Fans of Japanese coffee chain Doutor say: “Doubt it”. 

While the actual sakura trees are yet to blossom around Japan, the flowers are already blooming in stores, turning all sorts of drinks and sweets a pretty shade of pink as we head into spring.

Every year, Starbucks tends to steal the show with its lineup of cherry blossom offerings, but the green mermaid will need to watch her back this year, because local coffeehouse chain Doutor is on her tail with an impressive lineup of sakura goods.

For their annual “Sakura Fair”, Doutor has a Sakura Baumkuchen (620 yen [US$5.39]), a Sakura Mont Blanc (450 yen), and a Sakura Dorayaki (255 yen) on the sweets menu this year.

▼ How mouthwatering does this dorayaki look?

They’re also offering a couple of limited-time sakura drinks, which we’ll be trying today, starting with…the Marshmallow Funwari Sakura Au Lait — Warabimochi (550 yen).

“Funwari” translates to “fluffy” or “airy“, and that’s exactly what this beverage is, thanks to its light and milky base and soft and creamy topping.

▼ A couple of sakura-shaped marshmallows in amongst the sweet sakura sauce here is a nice touch.

The “warabimochi” part of the drink can be found in its base, where pieces of the jiggly, jelly-like bracken starch confection are waiting to be swirled about.

These little pieces add a great chewy counterpart to the otherwise silky smooth beverage, and as you sip, they get sucked up through the straw like pearls in a boba tea.

The drink is creamy and gentle on the palate, leaving a deliciously faint hint of sakura blossoms in the finish. It’s a fantastic beverage, and perhaps because of the somewhat muted flavours, it tasted a lot more Japanese to us than a Starbucks sakura Frappuccino.

▼ Moving on to the second sakura drink, we have the Marshmallow Funwari Sakura Au Lait (520 yen).

This hot beverage has a slight strawberry aroma, and after taking a sip, we were right on the money with it being strawberry flavoured. However, the fruity flavour soon gave way to an aromatic cherry blossom, which gently revealed itself in every mouthful.

While the toppings are the same in both drinks, the heat from the hot au lait works to melt the sakura sauce and marshmallows into the liquid, creating a more intense cherry blossom flavour.

There’s no warabimochi in this drink, so once the toppings completely melt, it resembles a slightly pink hot milk, and the sweet, melty, fruity floral notes make for a perfectly balanced flavour profile.

After trying the drinks, we couldn’t help but add a Sakura Mont Blanc to our order, because…well, look how beautiful it is!

As Mont Blanc desserts are usually made with chestnut cream, they’re often thought of as a sweet for the colder months. However, this dessert proves the Mont Blanc is equally delicious in spring — especially when pink sakura cream is used in place of chestnuts.

The sakura cream here is absolutely divine, and tastes similar to a sakura mochi, the traditional Japanese dessert commonly associated with spring. Like sakura mochi, this dessert contains salted cherry blossom leaf as one of the ingredients, and the small flecks of leaf can be seen scattered throughout the cream.

This adds an aromatic saltiness to the sweet sakura notes, and inside the Mont Blanc mountain lies a mound of strawberry cream for contrast. The cream elements sit upon a baked puff pastry, creating an incredibly delicious sweet which, as it turns out, was stronger in sakura flavour than both the hot and cold drinks.

While Doutor’s offerings may not be as stylish or as flamboyant as the sakura menu — and marketing — over at Starbucks, that’s actually what gives them their unique appeal, making them incredibly popular with local customers.

If you think about it, Doutor is to Starbucks what Mos Burger is to McDonald’s — a homegrown chain that sits in the shadow of a global company, but constantly keeps them on their toes with their ability to hone in on local tastes and surprise the market with new and exciting releases.

It’s what gives Doutor the edge on the competition, so next time you try a seasonal Starbucks beverage, you might want to stop by Doutor too, for a slightly more Japanese coffeehouse experience. Now all we need is for Doutor to bring out their own range of sakura goods and drinkware to compete with the ones at Starbucks, and then the mermaid will really need to watch her tail!

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