It’s a place that appeals to my inner aesthete, a place that upon entry so blows me away – visually – that I stop and do a 360Â° just to absorb my surroundings. The theme is Japanese and its design here is an intelligent conception of Japanese design. Muted shades of lime green flow with immaculate white creating a refreshingly clean contrast from everything to the menu boards to the chairs. A floor-to-ceiling mural depicting fields of bamboo open up the space, connecting the second floor to the first. A staircase leading to the second floor is an oasis of bamboo plants and hanging overhead, twinkling lights in round raffia covers.
The place is called Kozui Green Tea, or Kozui for short, a cafÃ© devoted to green tea and health. Far from ordering a drink to go a la Starbucks, this is a place that tantalizes one to stay and linger a while. Go through the shelf displaying a fascinating collection of tea and tea paraphernalia from the ordinary – cups, pots – to the more ingenious – a plastic air-tight teacup cover, “high five” hand stirrers, and tumblers with the laugh-out-loud slogan, “Give up bad tea for good.”
Owner Anthony So explains that he came back from a two-year stint in China to open up Kozui. “Green tea drinks are very popular now and I wanted to capitalize on health.” Despite the highly impressive interiors, Kozui is a local concept, not a franchise from another country. “I just wanted a Japanese appeal and I named the place Kozui for the ‘Z’ in Zen,” he expounds. While Kozui is not a word in Japanese, it is a family name.
Green tea has the highest number of antioxidants and at Kozui, there are eight types of loose leaf varieties that make up the drinks and food: sencha, genmaicha, kukicha, matcha, piluochun, oolong, dragon well, and jasmine with flavor profiles ranging from vegetal to astringent. Most helpful are the illustrated tea and menu guides to help familiarize customers.
Refresh with some Lemon Green Teaz (P60/P80), iced teas made with the brewed varieties mentioned above capped with a touch of lemon. Prefer something fruity? There are the Fruit Teaz (P80/P90) in flavors such as Zen Tea (lemongrass, mint, and tea), Moji Mint Tea (mint, lime, and tea), as well as Pineapple Green Tea (pineapple and tea). Any cafÃ© worth its cups nowadays serve their own versions of a frap, and Kozui is no exception. Over here, they’re called Matcha Cream Korichio (koh-REECH-chee-yo; P98/P120), cold milk blended with the cafÃ©’s traditional matcha recipe, a choice of flavorings, and that requisite squirt of whipped cream. Go classic with the Matcha Korichio (P98/P110) or liven it up a bit with a choice of melon, butterscotch, strawberry, chocolat (spelling theirs), and Oreo. I personally like the House Blend Korichio in Taro or Black Sesame, with the former tasting a lot like red bean ice cream. If you like red bean, you’ll like this one.
The food at Kozui is worth exploring. Anthony suggests we try the Special Takoyaki (P98), locally known as “samurai balls.” Commonly a fast food/street food in Japan, Kozui ratchets this up with a stuffing made with ika, ebi, and negi (cuttlefish, shrimp, and Asian leek, respectively). Made in a special cast iron pan with hemispherical molds, these tasty domes are supremely fine bordering on trembling delicateness. They are further made irresistible with Japanese mayonnaise, strips of nori wrapper, house sauce, and paper-thin bonito flakes that sway in the draft of the air-conditioner.
More traditional Japanese eats here include tempura (P180/5 pieces prawn + 2 pieces vegetable) and asparabacon maki (P140), asparagus spears wrapped in bacon and drizzled with ponzu sauce, a condiment made from lemon juice, soy sauce, mirin, sake, and bonito flakes. I opt to take the green tea concept as far as I can so I have the Chilled Green Tea Zaru Soba (P120). The green buckwheat noodles are exquisitely “draped” (so it seems) on a tatami mat and kept cool with a few ice cubes. Each mouthful is dipped in the soba sauce kicked up with a Japanese condiment called momiji oroshi and finely chopped green onions. The noodles pick up the earthiness of the wood, the saltiness of the soba sauce offsets it, and the spiciness of the condiments shine through, cold and pure. Salty, cool, and chewy all at once, it’s the perfect accompaniment to a hot day.
My little girl, Boo, is with me and if there’s one thing that I don’t doubt, it’s that 4 year olds know what they want. She points definitively at the picture of the Tendon (P180) declaring, “I want that!” A trio of prawn tempura sits on a mound of steamed Japanese rice laced with that addicting house sauce, bonito flakes, and shredded nori wrappers through which a fried egg cooked just ‘til its white is firm peeks from. I’m fond of Japanese rice meals and the few bites that Boo affords me make me croon with praise. Other rice bowls from chicken to vegetable (P145-P180) are available, as are other food items like pita wraps (P118-P128) salads, and sandwiches with ingredients that are in line with the Japanese theme of course.
Kozui’s desserts are tea-inspired as well although when I’m there, I lament that the pastry case is empty — I have come too late. Gone is the Mount Fuji, a green tea mousse atop a brownie cake; chocolate mochi balls; molten chocolate dome cake, and the green tea cheesecake. I do, however, get to try the TEAramisu, the green tea counterpart of that Italian favorite. Slivers of sponge cake are ensconced in a vanilla mousse that is this side of firm. Pleasant in flavor and texture, it’s just barely sweetened with a hauntingly smoky taste from the eye-catching green tea garnish.
Anthony heartily recommends that we try the Anmitsu (P128), a sort-of Japanese halo-halo. It descends on the table and for several heartbeats, we all ooh and ahh over the glittering edible jewels peering up at us: cubes of green tea jelly; pink and white dango balls (similar to galapong balls in the native ginataan); purple taro jam, and a swirl of green tea ice cream sit regally on a throne of shaved ice. Eat all the separate elements together in each spoonful or mix them all up. This is a dessert that excites with its counterpoints of smooth and slippery, sweet and silky with an occasional crunch from the ice.
I’m not leaving this green tea cafÃ© until I’ve had my green tea latte (P80-P90). Either a matcha, black tea, or roasted green latte, I choose the last flavor. Sparks of sweetness pulse among the milk and froth while the green tea has nuances of grass and smoke and butter. The soft richness fills my mouth then tiptoes quietly down my throat, a salve to soothe all my ills, imagined and otherwise. Green tea, I love thee.
Green Tea CafÃ©
258 B Tomas Morato corner Scout Fernandez,
11 am – 12:30 am (Tuesday to Saturday)
4 pm – 12:30 am (Sunday and Monday)
www.kozui.com (website under construction)
Moseying Down Morato