We've mentioned Cha-An frequently in the past, most often for the lunch deal and sweet takes on classic Japanese desserts. A little-known offering at Cha-An is the Afternoon Tea, perhaps the cheapest in the city at $18 per person.
The tea begins with a pick of any tea from the menu, including tea latte drinks. Nontraditional, yes, but they serve what may be my favorite tea lattes in the city. In the summer they do the Matcha Latte iced with a spoonful of azuki bean paste, and in the winters it's served warm, with boiled, slightly sweetened azuki beans swirled into the hot drink.
Next come two warm sandwiches on bagel-like bread, but softer, with a rounded sweetness; they're delivered in a lidded basket that's opened at the table. Like most Japanese breads, both the surface and interior are plush and tender, no crackly crusts here. One is sweet, and filled with a mix of whipped cream and strawberry preserves. The other pairs peppery mayo with thin-sliced smoked salmon, onion slivers, and watercress. My only complaint was that the tea set's balance of sweet versus savory was completely off—the smoked salmon sandwich was the single savory element of the meal.
Scones are a highlight at Cha-An, served with little dishes of soft, barely whipped cream and housemade blueberry preserves. There is always one "classic American" flavored scone (most often chocolate chip) and another tea-flavored scone. They're large, so if you only finish one, go with the tea scone. It was Earl Grey on my visit, the dough mixed with finely ground earl grey tea leaves. Each batch is baked to order, and the scones are presented still steaming, with golden, sugar-topped crunchy crusts. Break it open and the bold scent of earl grey literally wafts over the entire table. Whereas most of the flavors at Cha-An are refined and delicate, this is aggressive in the best way possible.
The sweets are finished with matcha shortbread—the crumbly nature perfect for a tea pairing; an passable, though dry vanilla macaron; and a unexpectedly excellent wedge of fruitcake, the fragrant and buttery pound cake base spotted in chunks of sweet fruit.
About the author: Originally from Honolulu, Kathy YL Chan writes A Passion For Food, where she chronicles her eats and travels adventures between Hawai'i, New York and beyond. She firmly believes that there is always room for dessert.