At Teahouse Motoan, you can have your cake and eat it – along with a cup of green tea.
A matcha-flavored Swiss roll cake, oozing delicious matcha-flavored whipped cream. – image © Florentyna Leow
When in Rome, you do as the Romans do. So, when you’re in Kyoto, it is imperative that you have tea and sweets. One of the best places to do so is at Maruyama Koyamaen’s teahouse, Motoan.
Marukyu Koyamaen stocks an extensive variety of matcha and loose-leaf teas. – image © Florentyna Leow
Marukyu Koyamaen is a purveyor of top-quality teas, and they’ve been in the tea business since the late 1600s. Many tea aficionados and tea masters source their matcha powders from Maruyama Koyamaen, and for good reason – the tea really is excellent.
The traditional accompaniment to matcha (whisked green tea) is wagashi, which are Japanese-style sweets customarily made from beans, rice flour and sugar. In recent decades, however, teahouses have diversified their offerings by serving Western-style pastries and confections with more traditionally Japanese flavors, such as green tea-flavoured cakes and ice creams.
The entrance to Marukyu Koyamaen on Nishidouin-dori Street. – image © Florentyna Leow
Their teahouse Motoan is located on Nishitouin-dori Street a few blocks west of Karasuma-dori Street. It’s easy to miss if you’re not looking out for it. In true Kyoto fashion, the entrance to the shop is understated and discreet, marked by short noren curtains hanging in the doorway.
The seating area is quite intimate, and accommodates just 10 people.- image © Florentyna Leow
As a tea shop, the front section stocks all kinds of teas and related implements, but to the back is where their seating area is.
The small Japanese garden beyond the windows of Motoan – image © Florentyna Leow
The seating area at the back looks out into a small Japanese garden, which on this rainy Sunday afternoon was particularly green and lush. It’s the kind of place you walk into and automatically lower your voice, enough that you can hear the tinkle of piano music in the background. Everyone speaks in hushed tones here. It’s a gorgeous space where you can lose yourself in a reverie of thought.
The menu, printed on Japanese washi paper, is available in English and Japanese – image © Florentyna Leow
There is an English-language menu, so ordering is easy. There are various sweets, and several varieties of tea you can choose from. If ordering matcha, you can opt for usucha (thin tea) or koicha (thick tea). The latter is rather viscous and almost paste-like, and can be surprisingly bitter if you’re unaccustomed to matcha, so if this is your first time drinking matcha I would suggest ordering usucha instead. During the summer, they also serve kakigori, which is a popular treat in the heat. Kakigori is shaved ice, usually sweetened with flavored syrup and sometimes condensed milk.
Ice cream and iced drinks are available for takeout. – image © Florentyna Leow
Motoan serves mainly tea and desserts, so if you’re looking for a substantial lunch, this isn’t where you’ll find it. There’s only one savory dish on the menu – hot white rice sprinkled with fragrant tea leaves, served with seasonal pickled vegetables and tea. An option is to order this as ochazuke, which is hot tea poured over white rice. I’d recommend coming here for post-lunch dessert or for teatime. If you’re not inclined to sit down for tea and cake, there is the takeout option of soft-serve ice cream in various tea flavors.
The elegantly-presented roll cake set at Motoan is a feast for the senses – image © Florentyna Leow
I ordered the matcha roll cake set, which is one of the dishes Motoan is famous for. This is a matcha-flavored Swiss roll filled with two kinds of whipped cream – one plain, one matcha. You know how you eat with your eyes first? On a purely aesthetic level, their matcha roll cake set is a feast. Just look at the slice of cake dusted with alternating stripes of matcha powder and icing sugar, the vivid forest green of the matcha as seen through the ice cubes, the exquisite wooden and gold tableware. The wooden plaque at the top left corner of the tray – which in this case has the character for ‘star’ written on it – is an elegant way for them to keep track of table orders: to pay the bill, you simply bring this to the cashier.
The cake is served with sweetened azuki red bean paste. – image © Florentyna Leow
The roll cake itself made a tasty teatime treat, and I especially enjoyed the matcha whipped cream filling within. Served alongside the cake is a blob of azuki red bean paste – azuki beans are often served with matcha – which you can eat along with the cake as a sweetener of sorts. Cakes in Japan (and East Asia generally) tend to be far less sugary than their American or British counterparts. If you prefer your cakes to be quite sweet, this roll cake may feel a little too virtuous for you!
Drinking cold matcha is worth it for the aesthetics alone. – image © Florentyna Leow
A note about the matcha: whisked and unsweetened green tea is customarily served hot, but during the summer, Motoan offers the option of having it cold. The matcha they used here was called 清滝 Kiyotaki, which literally translates to ‘pure waterfall.’ Served cold, it was as refreshing as its name suggested – I highly recommend trying it at least once in this style. If unsweetened whisked matcha is not your cup of tea, you can have your cake with sencha (brewed green tea), hojicha (roasted tea), genmaicha (brown rice green tea), sweetened matcha, matcha soda, matcha latte or black tea.
A small, delicate glass of green tea. – image © Florentyna Leow
After I’d finished my cake and tea, the waitress brought over a pleasant surprise – a complimentary cup of cold-brewed sencha tea. I couldn’t help but marvel again at Motoan’s exquisite tableware – here, the glass cut in such a way as to cast rippling, blade-like shadows on the white placemat below.
An expensive and heavy stone mill on display in the store. – image © Florentyna Leow
Before you settle the bill, you might want to browse the goods on offer in the store. You could purchase a tea whisk, or a canister of the many different matcha powders they have on hand. There’s a list of the different varieties of matcha available in English, which is helpful. You can even, if you are so inclined, buy your own stone mill to grind tea leaves into matcha powder by hand. Be warned that it will cost around JPY100,000, and you’ll need to order this in advance!
Cake and cookie samples are available at the display counter. – image © Florentyna Leow
Don’t forget to sample the various tea-flavored confections at the display counter, of which my favorite is the matcha financier. A financier is a small French almond cake flavored with browned butter, so named reputedly for its resemblance to a bar of gold. Because it’s moist and packed with butter, it certainly lives up to its namesake! The matcha flavour tempers the buttery richness a little, and I found these little cakes particularly delicious.
The top left of the display case is where you’ll find small canisters of culinary matcha. – image © Florentyna Leow
Friends visiting Japan often ask me where they can buy high-quality matcha for cooking and baking, and here’s one answer to that question – Marukyu Koyamaen! Marukyu sells an extensive variety of matcha powder of various grades for drinking, but they also sell a few that are specifically for culinary uses. For cooking, you need high-quality but not necessarily drinking-quality matcha, as it will be mixed with other ingredients. These then tend to be less expensive that those used for drinking. Cooking-grade matcha is available here in small 40g-sized canisters, or in 100g packets. According to the store staff, the matcha powder will keep for 5 – 6 months if unopened, but it will need to be used within a few weeks of opening. Matcha powder has a very short shelf life once opened, and you’ll need to store it an airtight container in the freezer to slow down the oxidization and flavor loss.
You can also purchase a tea set containing everything you need to whisk matcha at home. – image © Florentyna Leow
There are many teahouses in Kyoto, but I think Motoan is a particularly lovely place to while away a quiet afternoon – and pick up some tea to boot. If you’re visiting Kyoto, make sure you stop by for tea and cake!
Marukyu Koyamaen Nishidouin-ten (Motoan)
Name in Japanese:
丸久小山園 西洞院店 （茶房 元庵）
Nishigawa, Oikesagaru, Nishidouin-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
Shop: 9:30 – 18:00 Teahouse: 10:30 – 17:00 (L.O.)
Closed Wednesdays (open on national holidays) and during the New Year
Nijojo-mae Station (Tozai Line), Karasuma Station (Karasuma and Tozai Lines)
Customer Reviews: Read Cusomter Reviews on TripAdvisor
Near To Here:
Marukyu Koyamaen Nishinotoin Tea Shop and Teahouse Motoan is located in Central Kyoto. See our complete list of things to do in Central Kyoto, including places to eat, nightlife and places to stay.
About Florentyna Leow
Florentyna Leow is a writer and photographer based in Kyoto, who has written for outlets such as Silverkris, ZenVita and Lucky Peach. Her interests include food, doors, and Thomassons. Her blog is updated here. She Instagrams regularly at @furochan_eats.
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