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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
If you have any suggestions for places we should feature, leave them in the Comment section below.