The ‘Coffee Culture’ of European countries like Italy and France bring to mind images of a busy cafe, the endless clink of teaspoons in white china cups, coffee machines humming and buzzing as they foam hot milk into a smooth froth… a bustling, raucous, animated atmosphere. While this coffee culture has permeated Japan with popular chains like Starbucks, there is something to be said for the enduring popularity of ‘Tea Culture’ in Japan where, rather than a busy, crowded coffee shop, people would instead like to take their beverages in the quiet, peaceful surrounds of a tranquil tea house. One such tea house where you can sample traditional Japanese sweets and tea is the Kusaha Sweet-Taste Cafe in Kumamoto.
Up against the sickly sweetness of Western chocolate and the variety of flavours in Western candies and cakes, the ‘sweets’ on offer in Asian countries never seem to come up to scratch. I mean, who would choose a red-bean paste or sweet potato filled desert over a nice piece of chocolate?
But while I would generally plump for the sweets that I know and love while living in Japan, it is nice to try the local delicacies and see whether or not any of them can contend up against my favourite bar of chocolate.
In the Kusaha Sweet-Taste Cafe, you can try several different types of Japanese sets, which can be bought on their own or as a set with some fresh matcha tea. One that is a less sweet option is called isobe, which is wrapped up in nori (seaweed). Zanzai is a sort of sweet soup that is made with red bean paste and glutinous lumps of mochi – a more Japanese style option and something that most westerners would describe as ‘not my cup of tea…’
However, one option that is actually quite tasty is the abekawa, which is a plate of chewy mochi balls that are covered in a sand-like dust of grainy sesame powder. The nutty taste and unusual texture would still be the second choice up against a slice of heavenly chocolate cake, but as far as Japanese sweets go, it’s certainly my favourite
Japanese sweets aren’t to everyone’s taste, ditto to the bitter, grainy matcha tea that the Japanese make such a ceremony of serving. However, trying these unusual things is one of the perks of living or travelling abroad and I would recommend visitors to try them out too, even if they don’t look that appetizing. Sometimes you’ll be surprised to find that the gloopy gunk you’ve been served is actually pretty tasty.
Kusaha Sweet-Taste Cafe Website*Japanese Only