Friday, February 7, 2014

Visit and tasting: Ippodo Tea

Kanro Gyokuro prepared cold-can you spot the ice cube?

I recently had a beautiful tea tasting at Ippodo, well known in Japan for high quality teas. The teas I tasted were fresh, vivid, inspiring. It was such a pleasurable experience.

Chihiro, one of the tea experts at Ippodo prepared many delicious teas for us. The first was the kanro 'sweet drop' gyokuro. Ippodo is well regarded for their gyokuro, and I couldn't wait to taste it. Since this was prepared cold, it took 20-30 minutes to brew. So more on this amazing tea later...

The first tea I tasted was hosen sencha,one of Ippodo's most popular teas. It is a mid grade sencha that is slightly bitter and vegetal. A delicious well-balanced sencha, and I can understand why it's so popular. The sweet freshness lingers on the tongue long after it is tasted.

I was fortunate to have arrived after they recently received the delivery of spring nodoka matcha. I love matcha but cannot seem to get it right when I prepare it at home. Chihiro mentioned the secret is to sift the matcha in the bowl before adding water. This seems like such a logical step, but one I have skipped over. I can't wait to try again at home! Water was taken from a decorative pot and added to the matcha bowl. The spring matcha was light and fresh, yet almost chocolaty with slight bitterness and umami. Definitely not like others I've tried.


Next we tried a hojicha, roasted sencha that is low in caffeine. It was smooth and bitter, reminding me of coffee you'd find in New Orleans that has chicory added to it. I could see this as a good starting point for coffee drinkers looking to move over to tea. I've had hojicha before, but not one quite as flavorful as this.

Iribancha leaves
We then sampled iribancha, which really stood out. After the first picking of the year, leaves, twigs and stems are taken from mature leaves found lower down the tea plant. The leaves are steamed, dried and roasted. The flavor of this tea reminded me of tobacco, or a fine scotch. Very smokey and strong but without a hint of bitterness. Chihiro said she enjoys this tea iced. I could definitely see doing this as it's refreshing yet interesting to drink. Definitely a tea I will be back to purchase, along with the gyokuro I mentioned earlier...

Kanro Gyokuro, not sweet, but a precious drop indeed
After tasting so many diverse teas, the kanro gyokuro was ready. This tea was unlike anything I've ever tried. Umami, seaweed and a savory flavor reminiscent of chicken broth bursts on the tongue. Such a surprising tea! I found it interesting that this tea isn't sweet at all even thought it is called 'sweet drop'. But it is certainly a tea you want to savor in small, precious drops.

The matcha selection. The Nodoka is in the back, in the pretty pink box
As a final tea, Chihiro prepared the New Year's matcha to compare with the spring matcha we tried earlier. It was rich yet gently sweet giving it a pronounced delicate feel.  Luxurious.

If you are new to Japanese teas you may feel intimidated to enter this small shop. But take my advice, and go! The staff is extremely friendly and knowledgeable. Tell them what flavors you like best, and they will steer you towards the right tea for you. The teas here are high quality and better than many Japanese teas you can find around the city. Ippodo occasionally offers tea workshops, and one will be coming up in April. You can follow their facebook page for updates.

A big thank you to Chihiro for presenting such lovely teas, and to Ana for coordinating the tasting!

Don't be intimidated, amazing tea awaits!
Ippodo Tea NY Store: 125 East 39th st. Highly recommended for tea to purchase, and a quick cup to go


  1. I expected the iribancha to be a tad darker since it is described as smoky and good for smokers who wish to move / switch to tea. And similarly to hojicha which I have had. Perhaps I am mistaken. Lovely review and thank you.

    Japanese teas are exquisite. Indeed!

  2. I don't think I have a pic of the brewed iribancha, but it was fairly dark. The leaves are probably also a little darker than they appear in the pic. it was so delicious and smokey! As always thank you for the kind words!