matcha in the middle

I’m at Powderface at the Fruitvale station, following a few happy hours spent at Don-Ya showing off my Japan travel pictures.  I ordered a “green tea latte”, which came out tasting exactly like boiled ice cream, and not terribly green-tea-like.

Hrm.  At least they have wifi.

The co-owner of the shop remembered I had been in Japan and asked me how my matcha latte was, which I had taken about 2 sips of by that point.  I said, “it’s pretty good…”  Then I realized I’m in America again, and my subtle intimation of “bleh” doesn’t really hit home the way it does in Japan.  “It’s a bit too sweet for my tastes, actually.”  It was honestly like drinking gummy heated ice cream sweetened with corn syrup, which I’m guessing is exactly what the mix is.

So the lady proceeds to show me a little can of matcha with no sweetener, which she says she and the staff drink.  It’s from Japan, in fact.  SOUSENCHA, it says on the label in hiragana.  She says the can is expired so she can’t sell it to customers.  Wait… so you have this stuff and you drink it, but you’re not going to update your supply and sell it…?

It frustrates me that what’s on offer to buy at cafes is basically candy, and if you want something different, you have to finagle for it or do without.

International travel has definitely heightened my awareness of the state of the American food supply with respect to demand.  Case in point: the difference between the American and Japanese palates when it comes to junk food.  Japanese can’t get enough salt; Americans love to load up on sugar.

In Japan, a “matcha latte” is a slightly bitter (like tea), slightly grainy (like powder) sort of affair.  Starbucks serves them kinda sweet, but Tully’s makes a version with little to no added sugar, which is delicious.  The soy milk in Japan is unsweetened and also actually tastes like soy, which is a pleasant flavor, not an “off” taste as the Western palate so frequently condemns it.  Whatever soy milk they’re using there, it’s not a brand I’ve ever seen in the U.S.

Furthermore, Japanese people don’t seem to go to cafes with the intention of drinking something.  Rather, they’re there to meet someone and talk for a while, or rest between shopping sprees, or possibly have a private English lesson (quite a popular activity).  If they have to order a beverage to sit down, so be it.  They mostly order the smallest, cheapest beverage they can, and then hog a table for an hour.

Cafes are almost always crowded and busy in Tokyo, Fujisawa, Matsumoto, Kyoto, and lots of other cities, so I don’t think going to a cafe is a “treat” for the Japanese.  I had two interviews in cafes — they are like cheap offices.  The coffee is universally bad (except in certain boutique cafes that are hard to find), and everybody orders it regardless.  It seems to me that Japanese cafes have no real impetus for becoming “hot ice cream” shops.

I’m not sure there’s anything I can do with this information other than write about it.  So, I guess, NYAH.

Damn, I just realized I didn’t fill up my Tully’s POINTO-CAADO (points card).  I have stamps on that thing from Matsumoto, Kofu, Nara, Kyoto, and Tokyo.  (Go me.)

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