From Kyoto to Toronto, Tsujiri brings matcha to the masses
Brace yourselves, matcha lovers. Tsujiri, the popular Japanese tea brand from Kyoto, has landed in Toronto, and finally has an answer to all of your green tea-filled dreams.
Located just steps away from Yonge & Dundas Square, the new Toronto location is the first outside of Asia for the nearly 156-year-old brand, and marks the beginning of a large-scale global expansion into markets including the U.S., the U.K., and Australia.
As you might expect, given the significance of the location, and with Toronto’s ever-growing demand for Japanese food and drink, the crowds have been pouring in, and occasionally out onto the street, since Tsujiri opened its doors on Dundas in March.
After an initial visit, JETAA TO was invited to Tsujiri Toronto to sample some products, and discuss the brand with one of the location’s managers.
Inside, customers will find that what the former convenience store-turned-café lacks in seating area, it more than makes up for in its breadth of menu options. With a selection ranging from traditional whisked matcha and hot/cold teas, to green tea-infused lattes, floats, sundaes, and pastries, it is hard to know where to start.
If the options appear overwhelming, bear in mind that there is a method to the matcha madness of the menu. Viewed from left to right, the menu moves from the most bitter of items to the sweetest. It also subtly reflects Tsujiri’s history as a brand rooted in tradition (O-Matcha, $4.50) that has also embraced innovation (Tsujiri Sundae, $7.00/$7.50).
An even closer look at the menu will reveal small touches designed to make the ordering process easier, such as the numbered items, or the small 1-3-leaf labels indicating how strong of a tea taste you can expect from your selection.
The finer details are just as evident in the preparation of Tsujiri’s products. For the staff (most of whom are Japanese), there is a great deal of care required in ensuring that the products meet Tsujiri’s standards of presentation.
As an example, the highly popular Tsujiri Sundae not only requires precisely measured layers of toasted brown rice, matcha ice cream, and red bean paste, but also includes a shiratama ball that has to be placed on a certain side of the cup, and a sakura cookie that needs to face a certain direction.
The attention to detail is impressive, and the focus on presentation unmistakably Japanese. As for the sundae, beyond how it looks, it also happens to taste quite good. Part of that is thanks to the high concentration of matcha in the ice cream, achieved by using a low overrun percentage (less air) in its production. The other side of the story, which applies to all of Tsujiri’s menu items, is the tea itself, which is selected by a tea master in the storied city of Uji (Kyoto Prefecture) before being sent to Toronto.
After trying the O-Matcha, Tsujiri Sundae, Shiratama Sundae ($7.50-$8.00), Houjicha Float ($5.75-$7.00), Toronto-exclusive O-Matcha Maple Syrup Latte ($6.00-$6.50), and O-Matcha Cream Puff ($2.75), one of the things that stood out to me was that the level of sweetness consistently seemed to be just right.
If you happen to visit Tsujiri during one of its few downtimes (there was virtually no line at 2 pm on a Tuesday), you just might be lucky enough to sit in the store’s signature tatami room – a Canadian-exclusive. Created by a Vancouver-based firm, the tatami room is a nod to the brand’s authenticity and tradition.
That tradition can also be traced back to the wooden tea boxes displayed on the walls – the invention of the brand’s founder, Riemon Tsuji. The tea boxes and the tatami room fit within a space that feels both traditional and modern, thanks to the subtle touches of Japanese designer, Shinji Yanai.
Seating is limited to the small tatami room, and six high table seats. Fortunately, as you would expect, the menu is almost fully take-out friendly, save for a select few items such as the O-Matcha, which is served in a tea ceremony-style matcha bowl so that all of its elements (including the tricky-to-prepare foam) can be properly enjoyed.
Tsujiri plans to open a second location in Toronto later this year on Yonge, between Finch and Sheppard. If all goes well, the plan is to open a Vancouver location next year.
Article and photos by Scott Kawaguchi