Brookline will soon be home to a Japanese tea wonderland: Gen Sou En Tea House (299 Harvard St.) arrives later this month in Coolidge Corner, with endless opportunities for patrons to learn new things about green tea (matcha in particular) and sake — and drink them.
Gen Sou En comes to Brookline under the watchful eyes of Haruo Abe, the president and CEO of Harada Tea & Foods, Inc., a Japanese tea company that just celebrated 100 years in business. The company operates a small-scale tasting room in Tokyo, near its sales office, but this is Harada’s first foray outside of Japan, and it’s going all out, taking over a nearly 6,000-square-foot space and turning it into an oasis of perfectly steeped beverages and baked goods.
“Coolidge Corner is a well-known place, and [there’s] great foot traffic around here,” Abe said. “It’s a great mix of people, so we decided to pick this place.”
“Boston is well-known for great, diverse people of all ages, and people are willing to accept different cultures and a unique set of offerings,” Abe said. “I think Bostonians are pretty keen on selecting high-quality food and offerings.”
Walking into Gen Sou En, guests will notice some ambient light coming in from above a seven-foot tree that grows out of the center of the restaurant.
“We were fortunate enough to receive permission to open up our roof a little bit,” Abe said. “There’s real sunshine coming through. People can really relax around the tree and enjoy the skylight. We’re trying to bring nature into our tea house.”
Gen Sou En will also have a platform area with Japanese tatami mats, where people can sit and stretch their legs, and as Abe said, “experience real Japanese lifestyle.”
Abe has partnered with several talented local restaurant veterans to execute Harada’s plans for a genuine Japanese tea house in Boston. Joe Cammarata (former bar manager at Hojoko and previously of Backbar) and Sam Treadway (co-owner of Backbar) are on board as general manager and assistant general manager, respectively, and Yozo Masuyama will serve as head baker, bringing years of experience at Brookline’s famous Clear Flour Bread to his work at Gen Sou En.
Cammarata met Abe in September through a mutual friend.
“It was just really exciting to get involved in something of this magnitude very early on and bring what I’ve done in restaurants to kind of a more relaxed atmosphere,” he told Eater.
Gen Sou En will not be a full-service restaurant. Tea takes center stage, and there will be plenty of emphasis on the proper techniques and brewing methods of the restaurant’s signature blends, which feature three flavors: umami, mellow and smooth; kokumi, deep and complex; and shibumi, sharp and intense.
“The big thing that we want to share with people is having tea at the right temperature and steeped at the right amount of time,” said Treadway.
He described the common experience of ordering tea in coffee shops, where customers are given a cup with just-boiled water, a tea bag, and no instructions for how or when to remove the bag.
“That’s burned tea, that’s over-steeped tea, and it’s really not a great experience,” he said.
At Gen Sou En, Treadway will be the point person for proper steeping methods, ensuring the tea is prepared properly for each service.
“What we’re doing is taking that 100 years of family tea history that Haruo was mentioning from Harada Tea and bringing that to the American market and educating palates,” he said.
Green tea, for example, should be steeped for only 30-60 seconds.
“It creates a lighter, brighter flavor without a lingering bitter finish,” he said. “What’s exciting is we have three distinct green tea blends that you can explore and see what you like better.”
In addition to those blends, Gen Sou En will offer traditional matcha, which differs from most teas because people actually consume the ground up leaves, ingesting more of the plant.
“Some people refer to it as the espresso of green tea,” Treadway said. “If made correctly with the right balance of water, you really should have a clean sip that is definitely dry and delicious.”
Gen Sou En will serve traditional matcha, plus some modern interpretations, including matcha sodas, lattes, and baked goods.
“We’re kind of excited to bring some really great flavors and really great quality,” Treadway said.
The team also worked with ceramic artist Adrian King from Portland, Maine, who produced matcha bowls exclusively for Gen Sou En.
“He’s a perfect match to our business,” Abe said.
In terms of food, there will be a large focus on baked goods, which will have a prominent place in a display case, with guidance on pairings so customers can explore options, according to Cammarata.
“Each card will have a corresponding symbol that goes with coffee, black tea, and green tea,” Cammarata said, so customers can choose if they want to pair a pastry with a specific beverage.
Moving beyond pastries, lunch and dinner options explore several Japanese classics, including teishoku, a pre-set bento box-style offering. There will be nine options at Gen Sou En, all served with rice, two sides, and miso soup. The menu will also feature maki hand rolls with atypical fillings, including beef brisket and Japanese potato salad, in addition to katsudon sandwiches with pork, chicken, and eggplant versions.
Pairings options continue into lunch and dinner beverages as well, with options including several Japanese beers, a few wines, and sake. Cammarata will bring a bit of his Hojoko experience to Gen Sou En, where diners will be able to order sake cups. “It’s basically like getting a can of beer, served with a single cup,” he said.
As with the tea, Gen Sou En’s sake selection will fit into three flavor profiles.
The team is putting the finishing touches on Gen Sou En and will open sometime within the month of February. In the meantime, they’re running a “tea for two” promotion through social media, where customers can win a tea service for two once Gen Sou En opens. Additionally, the team plans to offer educational events at night, such as Sake 101 or matcha-making classes. The tea house will be a gathering place for people to eat, relax, and learn, while experiencing a bit of Japanese hospitality, or omotenashi, Abe said.
“We want to make sure that people can enjoy a relaxed atmosphere but also a very vibrant feeling mixed with our tradition,” he said. “Joe and his team will demonstrate how we serve our guests and provide the utmost high-quality customer service to everybody that comes here.”
Update, 2/16/18: Gen Sou En will open at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, February 21, and then it will be open seven days a week from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.