Surprises casual and sweet
The gleaming coffee canisters created by Kaikado, Japan’s oldest maker of handmade tea caddies, quickly became favorites in Japan and abroad, noted for beauty and functionality that magically merge coffee culture and the craftsmanship born of Japanese tea culture. This blended tradition is symbolized at Kaikado Café, which has generated buzz since opening in 2016.
The café’s charms start with a specialty brew made from beans roasted by Nakagawa Wani Coffee, the favorite of aficionados. Teas, select breads, and sweets round out the menu. But also showcased here are beautiful and functional items made with the same passion for craftsmanship seen in the tin, brass, and copper canisters. The coffee cup below, for instance, was made by Asahiyaki kiln in Uji, Kyoto, in collaboration with Nakagawa Wani Coffee. The slightly elliptical rim is easy on the lips, the shape brings out the best of the coffee aroma, and the handle is easy to hold. The bamboo plate and spoon by Kohchosai Kosuga and the sugar pot and milk pitcher by Kaikado render the tabletop a curation of modern artistry.
Located in a former tram garage and office from the 1920s, the café is a true salon for the appreciation of coffee, tea, and craftsmanship.
The owner of Umezono Sabo, which opened in 2016, grew up in a family operating a traditional Japanese-style sweets café. She enjoyed pairing azuki-bean paste with her daily refreshments like yogurt and fruit, which inspired her kazari-kan, made from bean jam molded with agar and bracken starch and arranged with flair. Her Earl Grey–infused sweet, for example, is dressed with almond-flavored white bean paste, fruit, and rose petal, as if it were a European gâteau. Kazari-kan are lighter in texture than ordinary bean jelly and come in a variety of flavors such as matcha green tea and zesty lemon.
Offerings on the menu change as often as monthly, with new flavors always being created. One notable example was spicy stollen kazari-kan, complete with dried fruits and nuts, which sold out immediately at Christmastime. Umezono Sabo’s sweets are also a hit with foreign guests unfamiliar with wagashi or sweet bean paste. Here, wagashi is truly transcending generations and borders.
Though Zen Cafe is run by the venerable wagashi confectioner Kagizen Yoshifusa, which began making sweets for the tea ceremony in the early 18th century, matcha green tea is not on the menu. The hope is that, here, confections with origins in the strict formalities of the Way of tea can be enjoyed casually with coffee and other café drinks.
Kagizen Yoshifusa’s long-beloved specialty, kuzukiri (kudzustarch jelly cut into thin noodles), takes on a new twist at the café, which starts with the same highly prized kudzu starch from the Yoshino district of Nara but turns it into kuzumochi dumplings. First-timers are recommended to taste the flavor of the kudzu itself before topping the kuzumochi with a generous dose of kinako soybean powder and cane syrup. Reportedly, one foreign guest returned to the café daily, captivated by the indescribably light and smooth texture and mellow sweetness of this treat.
The real success of Zen Cafe comes from the drive to innovate while staying true to the essence of wagashi traditions.