For matcha aficionados, Suzukien in Tokyo’s Asakusa is a must visit. Hailed as having the richest and most intensely flavoured matcha gelato in the world, this was a combination of some of our favourite things, and despite it being a chilly, rainy day when we were in the area, we couldn’t not make the trip.
The guides state that it is near Sensoji Temple. While that was sort of true, it was quite a winding, roundabout walk from the part of the Sensoji Temple complex where we were. Still, we did get to see some interesting alleyways, including one one which people were filming a video in which a woman in a shiny costume was trying to smash a stack of tiles.. (we didn’t take our own video or photos, to avoid getting in trouble.)
When we eventually got to the store, we found the signage quite understated. There was a moss-green standing banner near the entrance that we could recognise the characters for “matcha” on. The name “Suzukien” was there in smaller letters right at the very bottom of the banner, but the only other things in English on it were “No. 7”. You have to know what you are looking for, or you may go right past it.
There was a stand for umbrellas outside the store, and, it being Japan, we trusted that no one would steal our umbrellas as we deposited them in the stand and walked in. There are taped-off lines to direct the queue as you enter, and the gelato display is immediately visible as soon as you come through the entrance to the store. There happened to be no one waiting when we entered, crowds likely deterred by the drizzle, but minutes later there was a line.
The gelati is displayed in two rows, with the matcha closer, in a clean colour gradient. We couldn’t read the descriptions on the tags in front of each one, likely explanations of the flavours, but one could easily see the increasing intensity of colour going from one to the next. There were seven tubs of matcha gelato, with the leftmost one being quite light, almost an olive colour, and the rightmost one being a deep, quite jungle green shade.
The row behind them had a range of other Japanese flavours, such as hojicha, Japanese black tea, roasted rice tea, red bean, black sesame, and pumpkin as a seasonal flavour.
You could order a single or double scoop of ice cream, and have it in a cup or a cone, with the cone being ¥20 extra. The level 7 matcha (the most intense one) also incurred a price premium, about ¥200 more than the other flavours.
When it came to picking flavours, there was no way we were going to go for the lower intensity matcha ones.. (why would you come to a place like this and do that?) We were curious about whether there would be a discernible difference between the level 6 and 7 matcha gelati, given that that the level 6 already looked pretty green, and extra level would cost ¥200 more. So we chose a scoop of the level 6 gelato, a scoop of the level 7 gelato, and a scoop of the hojicha gelato, and a scoop of the japanese black tea gelato, to provide our palates a little contrast. Four scoops of matcha gelato risked just washing the flavours out.
The gelato was scooped into the cones, neatly spherical balls of each requested gelato flavour, then placed on the counter on a metal stand, so that the customer had free hands to make payment, and the waitstaff had free hands to take payment. (We have noted that this is often an issue at ice creameries or geletarias, where they had you the cone of your dessert, and you then have to dexterously juggle that and your wallet.) You then take your gelati (but not the handy stands) and find a place to eat it.
The shop is clearly set up as a takeaway, with just a couple of standing room only tables (there are no chairs) in a small area just past the service counter. (We didn’t take photos of this, as there were other people already at the tables.) There are also shelves along one side of the store with matcha or green tea items for purchase. Given Suzukien was mainly a tea shop, this shouldn’t actually be surprising.
Our impression? The matcha gelati certainly packed a matcha flavour punch. The level 6 gelato was slightly sweeter, but, having said that, only had a subtle sweetness. The level 7 gelato was more intense. It was almost, but not quite bitter, like a strong dark chocolate. It certainly had an extra richness, more so than any other matcha gelato or ice cream we had had. Both were smooth, with no ice crystals through either at all. The hojicha gelato had a pleasantly floral note. The Japanese black tea gelato had a more subtle flavour, earthier, but in a different way from the matcha. The waffle cones they were served in were more wafer than cookie-like, light and crisp, and only faintly sweet.
Suzukien is certainly worth the wander to find it, for those who like matcha. The level 7 matcha gelato is something you can’t get elsewhere. It may be too much for those who are ambivalent about matcha, but they can console themselves with the level 6 matcha gelato instead.. We walked for it in the cold and rain, and you can too.
Price point: A single scoop in a cup is ¥370, and ¥390 for a cone. A double scoop in a cup is ¥470, and ¥490 for a cone. Add ¥190 if the level 7 gelato is one of your scoops. They don’t seem to have an option for a double scoop of the level 7 gelato, as they probably think that would be too much for anyone to handle..
Value: It’s not cheap, the priciest option of a double scoop in a cone, including one of the level 7 gelato, being about AUD $8.30. Still, you can’t get this much matcha in gelati anywhere else. So whether it is good value depends on how much you like matcha.. It probably should be tried at least once.
Address: 3 Chome-4-3 Asakusa, Taitō, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan
Phone: +81 3-3873-0311