Matcha is finely milled powder of specially grown and processed green tea. This matcha flavour has found its way in a lot of Japanese cuisine, from noodles to all kinds of pastries and above all: matcha/green tea ice cream. It’s been said that Mount Fuji-shaped green tea ice cream was already an item on the menu at a royal dinner party during the Meiji period (1868–1912). However, the origin of modern matcha-flavored ice cream lies in Wakayama prefecture, where the company Gyokurin-en patented the process for making it in the late 1950s.
These days matcha ice cream is one of the well established flavours of ice cream in Japan and sweets shops and tea houses all over Tokyo have put it on their menu, often becoming one of the main attractions for customers at these shops. Even if you go to rather traditional sweets shops, such as Mihashi (see below), matcha ice cream has been put on the menu, and is considered a “traditional” flavour.
Counter at Suzuki-en, with some history about the store on the left side, and in the middle signatures/messages from famous people visiting the store.
Be careful though, the flavour of the matcha ice cream will depend on the store you will visit. I am introducing here 3 stores in Tokyo where I got the best experience. Please note you will find the terms “green tea ice cream” and “matcha ice cream” often used interchangeable. Usually it will say “matcha ice” on the menu in Japanese. This flavour of ice cream is largely popular with a young and female crowd.
1. Suzuki-en (Asakusa)
Suzuki-en is a old tea shop in Asakusa, having its origins in the Meiji period early 20th century, that together with the Nanaya brand from Shizuoka serves “matcha gelato”, advertised as the world’s richest matcha ice cream. They have 7 grades of matcha ice, from No 1 (least rich taste) to No. 7 (most rich taste). They are served in either a cup or a cone (see photo of the cup at the top of this article).
As a fan of matcha I went straight for No. 7 and had no regrets. For safety I also included a No. 3 scoop, which was also very tasty. Apart from that I also tried the Hojicha ice cream (a different type of green tea), which tasted great as well.
On weekends this shop can get pretty crowded, so much so that they have a waiting room a couple of blocks away where you need to wait and get a ticket, before you can line up in the store. All a little bit fuzzy to understand on your first visit. Apparently they had issues with the neighbours due to lines that were too long.
The different flavours in Suzuki-en.
3-4-3 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo (see number 1 on the map at the bottom of this article)
Asakusa Station (main metro station) – 9 minutes walk (Asakusa line, Ginza Line, Tobu Skytree line)
Asakusa Station (Tsukuba Express station) – 9 minutes walk (Tsukuba Express line)
Opening hours: 10:00-17:00 (closed every 3rd Wednesday, in case of national holidays on Thursday)
Budget: JPY 370 for one scoop in a cup, please note No 7 matcha costs extra: JPY 560 for one scoop in a cup. It is probably more economical to get two scoops, only ca. JPY 100 more.
Anything special when ordering? You might be sent to a different location to wait during the weekend. The store has no seats, but only tables where you can stand. So it is meant to just quickly have your ice cream and then go out. Ordering at the counter where you receive immediately your cold delight.
Name in Japanese: 壽々喜園
2. Mihashi (Ueno)
Mihashi is an old shop, started in 1948, that serves traditional Japanese sweets. It is mainly famous for its anmitsu and so popular that it has lines in front of the store all weekend.
Mihashi serves its matcha ice cream in combination with these other traditional Japanese sweets. You can have just one scoop with some anko, or you can add it to any of the desserts as a topping. Their matcha ice cream is claimed to be rather good, and I fully agree. I has a nice full and strong taste.
Please note that you might be asked to share a table (aiseki in Japanese) when you are alone or with two. If you say yes, keep in mind that the tables are extremely small and you might be in for an awkward time.
Mihashi became a small chain with 6 stores in Tokyo.
The shop front of Mihashi.
4-9-7 Ueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo (see number 2 on the map at the bottom of this article)
Ueno station (main station) – 5 minutes walk (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line and Hibiya Line, Utsunomiya Line, Takasaki Line, Keihin-Tohoku Line, Yamanote Line, Joban Line and various Shinkansen lines)
Opening hours: 10:30-21:30
Budget: JPY 610 for Matcha anmitsu (recommended). Matcha ice can be added to any other dessert for JPY 130.
Anything special when ordering? Order at the table (they used to have the system to order at the counter, you can still do that if you do take-out)
Web: http://www.mihashi.co.jp/ (in Japanese)
Name in Japanese: みはし
3. Nana’s green tea (all over Tokyo)
Nana’s green tea is my regular matcha ice cream store. They have a wide network all over Japan, and even ventured in China, Malaysia and Singapore. They specialize in green tea, and especially green tea desserts as matcha ice cream, frozen matcha latte and matcha cake, among other things.
I am hooked on the matcha latte with matcha ice cream, and the sesame ice cream on a frozen matcha frappe. You cannot go wrong with anything here on the menu, as long as you steer away from the coffee.
Nana’s green tea is often located in shopping centres that are not always that pleasant. If you want to avoid that, go to their Jiyugaoka store (no longer open as of 2018). However, as we are dealing with mainly the eastern side of Tokyo on this website, the store in Ueno is actually rather nice and spacious, without a long waiting time during the weekend.
Matcha latte with matcha ice cream in nana’s green tea.
6-15-1 Ueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo (see number 3 on the map at the bottom of this article)
Ueno station (main station) – 3 minutes walk (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line and Hibiya Line, Utsunomiya Line, Takasaki Line, Keihin-Tohoku Line, Yamanote Line, Joban Line and various Shinkansen lines)
Opening hours: 11:00-20:30
Budget: most of the items are between JPY 500 and JPY 1000
Anything special when ordering? Order at the cashier first, you will then receive a number that you put on your table, after which the waiter/waitress will bring the goodies to your table.
Name in Japanese: ナナズグリーンティー