Do you like matcha (Japanese green tea) flavoured sweets? If you’re anything like me… you love matcha in its loose form and baked into all manor of treats, and each bite calls into picture the rice fields and mountainous landscapes of Japan. No other taste is as quintessentially ‘Japanese’ as this traditional green powder.
While we are still enjoy the final days of summer, I’m sure we are all looking for cold desserts to enjoy at the height of Japan’s stifling humidity. Well let me introduce you to one of my most favoured places to beat the heat and get some my matcha fix in Tokyo!
Tucked in the back streets of Shibuya, just to the right of the scramble and away from the overwhelming lights, sounds and tourists, is a small tea and gelato shop called Nanaya Aoyama. The shop originates from Shizuoka the home of the highest production of green tea in Japan, but the demand for their products was so strong, they knew that they could flourish in Tokyo as well. Don’t let the size fool you, this shop is little, but it packs a punch!
Nanaya is unassuming, so you can miss it if you are not keeping an eye out for the signs. The outside is decorated with a mural of rolling, scenic hills and a blue mountain (Aoyama means ‘blue mountain’) and a few wooden chairs are the shop’s only customer seating.
As you enter the sliding glass doors, you are met instantly with their delectable selection of gelato. They have many spins on Japanese tea flavours, such as lemon matcha and hojicha (roasted green tea), but also feature flavours that compliment it perfectly, such as red bean or black sesame. I, however, was there for their specialty: their sliding scale of premium, straight matcha gelato.
The matcha flavour they offer is a 1-7 scale, increasing in the strength (and bitterness) as it moves up the ranks. If I had unlimited cash and calories for the day, I would have eaten them all, but alas I had to choose.
I decided to hedge my bets and buy three levels of matcha 1, 5 and 7. The friendly staff dolled it out for me in a single cup. The first level of matcha was by far the sweetest. With only a hint of green tea to the creamy scoop, I will say it was my least favorite. That being said, it’s likely the best for those who are not as passionate about matcha as I am, or are green tea beginners. I believe level 1 is actually their most popular choice.
Next I moved on to number 5. This was where things really started to kick off. It was rich, delicious and probably one of the best choices to sample if you want to gage where you are in the spectrum. (And yes, you can ask for a small sample.) I enjoyed this level much more than the first.
Finally I tried the one that I knew would be my favorite, the amazing number 7. It’s bitter and has a wondrous depth of flavour that took me back to the times at my tea ceremony club in my Japanese high school in Kyoto.
This is not a gelato for the faint of heart, but I highly recommend it to anyone who considers themselves a lover of tea or of bitter flavours. This is boasted by the shop as the most intense matcha ice cream in the world and I absolutely believe that to be true.
As previously mentioned, the only seating is a few chairs outside the entrance. When you walk in you are greeted by the selection of scoopable gelato and a board to your right which tells you a little about your options at Nanaya Aoyama. To your left there are freezers which contain larger sizes of gelato for sale to enjoy at home. Just remember that Japan is hot hot hot and these will melt very quickly once you leave the store, so hopefully you are not staying too far away.
Along with the gelato there is also loose tea (which you can prepare by just adding water, this tea makes a great souvenir!) and chocolates that you can buy, all of which are flavoured with with same premium matcha and Japanese tea. Behind the cash register you can also support this local business by purchasing awesome and unique merch.
All the tea which goes into the products from Nanaya is extremely high quality, and this perfection comes through in the flavour. I highly recommend you hang a right from Hachiko and bring yourself to Nanaya to get a real taste of Japan and to beat the heat!