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Brunch Bets: Gen Sou En Tea House

Contemporary setting, traditional green teas, and Japanese-inspired food

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With a Starbucks, Caffè Nero, or Dunkin Donuts’ seemingly  on every street corner in Boston, there is no shortage of coffee in—yes, Beantown. But when it comes to tea, the options are more limited.

So tea enthusiasts, fans of Japanese green tea in particular, were glad to hear that modern Japanese teahouse Gen Sou En was taking over the nearly 6,000-square-foot former Panera space in Coolidge Corner.

Gen Sou En has been serving up authentic Japanese teas, food, and pastries since February. It has an extensive drink menu, black, green, and herbal teas and coffee and espresso options, a small but delicious breakfast menu, and a more extensive lunch and dinner spread.

A large skylight fills the restaurant with natural light.

A large skylight fills the restaurant with natural light.

We stopped in on a recent morning to give it a try. We left with a newfound appreciation for the subtlety and flavor of green tea and the centuries-old tradition of preparing and serving it. Sourced from Japan’s tea-growing regions, the leaves are steamed immediately after being picked, then dried and rolled and shipped to Gen Sou En, which means “farm to cup.”

The teahouse has three green teas—each with a distinctive profile—and traditional matcha, the powdered green tea traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies. Traditional matcha and matcha latte (all the rage in Tokyo right now) are available.

Drinks, menu items, and pastries are ordered at the register, and waiters bring them to your table. From the limited breakfast menu, we choose the avocado yaki-pan ($6), a delicacy known as a Swimming Turtle ($3), and a couple of pastries: a croque-monsieur ($3.50) and a cranberry yuzu muffin ($3), as well as a classic matcha latte ($5).

avocado toast

This unique take on avocado toast is soft and delicious. The special ingredient? Soy sauce.

The must-try avocado yaki-pan—a unique take on avocado toast—is a large, thick, warm country bread, crunchy around the crust and fluffy in the center, and topped with a generous portion of fresh avocado slices. What sets this dish apart is the addition of soy sauce, sesame seeds, and a red pepper garnish. The sauce gave it an interesting balance of sweet and savory, adding a decidedly Japanese twist to a popular American dish.

Next, we tried the croque-monsieur: layers of ham and melted cheese on a thick slice of shokupan (Japanese milk bread). The bread was warm and soft, almost airy toward the center, and the balance of meat and cheese was good, with neither overwhelming the other. The traditional French dish was filling, but nothing to write home about.

A matcha tea and pastrie

Gen Sou En is known for its matcha (the powdered green tea used for centuries in Japanese tea ceremonies) and its delicious pastries.

The cranberry yuzu muffin, a tall, rounded pastry filled with cranberries and topped with a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar, was more flavorful. Encased in a harder outer-shell, the sweet, cakey interior, with chunks of the fruit throughout, offered a nice hint of cranberry without tasting overpowering. The muffin is a good study snack, probably why so many of the laptop-toting patrons were eating them.

Now for our favorite pastry: the Swimming Turtle. This fun creation is a sweet bun filled with white chocolate and covered with a thin layer of matcha cookie. And yes, it is shaped like a turtle. The bun was delicious and the white chocolate sweet and creamy, adding a nice flavor. The cookie was also delicious, with a unique green tea taste that blended well with the sugary interior. All in all, the Swimming Turtle is soft, sweet, and delightful.

The breakfast menu, served daily until 11 am, has a breakfast sando, a Japanese-style omelet roll in a sushi hand roll with a miso-tomato sauce, authentic Japanese breakfast set (rice, broiled fish, miso soup, and pickles), and a sushi hand roll with seasoned rice and a Japanese-style omelet. Several pastry selections round out the options.

Swimming Turtle pastry

One of the many novel items is the Swimming Turtle: a combination cookie and sweet bun pastry filled with white chocolate and coated with matcha.

A trip to Gen Sou En would be incomplete without trying the main attraction: the matcha. Our matcha latte was a warm and frothy blend of matcha (finely ground green tea powder) and steamed milk, and it was a good foundation for our eclectic meal, coming hot and remaining warm throughout the meal. The flavor was smooth and moderate, with just the slightest chalkiness. It’s easy to see why in just a few months’ time, Gen Sou En has become best known for its matcha.

This is an ideal place to unwind with a cup of tea, delicious pastries, and unique food options. And for those looking for a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, it even has a small, intimate round dining room in the back with tatami mats, where visitors sit on the floor.

Gen Sou En, 299 Harvard St., Brookline, is open daily from 6:30 am to 9 pm; breakfast is served until 11 am, when lunch service begins. Take an MBTA Green Line C trolley to Coolidge Corner or it’s a short walk from West Campus.

This is part of a weekly series featuring Boston lunch and brunch spots of interest to the BU community. If you have any suggestions for places we should feature, leave them in the Comment section below.

Jacob Gurvis can be reached at jgurvis@bu.edu; follow him on Twitter at @JacobGurvis.

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