You probably already have some idea of this, but Cherry Blossoms are, in short, a REALLY BIG DEAL here in Japan. If you’re from the Washington D.C. area like us, maybe you’ve had the chance to experience the incredible sight of hundreds of trees simultaneously bursting forth with glorious, delicate pink blossoms, and our friends at the National Cherry Blossom Festival might have given you a taste of the atmosphere associated with it, but there’s nothing like being in Japan during the blooming of the Sakura.
We’ve had the good fortune to be in Japan the past few years during Sakura season, as it always lines up with our annual business trips for Otakon. Why are we so lucky to have seen the Cherry Blossoms year after year?
We always come for the Tokyo International Anime Fair, which is coordinated with the Japanese Spring Break, which lands squarely on the transition between Winter and Spring. The Japanese school year ends in March (our graduation ceremony is next week!) and the new year begins in April.
Sakura season thus heralds the coming of Spring, and also the transition from school year to school year, from school life to adult life. It’s a time of nostalgia and memories, as well a striking reminder of the fleeting nature of beauty and life itself.
So, of course, god forbid Starbucks miss out on this perfect commercial opportunity! (To be perfectly fair, no one else in Japan seems to miss out on it either–sakura will soon be plastered over any and every available surface, especially if it involves food, drink, or selling something. Anything.) Thus, the ‘Bux’s new Spring line of beverages has been unveiled–welcome, Sakura!
I was really excited to try the Sakura Latte. Though we’ve often been in Starbucks during this time of year, and I’ve even bought a number of the commemorative mugs (they are so pretty. Seriously.) I’ve never actually tried the drink. That’s because, as I mentioned, we’ve always come to Japan on business trips. If I’m in a Starbucks on a business trip, you can believe there’s going to be plenty of caffeine in my drink, and the Sakura beverage line is caffeine free.
Now that we live here though, Starbucks is one of my favorite places to go when I want to study Japanese for a few hours, and I don’t generally drink much caffeine these days, so a Sakura drink is perfect.
I will admit though, I was a bit confused as to why they changed the name this year from the “Sakura Steamer,” implying flavoring and steamed milk, to the “Sakura Latte”, despite the lack of additional espresso. Latte technically does mean “milk” but the drink itself is almost exclusively considered to be a milky espresso based drink. What gives, Starbucks? Why the name change?
Name change aside, the drink itself is quite nice. It has a delicate sakura taste, a very distinctive flavor that I’ve only ever tasted in Japan. It’s floral, with a hint of red bean and a touch of saltiness. The drink itself is lightly pink, and has a hint of green around the froth, beautifully reminiscent of the pickled leaf that is traditionally wrapped around sakura mochi.
Not too sweet, it’s mellow and mild, and I don’t think it could actually stand up to a shot of espresso. I wouldn’t mind a stronger flavor (double sakura, please!) but it’s perfect for a quiet Sunday afternoon studying 日本語 or chatting with friends.
But what’s that hiding next to my pretty pink latte? Why, that’s the new Sakura Cheesecake! In the words of George Takei, Oh myyyyyyy. This thing is delicious. Creamy, rich, and intensely sakura flavored, this is where the cherry blossom taste is hiding!
At first I was worried how the sakura would pair with the creamy rich dairy flavor, as I’ve only had it really in traditional Japanese desserts, for which “creamy” “rich” and “dairy” are rarely used as adjectives.
The taste is quite strong and lovely, and there’s even a salted cherry blossom perched on top a little mountain of whipped cream. In case you were wondering, “cherry blossom” tastes absolutely nothing like cherries themselves–this is not a fruity flavor! It’s quite a distinctive flavor, and probably not for everyone, but I really enjoyed this cake.
This is quite pricey business, clocking in at about ￥840 (about 10 bucks US?), so I won’t be making a habit of the drink and cakey combo, but I certainly enjoyed this lovely treat! Oh, and there’s still the Frappucino and the Chiffon Cake to try! Mmmm…
Does it look tasty? Have you tried it? What do you think?