Today I walked to one of the most wonderful cities in the world. After taking the #6 train to ‘Little Tokyo’, I walked east out of the Astor Place station, up to 9th Street, and within minutes found myself in front of Cha An. This teahouse is in an area where Japanese restaurants, shops, tea houses, coffee houses, and a supermarket, together build a little Japan away from Japan. True, the name does not hint at all at a Japanese locality but the Pastry Chef Norie Uematsu, the food and the ambience certainly are.
The coffee world is a mutilated one, if it does not offer good tea and cocoa, so I am always in search of places dedicated to any of these hot drinks. As soon as I learned of Cha An, I made plans to visit it.
After a couple of experiences in the geographically true Tokyo, especially at Ginza’s second-floor Higashiya, where an unlimited dedication to being hospitable — omotenashi — is clearly manifested, the interiors, detailed attention and presentation at Cha An Teahouse let me feel right at home, as I have repeatedly felt in the country of Japan.
Opened in 2004 by restaurateur Bon Yagi, this tea haven offers traditional white, green, black, and pu-erh teas, exceptional desserts and a few savory dishes. Teas are pretty much available all over the world, and so is sushi but their culturally specific confectionaries are not as extensively known or available overseas.
On my first of many visits that are bound to follow, I ordered their Pu erh. This is the black tea that is commonly aged in cakes for decades. The taste varies, depending on leaves, process, and region but they are usually rich in deep flavors. A perfect experience was pairing it with a Japanese version of the Italian tiramisu — their Matcha Tira “Masu”, with mascarpone, red bean paste, and a chestnut.
This is the joy of opening mind and palate to different cultures. Nothing is self-evident, nothing is only our own, and everything changes through context.