Mirror Tea & Sake House is the hidden gem every neighborhood dreams of. Situated in a busy strip in Gowanus, the minimal storefront contains just a handful of outdoor tables. Menus advertise sake slushes and banana milk coffee. The vibe is quirky and intimate, begging passersby to stop and stay a while. And they do.
Behind the business are Fumio Tashiro, a jazz bass player, and Miho Morita, an artist, who have designed the space to celebrate the “now,” centering ideals of diversity, community, and collaboration. Their unique menu is tailored for aesthetics and well-being, showcasing colorful teas and tea-infused sake alongside mochi pizza and grilled eel.
In our conversation below, Fumio shares more about Mirror’s story and mission.
Tell me your story and how you came to New York.
Thirty years ago, I left Japan and came to New York alone. I wanted to challenge myself as a jazz bass player. Then, I had the opportunity to meet the respected jazz bassist, Milt Hilton. Even though he was a legendary, world-renowned musician, he spoke kindly to me. It was a great encounter that changed my life.
In a real experience living in New York, I felt the differences in race, skin color, religion, and culture, and through real life, I was able to learn a lot from it. After all, in order to coexist, it is inevitable to have a sincere relationship with the community, and I think it is important to be considerate and tolerant of others.
How do you curate your menu? Are there certain flavors or ingredients you aim to highlight?
All of the ingredients are organic, and we are looking for fresh ones as much as possible. I try to season it simply so that I can bring out the original taste of the ingredients. In addition, we emphasize the beauty of appearance and pay particular attention to color.
For example, we use butterfly pea flowers, which are often used in Thailand, for our drink menu. It has beautiful deep blue and purple colors and is very healthy.
What are some of your bestselling menu items, and what’s special about them?
We have broken the traditional concept of sake with items including tea-infused sake, sake cocktails, and sake slush, and added other elements to create a completely new drink. With a variety of colors, flavors, and nutrients, it can be introduced to young women and those who are new to sake.
Did you invent banana milk coffee? Tell us about it.
Yes. I was always experimenting to find something new, and this is one of the combinations I came up with. It’s a well-ripened, sweet, organic banana smoothie that sits on top of a rich cold brew coffee with chicory. Some people call it a dessert coffee drink. The balance between the rich taste and sweetness is something magical. In addition to the coffee flavor, we invented variations with matcha, roasted green tea, and hibiscus tea.
You mentioned that you’re a bass player and jazz enthusiast. What role do music and events play at Mirror?
It has been a valuable place for young artists to make presentations and experiment, and it was very lively as a meeting place for artists and fans. It was exciting for me, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced me to change all of those plans.
Your “Meet the People” YouTube video series highlights local artists and their work. How did that series come about?
During the pandemic, we were wondering what we could do as the closed and heavy situation continued. The production work was very difficult and a new challenge, despite the various restrictions.
Still, I was able to publish a few videos with the help of my friends. I thought Gowanus artists, entrepreneurs, and local events were interesting topics for the world. Being Japanese, I wanted to introduce it to Japanese people, so I added Japanese subtitles.
Community is at the heart of Mirror’s mission. How do you cultivate community, creativity, and conversation in your neighborhood?
Fortunately, I have the opportunity to talk to the lovely locals who come to this tea house. During the pandemic, I took the plunge and changed my direction to outdoor dining, and I was able to get people in many areas to notice it. We would like to continue to provide a healthy eating and healing space for many people.