Last updated on April 29, 2016
Lately, there has been much ado about matcha. Instead of only being able to find it in speciality tea shops, it has been turning up in local cafes. After our previous visit to Sinmei Tea, we thought it the place for the best matcha drinks and treats in Brisbane. After some attempted matcha drinks at other places recently (reviews to come), this was confirmed.
While people spruik matcha as a superfood with lots of antioxidants, realistically, you’d probably have to be eating kilograms of the stuff (not just drinking the boiled products) to see the purported health benefits from it. The best clinical trials can conclude is that drinking matcha might be linked to some good outcomes. It is, however, viably useable as an excuse to have more of it.
Some will say that the taste of matcha is an acquired one. It has been described as “green” and earthy, and to have umami notes. A proper matcha should not be bitter, and should not need a sweetener. We had many matcha drinks and desserts when we went through Japan, particularly from Nana’s Green Tea outlets (that will be a post at some point), and have sought something similar when we returned. Sadly, too many places seem to have jumped on the matcha bandwagon without understanding what it is actually supposed to taste like, and offer anaemic versions of matcha lattes that have barely any evidence of matcha being present in them apart from a faintly green tint, or use a pre-sweetened mix that again doesn’t actually taste of matcha but is just cloyingly sweet.
For those on the hunt for the real taste of matcha though, Sinmei Tea is one that reliably does it right.
It is located within Scrumptious Reads on James Street, a bookstore specialising in reading materials focussed on food. The store is not visible from the street, but there is parking on site for the complex, and you will find it in the heart of the complex as you walk in, near Gerard’s Bistro.
It is a tranquil environment, almost, but not quite, like being in a library. Instrumental chillout music plays softly, occasionally with vocals over it. Indoors it is airconditioned to a comfortable temperature. There is seating indoors in the form of a long wooden communal table with utensils stenciled in red on it paired with red metal seats, or another little table off to the side that will fit two, or three as long as you don’t order much between you. There is more seating outdoors, undercover so you are sheltered from the elements, along the same corridor as Gerard’s Bistro’s outdoor seating. Natural light comes in through the glass shopfront. A wooden shelf in the form of a tree stretches its branches out over a corner of the store.
The menu offers tea and matcha-based drink options. That list has expanded since we were there last. There are more cold drink items, for instance the matcha mojito and the iced moroccan mint tea. They also offer a tea ceremony-type set, with choices of different varieties of tea. There are a few food options, with an all day brunch section which has savoury items such as the Hakka thunder tea rice and tea soba, and a dessert section, with cakes and the afternoon tea set.
We had an iced matcha latte, a tea ceremony, a slice of the matcha loaf cake, and a serve of the matcha lava cake.
The iced matcha latte arrived with a cheery red and white striped paper straw, making it a very Christmasy-looking drink. It was nicely cold, and actually tasted like matcha. There was no bitterness in it, and it was subtly sweet. There was no extra charge for the soy. Definitely the best I’ve found around.
A variety of teas are available for the tea ceremony. Sinmei can make recommendations on which you would be likely to enjoy most, depending on what flavour profile you like in your teas. I can’t recall which we wound up with.. It had a pleasant roasted flavour, without bitterness. The presentation is quite different from the western-style tea sets, where you get a teapot with your teabag and hot water in it, and that’s it. Here, you get a covered bowl full of the tea leaves. Hot water is poured into the bowl, and it is all allowed to steep for a few minutes, covered. When ready, that is poured out into a small serving jug, holding the cover so that the tea leaves aren’t poured out as well. It is then poured into a little cup that holds only a couple of mouthfuls at a time, so that you savour the scent and the flavour rather than gulp everything down quickly. Both the serving jug and the teacups are pre-warmed so that the tea doesn’t cool too quickly when transferred. The other thing about the process is that it prevents the tea from being over-brewed, as you tip it from the bowl into the serving jug when it is ready. More hot water is poured into the bowl when you ask, and because you get a generous serve of the tea leaves, you get many refills and a good strength of tea still being produced.
The matcha loaf was compact but airy, quite like a chiffon cake. The cream on top tasted of matcha as well, without fake sweetness.
The matcha lava cake, which is really a fondant, is the speciality star dish, and it’s easy to see why. They were pretty much sold out for the day by the time we got there, but Sinmei was nice enough to sell us the half serve they had left. They usually only do the full size serves, because there’s a certain and known cooking time for it. The half serve one still turned out well with a bit of trial adjustment. Other people in the shop at the time expressed disappointment that they had been told that it was sold out, but Sinmei explained to them that she wanted them to have the proper experience the first time they had it, whereas we had already eaten it the way it is meant to be served before. Props to her for maintaining quality control. And for letting us have cake because we really, really wanted it.
The outside of the fondant was cooked to a dense cake consistency, and the inside, once you cut through the top, which had just a slight crunch to the surface, was a molten matcha mix, thick, slightly sweet, and absolutely delicious. It was served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, with a dusting of matcha powder over the top. It is a must-have dessert that I haven’t seen in any other eating place around here.
Sinmei is a great hostess, friendly and cheery, and she remembers customers who have been there before. She is happy to advise on teas if you are stymied by the large selection.
Altogether, Sinmei Tea is a lovely little escape, a pleasant place to be, with good drinks and desserts. Someday we’ll try the savoury dishes too, but space must always be left for that matcha lava cake.
Price point: Hot drinks $6 to $7. Cold drinks $8. Cakes $6 to $7. Matcha lava cake $20 for the full serve.
Value: Great. Best matcha things around, and worth the price.
Address: In the Scrumptious Reads bookshop, Shop 5, 19 James Street, Fortitude Valley
Phone: 07 3852 6797
Website: Sinmei Tea