We try the most beautiful ice creams in Japan.

There are many places to get green tea sweets in Japan, but those serious about quality, looks, and refinement know there’s one place everyone needs to have at the top of their wishlist: Itohkyuemon.

This Kyoto business has been selling green tea since 1832, and in recent years, they’ve expanded their expertise to become known as one of the country’s best makers of matcha sweets. Part of what makes their sweets so special is the fact that they don’t just contain any ordinary matcha — they use Uji matcha, the name given to matcha sourced from Kyoto’s Uji region, said to be the best place for powdered green tea as the terroir is ideal for its production.

Itohkyuemon’s store and cafe menu consists of green tea cakes and matcha-covered strawberries, but it’s their stunning parfaits that draw customers from far and wide to their noren-covered doors.

▼ Spot the big green tea parfait at the entrance.

Not everyone can travel to Kyoto for a taste of their parfaits, though, so it came as welcome news to everyone when Itohkyuemon announced the creation of parfait ice cream bars, which can now be purchased at their online store.

We couldn’t resist the chance to try them, so we placed an order and when they arrived on our doorstep they were packaged perfectly, in a gorgeous beige box that read “Uji Matcha Sweets“.

▼ We ordered their five-bar set (4,200 yen [US$39.53] plus postage), which includes one of every flavour available.

▼ Left to right: Tropical, Strawberry, Matcha, Sakura, Mont Blanc

Excited to try these deconstructed parfaits, we kicked off the taste test with the Tropical Matcha Parfait Bar, which comes with pineapple, mango, and raspberry pieces. 

Sweet accents include a tart fruit sauce drizzle, dollops of cream, a chocolate disc with “Uji Matcha” written on it in stylised kanji, and a sprinkle of nuts for textural contrast.

Biting into this delivered an incredible explosion of flavours, with an icy burst of fresh fruit that made our our eyes widen, instantly transporting us to a sandy white beach in the tropics before bringing us back to Japan when the rich, creamy matcha dissipated on the tongue.

We’d never tried this particular combination of fruit and matcha before, and were instantly blown away by how well the green tea played off the tropical flavours. The mango chocolate coating was a brilliant addition to keep the combination strong with every bite of the ice cream, making it refreshingly light yet creamy and rich at the same time. This was a perfect ten in our books, and we vowed to make it our go-to summer ice cream from now on.

▼ Next up to the plate was the Strawberry Matcha Parfait Bar.

The generous three-berry topping is a real head-turner here, with the thickly sliced strawberries looking oversized compared to the rest of the ice cream bar.

Matcha and strawberries is a tried-and-tested match made in heaven, but here the combination has been taken to a whole new level with fresh, high quality fruit pieces, and the addition of raspberries and blueberries.

Biting into this one revealed the pretty pink chocolate coating was rich in berry flavours, yet the intensity was surprisingly spot-on, with the matcha ice cream still singing out in every bite. This was definitely another winner in our eyes, as the creaminess of the matcha washed over the tongue, leaving the fruit to remain for a tart, refreshing finish.

Next up is the Uji Matcha Parfait Bar

This one takes its inspiration from anmitsu, a traditional Japanese dessert that commonly contains adzuki red bean paste, agar jelly, mochi-like gyuhi dumplings, and a slice of citrus. For this parfait bar, Itohkyuemon coats its matcha ice cream in matcha for a double dose of green tea, and tops it all with red bean paste, an orange slice, a shiratama mochi dumpling and a piece of matcha nama chocolate, to really make matcha lovers’ toes curl.

Topped with a sprinkling of gold leaf dust over the chocolate disc, this bar looks like a fancy deconstructed Japanese dessert, and it doesn’t disappoint on the flavour front either. Filled with traditional Japanese flavours, which are mellow yet moreish at the same time, this is a true celebration of Uji matcha, with the accompanying ingredients playing a supporting role to the star.

The creamy, chewy textures enhanced the refined flavour of the green tea as they melded to the tongue, making for a memorable matcha experience. This is one we’d definitely love to have again in winter when we’re craving creamy matcha desserts.

▼ Next up is the Mont Blanc Matcha Parfait Bar, which screams “autumn” with its beautiful chestnut trio and hues of brown.

The Mont Blanc Matcha Parfait Bar pays homage to fall flavours with half of a whole chestnut sitting beside a golden candied chestnut and delightful swirls of Mont Blanc cream.

Mont Blanc is an incredibly popular fall dessert in Japan, and adding matcha to the mix makes for a winning combination. The chestnuts here add a wonderful nuttiness to the earthiness of the matcha, providing a range of textures to keep your taste buds entertained before the chocolate steps in, wrapping everything together in a warm, comforting blanket of bittersweet flavour.

Rounding off the range is the Sakura Matcha Parfait Bar

We’ve seen a lot of sakura-and-matcha combinations over the years, but we’ve never seen a deconstructed sakura parfait like this.

By the time we got around to trying this one, it was starting to seriously melt in the heat, but that didn’t detract from the prettiness of its toppings. Here we have a pink shiratama, a matcha nama chocolate, and swirls of sakura cream, along with a salted edible cherry blossom.

The highlight here was definitely the sakura blossom and its delicate sakura swirl. An homage to springtime, this ice cream bar delivers matcha and sakura hits in equal parts, but once you get to the bottom of the sweet, it packs a punch with salty sakura, leaving you with a delicious cherry blossom finish that’ll have you yearning for the pink trees of spring.

By the time we’d finished our ice cream feast, we tried to select a firm favourite, but it was impossible as each one had its own special charm.

They’re all equally terrific, and we’d go as far as to say they’re the best ice creams we’ve ever tasted. The careful thought and design behind each one is clearly evident, not just in terms of appearance but flavour profiles as well, with masterful combinations that surprised, amused and delighted our matcha-loving taste buds.

The perfection of the bars goes to show why Itohkyuemon’s parfaits are so popular and sought after by people around Japan. Next time we’re in Kyoto, we’ll definitely be paying them a visit at one of their five branches in the city, but until then, we’ll be putting in another order for their ice cream parfaits to store in the freezer. And maybe we’ll add one of their matcha wines to the shopping cart while we’re at it.

Related: Itohkyuemon Online Store
Photos © SoraNews24
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