There are many extraordinary things about Japan. Its orderliness and cleanliness. The subways, trains, and Shinkansen that run on perfect time. The beauty of its temples and tea houses. Its unique fashion trends and broader aesthetic traditions.
But hands-down, Japan, in my opinion, is seriously lacking when it comes to one important category of life and the things that make it worth living: Sweets. Desserts. Pies. Gooey, decadent cakes. Unless you count bean paste as a culinary treat (and I don’t know many fellow Westerners who do), you can be hard-pressed to indulge your sweet tooth in this country.
So when my friend J called to tell me about a new café she had found with homemade desserts that are out-of-this world-good (or at least, thankfully, out-of-this-country), I was there almost before we got off the phone.
“café GMT plus” may have a strange name, but it makes up for this with its sound dessert policy: fresh-made cakes and pies; rich, smooth coffee; and a unique selection of house-blended teas. (They also serve lunch, which I’m sure is as delicious as their desserts, but, um, who has time for lunch when there’s a whole display case of homemade cake demanding to be ordered?)
J and I sipped our full-bodied coffees (a creamy hot latte for me, an ice-cold cappuccino, sprinkled with bitter-sweet cocoa powder, for her) while we waited for Tamaki Maeda, GMT’s owner, to bring us our sweets. Tamaki-san, a little sprite of a woman with long black braids, a huge smile, and excellent English, has owned the café for 12 years, although it’s only been tucked away in its current location, on a corner near the U.S. Consulate in Umeda, since last October. As she brought us plates piled high with cake, she explained that the café’s areas of expertise are two: freshly baked desserts using original recipes and specialty blended teas mixing fruits, herbs, tea leaves, and even flowers. I think she may have given us more details, too, but frankly, I couldn’t concentrate any longer, because there was now a triangle of dense chocolate cake, dappled with caramel and taunting me to pick up my fork, sitting alongside a fat slice of cinnamon rum-raisin cake, iced with a delicate drizzle of white and then topped with a cloud of whipped cream. Before I could even take a bite, I was overcome with the scent, a mix of spice, cinnamon, and sweetness.
Perhaps because I began eating so aggressively she thought I might choke, Tamaki-san soon brought some of her personally-blended tea: a pot of rooibus (a South African infusion) mixed with hibiscus, rosehip, and flowers. It was deep, deep red with a sweet smell but a surprisingly tangy and even slightly spicy flavor. Then she walked us to the glass display case to exhibit what else we could have ordered. Sitting plump and deliciously on the shelf were a slew of newly-baked treasures, among them a sweet cheesecake; a salty butter and caramel cake; a fresh banana loaf; a sweet, brown chestnut cake; and a confection of blueberry angel chiffon, iced with sugar.
“We’ll be back,” I told Tamaki-san, tearing my eyes away from the case to smile gratefully at her. “Hopefully tomorrow.”
café GMT plus
Monday through Saturday, 11:00―20:00
Holidays and occasional Sundays, 11:00―18:00
Map @ http://www.gmt-cafe.com/access.htm
Menu in English & Japanese; staff speaks English