kinds of tea is about nine dollars. Yuri got a Georgian tea in hopes of experiencing a Proustian revisit to his childhood in the Motherland. It was very smoky flavored, delicious with sugar, but didn't take him quite back. I had a Tibetan tea, described as tasting of ripe fruit in the book of teas they give you to assist you in ordering. It was indeed very fruity. The thing that amazes me about all the Mariage Freres teas I've tasted is their complete lack of bitterness, with or without sugar. That and the incredible variety. I can only imagine the training those clerks must undergo to learn the subtle differences between all those hundreds of black canisters!

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