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post-disaster tea at the park hyatt

March 30, 2011

Several weeks prior to the earthquake Jessica and I made a reservation at the Peak Lounge in the Shinjuku Park Hyatt for their Afternoon Tea service.

I first heard about Afternoon Tea at the Park Hyatt three years ago, when I came across it on a list of the top 50 afternoon tea services in the world. Jessica and I made a reservation shortly after to see if it lived up to its placement, and fell in love with it. Since then I have been back somewhat regularly, perhaps once every 2-3 months, with Jessica or other friends, and even once with my sister when she visited last year.

The Peak Lounge is located on the 41st floor of the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, and is bordered on three sides with floor to very high ceiling glass windows looking out over Tokyo. As a result, it is very open and sunny, and the view is pretty spectacular on a clear day, which makes for a really relaxing and crazy luxurious atmosphere.

The real draw, however, is the actual service itself, which is served from 12 – 5 pm every weekend. There are a few options to choose from, but we always stick with the regular Afternoon Tea. This service gets you a tiered tray of three finger sandwiches, two scones with clotted cream and jam, and three seasonal desserts, as well as unlimited tea and coffee from the menu. On top of that, the staff circulates with two trays of seasonal hors d’oeuvres and sweets, of which you are free to take as many as you want. Not a bad deal for just ¥3500~¥4000.

The first time Jessica and I went we managed to order almost everything on the menu. That’s about 20 pots of tea, at two cups per pot– pros that we are, we ordered different teas each time and switched halfway through each pot to maximize the experience. We kept a running tally of the menu prices for the various teas we sampled, and calculated that over the course of our afternoon we put away approximately ¥24,000 worth of tea alone.

Until recently there was no time limit on Afternoon Tea service, and we always made it a point to reserve a table at 12 pm and stay until the end of the service at 5 pm, but about a year or so ago they sadly imposed a three-hour limit on reservations. It’s still very much worth it, but I do miss the five-hour tea marathons we had prior to the change.

Jessica and I decided in late February that it had been too long since our last visit, and made a reservation for the two of us and my friend Keiko to have tea on Saturday March 26th. Obviously we had no idea at the time that our adopted home country would be devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami, much less threatened by a rogue nuclear power plant, in the time between then and our chosen date, but in retrospect it turned out to be pretty well-timed.

Shortly after the quake, I began to look forward to tea in a completely different way than i had been before. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to de-stress and reconnect after everything we’d been through, and I imagined the three of us meeting with the whole experience somewhat behind us but still fresh in our minds. But, as you all probably know, the situation never quite stabilized after that. By the end of the first week Jessica was on a plane to visit her family back in Idaho for an undetermined period of time, while Keiko and I remained in Tokyo wondering what to do next.

At first I wasn’t sure what would happen to our tea plans or whether the Hyatt would even be serving it at all, but I was pretty sure that if possible I wanted to follow through on the reservation. A few days after Jessica left Tokyo I called to check on the status of the Peak Lounge, and changed the reservation from three to four once I confirmed that tea would still be available.

So on Saturday this past weekend Keiko, Eric, our friend Sabrina, and I headed to Shinjuku to take part in a little ‘Survivor’s Tea’.

The conversation was at times much more somber than the last time the four of us had been there, with discussion turning to the quake and nuclear situation more often than not, but other than that it was just as awesome as usual. The spring menu featured Sakura scones and profiteroles, as expected, as well as some very tasty offerings among the hors d’oeuvres; and we all enjoyed ordering as many cups of tea as we could manage. Personally I went through all my favorite offerings, including their Assam, Uva, Iram, Original Blend, Pure Earl Grey, and Chamomile, in addition to a cappuccino.

I didn’t really pay much attention to taking pictures while there, since I was more interested in the conversations and tea, so believe me that it is even better than it looks from the few I included here.

After tea, Sabrina and Keiko came to hang out at our apartment for a while. Keiko didn’t stay too long, but we squeezed in a documentary viewing and dinner at BurgerxBurger with Sabrina before she eventually left for home. It was the first time in two weeks that we got to spend so much time in the company of friends, and to make it even better, I don’t think I felt a single aftershock that entire day.

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