The Art of Wagashi at Minamoto Kitchoan

Cupcakes, cookies, French macarons.

So yesterday.

For unique sweet treats that will truly surprise and tantalize, step inside Minamoto Kitchoan, a Japanese confectionery store that has locations in downtown San Francisco and in San Jose’s Mitsuwa Marketplace plaza.

The stores specialize in wagashi, handmade, intricate sweets made with mochi, azuki red bean paste and fruit. Traditionally, they were designed to be served during Japanese tea ceremonies. With their sweet flavor, they are the ideal accompaniment to a cup of hot, fragrant, astringent green tea.

Minamoto Kitchoan receives a shipment every two months from Japan. The wagashi are shipped frozen in a state-of-the-art process that renders them much colder than in any home freezer, yet doesn’t impair their delicacy.

Although some offerings are available year-round, the store also changes its selections with the seasons and the holidays. The sweets are individually wrapped and sell for $2 on up, depending upon the variety.

One of my favorites is only available through June: kashiwamochi,  in which a real oak leaf envelopes a white ball of sticky, pounded rice with a center of creamy, sweet bean paste. Unwrap it and inhale the fragrance of the forest.

Earlier this year, I also indulged in an amazing soft, wiggly cherry jelly that encased a whole, real cherry. It was like a tiny work of art.

The Market Street store in San Francisco, a short stroll from the Palace Hotel, opened late last year and already has attracted crowds, both Asian and non-Asian ones. Indeed, the store manager there told me that a lot of customers are tourists from other states and countries, unable to resist these unique confections as souvenirs to tote home.

They make for great hostess gifts. You won’t be able to resist bringing home a few for yourself, either.

More: My Write-Up on Minamoto Kitchoan for Tasting Table San Francisco

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