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Jun 6, 2007 12:51 PM

Anyone Been to Kissako Tea in Japantown?

My friend and I were in San Francisco's Japantown a few weeks ago and we noticed Kissako Tea, a traditional Japanese dessert and tea spot set up on the lower floor of the Kinokuniya building across from Juban. It looked very authentic; a place where you can get matcha and different types of wagashi (Japanese traditional pastries) and even had one of those typical benches you see at the traditional outdoor kissaten in Kyoto. We had already had coffee and sweets at Tan Tan upstairs so we didn't try Kissako, but I hope to go there the next time I'm in Japantown.

Kissako Tea
1581 Webster St. #195
San Francisco Japantown

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  1. Wendy-san, you obviously know your stuff, but I wanted to give you my take since I am a J-town regular. I was excited when this place opened. Though I have not sat down and had tea, I have tried the an pan (sp?), the bun filled with sweet beans and also bought a pack of mochi, since they will not sell an individual piece unless you have the tea service. I have to say that I was disappointed in both treats. I'm sure the tea itself is good, and the whole mall has been lacking in one place to sit down (besides Tam Tam) to relax. The staff is also very nice and it's a great location for killing time before a movie or after shopping. But, again, the sweets tasted to me like packaged stuff I've bought at Asian markets for much cheaper. For mochi and manju, Benkyodo (on Buchanan, on the pedestrian mall) is much better--it's handmade. I asked and Kissako buys theirs prepackaged from some place on the Peninsula, I believe. <P>The mochi was a bit rubbery and not a melt-in-the mouth experience that I hoped for. It was also kind of pricey. The an pan bun was also dry. They are much better at Andersen's Bakery in the Kinetsu building next door. Big and yeasty with a perfectly sweet bean paste inside.

    1 Reply
    1. re: cafecreme

      Thanks for your report. That sounds disappointing. Too bad they can't sell omanju from Benkyodo (as you say it's just right up the street!).

    2. Bay Spo had a mini review of their wagashi a few short months ago.

      Basically the article according to a friend who was able to read it, Kissako imports wagashi made in Los Angeles, so by the time it arrives, it is already a day or two old.

      Seems like an interesting place nonetheless, but you're all right, just head over to Benkyodo and get freshly made mochi and multiple variations, while the owners have not retired yet.

      4 Replies
      1. re: K K

        That sounds about right, KK. It's a little stale tasting. Does anyone else remember the mom and pop wagashi shop that was in what is now the little noodle place right next to Kissako (next to the flower shop). It was an odd place, run by an old couple who made their own omanju and mochi (sorry if I'm not spelling this right) and they were a bit grumpy and only sold it in packs of four. A Japanese-American friend turned me on to it, but it closed about 3 years ago. It was delicious stuff--too bad. Yes, Benkyodo should provide the treats because it is a nice spot for tea.

        1. re: cafecreme

          The oh-ba-san, or older female owner, who used to work at the old mochi/wagashi shop you mentioned, that I believe Suzu noodle now occupies the space, was not friendly at all and the shop hardly had any business all the times I've passed by. I remember asking her a question and she was really rude to me.

          Purists still say Benkyodo is the best all round. 100 year old shop (101 this year). Nothing comes close (not even the much younger mochi/maju shop in SJ J-town who some say don't put as much care in their packaging/storage). Hand made excellent mochi & wagashi is really a dying art (especially in Japan where a lot of it is machine made too).

          1. re: K K

            That place with the obaasan was Kansendo and, yes, she was pretty unfriendly I think because she could barely speak English. When I spoke to her in Japanese she was quite nice. :-) There was a sign there tacked up on the wall that said: No Information! Didn't set a good tone for customer service. Ha!

            Yamada Seika on Sutter Street was another great wagashi shop. The owners retired and I think the location is now a shoe store. Yes, thank goodness for Benkyodo; I really should patronize that place more often. Shu-ei-do in SJ, like KK says, is maybe not as good, but we have so few choices here! Some of the packaged stuff from LA you can get in the Japanese grocery stores here lists corn syrup as one of the ingredients -- yuck! It's a sad situation...

            1. re: Wendy_san

              Get the strawberry mochi from Benkyodo while the fruit is in season. There are fresh pieces of strawberry inside and when you eat it the sweetness and sourness plays tricks on your tongue (very cool), and becomes very addicting. The signature kinako is a nice lush green with soy flour sprinkled on top but is very smooth (apparently with "smooth" red beans inside) and was voted as one of the top 100 things to eat in SF mag 2001 (in the teens if I recall). I'm going to try the out of box/wack flavor of peanut butter mochi next time.

      2. FOOD: Excellent. Best, freshest wagashi I've ever had. Was just there again this past weekend. Excellent green tea from Kyoto. Very flavorful, balanced quality matcha. My matcha latte was the real deal with hand-whipped matcha tea in a very nice bowl. Artfully done wagashi. The green tea mochi with red bean filling was surprisingly not to sweet (as it usually is in supermarket mochi) and the green tea mochi outer layer had a nice subtle green tea flavor. It went well with the slight bitterness of the hot matcha I was drinking.
        SERVICE: Every person I spoke with is super-friendly, informative and courteous.
        DECOR: Mall. The staff does there best with the mall space. (Just try not to sit with a view of the bathroom.)
        PRICE: Very reasonable for the home made wagashi with no preservatives and all natural ingredients. (Most wagashi available has food coloring and other artificial ingredients.) I appreciate that they do not use artificial food coloring, as was done in the traditional days.
        OTHER NOTES: My experience with wagashi: Had it at a: traditional tea house in Kyoto, bought the lower end stuff at the supermarkets, ordered from Minamoto Kitchoan in NY, and sat down for Wagashi at Toraya in NY. The wagashi at Kissako is the best I've had in the bay area. The wagashi I experienced was very fresh and it did melt in my mouth. Some of it is ordered from Chikara mochi, Gardena, CA according to the package. This is the same wagashi I've had served at Kirala, Berkeley (according to the proprietor). I was excited to find this place because I am a fan of the wagashi served at Kirala. I've been to Kissako tea twice. My last time was this past weekend. Thank you Kissako & good luck to you!