Entertaining: Bonsai Tea Party + Recipe

Ever since 1853, when Japan re-opened its ports to foreign traders after an almost 200-year trade embargo, the country has had a massive influence on western design and culture. From the Japanese-inspired decor of Christopher Dresser and the “Japonisme” style of Impressionist painters to the minimalism made famous by Japanese brands like Muji in the 90s and oughts, Japanese design has been a constant source of inspiration and admiration the world over. Today, Japanese-made and Japanese-influenced design seems to have infiltrated the design world yet again and we are absolutely loving it. Yesterday, we took you on a special sneak peek of one of our favorite new Japanese restaurants, Ganso. Today, we’re sharing a special Japanese-themed tea party informed by the same minimal-yet-warm aesthetic. With decor and party-favor elements inspired by some of our favorite aspects of Japanese design and a few traditional Japanese treats, this little get-together had us longing to visit this fabulous and oh-so-influential region. —Max

Above image: Our Bonsai Tea Party table was created using objects from some of our favorite local shops, in addition to a few easy do-it-yourself elements. We crafted inexpensive artwork inspired by Japanese sumi ink drawings by drawing designs onto newsprint with a black crayon. We used matcha green tea, a Japanese-designed cast-iron kettle, and matcha whisk from our neighborhood teashop, Bellocq. Table linens, teacups, and bowls came from Greenhouse, a Brooklyn shop specializing in environmentally friendly homegoods.

Above image: What would “Green” month be without some plants? As party favors to our guests, we provided beautiful Bonsai trees from Sprout Home along with a pair of Japanese gardening scissors for pruning.

Check out the rest of the photos, how-to’s, and recipes after the jump!

Above image: Various bowls from Greenhouse, Japanese bean cakes from Yume Confections. Table lamp from Schoolhouse Electric.

Above image: We created a simple paper crane mobile by stringing thread through the center of white paper cranes and tying it to a wooden clothes hanger. We then hung the clothes hanger from the ceiling.

Above image: Some of the matcha tea from Bellocq alongside traditional Japanese bean cakes from Yume Confections in Portland. (Also—check out the Design*Sponge article about Yume here.) For an added touch of black and white, we laid out the cakes on a simple sheet of waxed paper, taped down with black and white washi tapeLarge white bowl from Greenhouse.

Above image: The Japanese bean cakes made by Gena Renaud of Yume Confections are seriously delicious. They also feature some truly beautiful designs on top.

Above image: for an added touch, we affixed a small packet to each pair of gardening scissors with tips and instructions for raising bonsai trees. Name tags were filled out with a typewriter and attached through small slits cut into the paper packet.

Above image: Harris Salat, the restauranteur and writer behind Ganso and The Japanese Food Report was kind enough to lend us a theme-appropriate recipe for vegetables topped with sesame dressing. To create this simple dressing, lightly toast 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds in a dry skillet, crush, and combine with 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1 tablespoon soy sauce. Put on top of your favorite vegetable dish— Harris chose blanched and shocked green beans.

Above image: Matcha tea, a traditional Japanese beverage known for its energizing and mind-opening lift, was one of the main attractions at our party. Unlike the green teas typically available to Americans, matcha comes in a silky smooth powder form that must be combined with hot water and whisked into a froth. For step-by-step directions to preparing your own matcha, check out the video below!

Amanda Swenson

Max you are so amazing. I love all of your work!


I have been searching all over the place for cool tumbler/cups like these!! thank you!!!:) The art is simple and gorgeous and while I’m not a fan of Japanese bean cakes, i love the matcha tea:) Beautiful and minimalist like Japan.


I gotta be the bonsai nazi here… The procumbens (Japanese Garden) juniper that is shown above in a few photos (photographed indoors) needs to be outdoors at all times. Well, except for over-wintering indoors in the super cold climates. I still see a lot of people trying to keep them indoors to no avail. Little ficus trees or banana trees work best for indoor bonsai fun!

A. Morris at Office Kitten

Well this is awesome. As a chronically heavy tea/herbal tea drinker this is brilliant and I’ll busy myself this weekend with finding all I need to do this. In the little bowl it looks a bit like Miso Soup, although without the enormous salt content, obviously. Tremendous, thank you!

Grace Bonney

Hi Lauren

This party was set up so the Bonsais would be a (rather nice) party favor. People would get together, drink tea, learn about Bonsai and then take them home. We didn’t mean to imply they could only stay indoors ;)



Just made the sesame dressing and used it over snow peas: to DIE for good. Many thanks!