Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on September 2008
Walking past the ramen shops and somewhat dingy office buildings surrounding Kanda station, one can’t help but be drawn to Cha-coo-la’s fresh, green-and-white storefront. This organic tea café has been attracting media attention lately for its veggie-heavy breakfast buffet (¥950), but not being morning people, we decided to stop by for lunch instead.
Cha-coo-la’s clean, fashionable design and organic menu have made it a popular lunch spot for the area’s trend-conscious female office workers. But we soon realized that fashion is united with function in the form of down-to-earth, efficient service. Perhaps that explains the restaurant’s more unexpected customers, like the fifty-something salarymen in the smoking section or the group of gossipy obachan at several pushed-together tables along one wall.
When we walked up to the counter to place our order, the staff failed to pay us any heed. We didn’t really mind, though, because that gave us time to explore Cha-coo-la’s newly revamped menu. The lunchtime offerings consist of four set meals, each of which comes with organic white or five-grain rice. The “plate” (¥880), original salad (¥850) and donburi (¥830) lunches change daily, but the café’s specialty, chicken donburi, is limited to 20 orders a day. By the time we arrived at about 1pm, it was already sold out. Oh well—when you’re as indecisive as we are, one less option is no bad thing. Undaunted, we went for the day’s plate lunch: tandoori chicken, five-grain rice, miso soup and three sides.
Deciding on a drink was the next challenge. As Cha-coo-la’s name suggests, tea is central to the experience. There are seven varieties to choose from, and each is available hot, iced or in latte form. We almost opted for our personal favorite, genmai-cha (¥340), which is made by steeping green tea and roasted brown rice, but in the end decided to take the staff’s recommendation and try green tea infused with a health-boosting tannin called catechin (¥120 extra with the lunch set). From first sip to last, it was just what ocha should be—thick, strong and bitter. If that’s not your cup of tea (sorry, couldn’t resist), then you might want to try the hoji-cha (¥320) or ko-cha (¥360) instead.
We were curious to see what a green tea café’s idea of tandoori chicken might be (especially when it comes with miso soup), and we didn’t have long to wait. When the chicken arrived accompanied not only by miso, but also nishin (herring), sesame bean sprouts and a cube of tofu with green onion, our skepticism meter rose just a little bit higher. We were pleased to discover that the tandoori chicken was wonderfully juicy. A bite of moist, sticky five-grain rice was the perfect remedy for the spicy tingle it left in our mouths.
We left the café well-satisfied and our wallet hardly any lighter. The one regret was not having room for dessert, but we resolved to return and try out the sweets menu—and maybe, just maybe, breakfast.