Tucked behind a closed staircase between a ramen shop and a Korean restaurant in Honolulu is a metal A-frame that reads, “Call or text to receive access code.” Once you follow the instructions and head upstairs, a milieu where old meets new and east meets west awaits. Porcelain de Paris trays, vintage Japanese vases and American galvanized tubs rest on linen-lined shelves. The scent of a sandalwood forest hovers like mist, awakening the senses. Around the corner, a small menu perched on a wooden workbench offers lattes, worms, and matcha, while relaxing spa music wafts through the flower-filled room.
The flowers come from MANYU Flowers downstairs and the zen retail space – at home by MANYU Flowers – combines the passions of owner Mami Kagami and her right-hand man Yuji Sakabe. Kagami, a florist with over 30 years of experience designing arrangements for high-end weddings in Japan, New York, Canada, Guam and Hawai’i, was hosting up to 400 weddings a month when she decided to downsize in 2019. “That was crazy,” she laughed. “I was about to die.”
In 2020, Kagami hired Sakabe – a Japanese barista who honed his skills in Brooklyn, New York – to help him with the flower business. When COVID hit and all marriages ceased, the two started to think things through. “I think it’s really great that we put our ideas together,” Kagami said. “[I said], ‘I don’t want to do a flower shop, because it’s so difficult.’ And he said, ‘I think running a cafe is also very difficult.’
With that in mind, the duo used their aesthetic sensibilities to open an antique-meets-tea-and-coffee shop concept in November 2021. Kagami began his vintage collection when he was 25, living in Manhattan. On weekends she enjoyed browsing antique markets and over the next 27 years she wabi-sabi (mismatched) has grown to include both antiques and modern objects from New York, California, France and Japan. Everything for sale is meant to calm the mind and is meticulously reconditioned by Kagimi and Sakabe.
One of the standout features of the shop are the ceremonial-grade matcha shots, presented in a way that would appeal to a 12th-century Zen Buddhist monk. Sandalwood incense is burned to awaken the spirit and purify the room. Sakabe measures the tea and hot water in a large ceramic bowl and mixes it methodically with a bamboo whisk. He then hands you the bowl to sip, like in a traditional matcha tea ceremony.
The store’s certified organic ceremonial-grade matcha is produced in a factory 45 minutes from the city of Uji, Japan, the birthplace of traditional tea. Tencha (tea leaves used for matcha) is grown in Nishio, one of the main matcha producing areas in Japan, along with the city of Uji.
Tencha farms must dry an organic mix of compost for three years, before treating the soil with it for another two years. Once the tea is planted, it takes five years before it is ready to harvest. Two weeks before harvest, the tea is covered with bamboo to shade it from the sun so that the plant’s chlorophyll moves up into the outer leaves and turns them bright green. Tencha is harvested by hand under bamboo shade, then cleaned, dried, analyzed and graded by Japanese tea masters, like a winemaker would choose grapes for winemaking. Until 100 years ago, the separation of leaves from twigs and stems was done by hand and with chopsticks, then the leaves were ground by hand. Thanks to new technology, the leaves are now gently stone-ground by a machine, but it still takes the machine an hour to grind an ounce of matcha powder.
The shop offers two varieties: Maru, which has a very sweet flavor, and Kaku, which still has a hint of bitterness. Both are double roasted and stone ground with chlorella powder. They are rich in umami and L-theanine – the matcha-rich amino acid that calms the mind and increases the ability to concentrate.
The oh, or incense, which Sakabe lights, is also on sale at Home. Hayashi Ryushodo, a company founded in Kyoto, Japan in 1834, produces it from a traditional sandalwood base like the oh made for matcha tea ceremonies. Plum, clove and agarwood flavored varieties are also available.
Although matcha shots are a big draw, coffee is not to be overlooked at home. Sakabe brings specialty coffee from around the world from 95 RPM Coffee Roasters – the company he worked for in Brooklyn. Remarkable coffee is produced by the Lamastus family at Elida Estate, which is located at the highest elevation in Panama in a rainforest that is considered to produce some of the finest beans in the world. The Lamastus family plants Arabica coffees in volcanic soil, hand-picks the coffee cherries, and processes them using natural (sun-dried fermentation), washed (soaking with enzymes to ferment) and honey (a combination of natural and washed). Their catuai variety is processed using a slow-drying anaerobic method where the beans are sieved and left to dry outdoors for 12 days. It has a medium body and flavors of pear brandy, fruit punch and dark chocolate.
The still-under-the-radar house of MAnYU Flowers is no place for a cup of joe on the way to work. Get ready to hang out, relax, chat, and browse the shelves. Although Kagami says it may seem bittersweet to sell her vintage collection, she is always happy when the pieces go to a good home. As for the tea set, it’s the closest thing to a matcha ceremony you’ll find while shopping at an antique store.
at home by MANYU Flowers: Open Tuesday through Sunday, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., 2080 S. King St. Unit 203, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, alamaisonshop.com, @alamaison_honolulu