Monday, July 10, 2006


My Midtown meandering brought me to the New York outpost of the Japanese department store Takashimaya on Sunday.

The store occupies five or six stories of an imposing granite building on Fifth Avenue near the south end of Central Park. For such a large space, the layout is peculiar and boutique-like -- relatively few things for sale. The store caters to a wealthy clientele but I knew I wasn't too out of place when I overheard a fat Middle-American woman demand her husband identify a piece of a table service for her.

I spoke to a nice clerk on the third floor who gave me a tutorial on Japanese lacquer. I asked her about the Takashimaya chain and she told me that the locations in Japan aren't as fancy as the New York store. They also have locations in Paris and Singapore.

Tea Box, the tea shop in the basement , has a good selection of interesting teas. Many are ridiculously expensive -- some just for the extravagant packaging -- but I found the shop's own varieties quite affordable. I bought some Soba Cha -- buckwheat tea.

Soba Cha is basically just buckwheat to which you add hot water and brew like conventional tea. Unless you get a blend (some come with green tea mixed in), there is no actual tea, and hence no caffeine. I was assured that Soba Cha is digestion aid, and that it is high in protein, vitamins, and minerals. I'm having trouble finding any information about Soba Cha (not to be confused with Soba noodles) -- just this -- so if anyone knows of anything, please tell me.

I'm not sure if anything is added to the buckwheat, but the flavor is mildly sweet. It's quite good, actually. It tastes much like it smells -- grainy, but not offensively so. There's a faint cinnamon-like tinge to the smell. Soba Cha isn't like beer, but thinking of it as a distant un-fermented cousin of beer may make it more palatable to the uninitiated. In my search for strange beverages, this is a great find.


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