By Taylor Smith
I’ve yet to convert to the growing matcha religion, and as a somewhat fad-averse tea lover I’ve been caught between enthusiasm and skepticism. So for a week or so I attempted a slow self-conversion. I visited matcha shops around the city, sipped on their offerings, and spoke with their customers, hoping to find what I was missing.
I first visited Cha Cha Matcha, where the green caffeine source and I did not hit it off. My iced matcha latte with soy milk — a fitting choice, I thought, for a newcomer on a sweltering day — left a bitter, milky after-taste that I struggled with for the better part of the morning. Fellow customers had clearly already enjoyed generous helpings of the proverbial Kool-Aid, but I was still searching. I even wondered if people were pretending to enjoy the beverage for the sake of its purported health benefits and visual cool factor. But my conversations with habitual matcha drinkers revealed earnestness throughout.
My office-mate Rafael, who drinks matcha every day after lunch, told me that while he did like that matcha’s healthy reputation made him feel he was doing something good for himself, he mainly drank for enjoyment and for a less intense alternative to coffee. To him, the taste of matcha — which he drinks with water and almond milk — was “mild” and “soothing,” a perfect substitute for his post-lunch coffee. A woman I spoke with at Chalait, a trendy West Village café frequented by matcha-lovers and health nuts alike, told me she relished the “controlled release” a matcha latte gave her in comparison to coffee, while my iced matcha tea still left me wondering what the big deal was.
I flirted with full indoctrination just once, on my visit to Matcha Bar in Williamsburg, where I found myself dangerously tempted by the fuji apple ginger matcha, but resolved to adhere to relative purity with the iced matcha tea with a hint of honey. And in that moment, I understood. Maybe the sticky-hot summer day was getting to me, but I savored every last sip, the bitter aftertaste replaced by a pleasantly lingering finish. Though I felt no caffeine boost, for the first time I appreciated the unique flavor.
As I sipped on my beverage —a ceremonial grade tea imported from Nishio, Japan — thrilled with my newfound sense of clarity, I chatted with the barista Barry about what brought him over to the green side. Like many I’d spoken too, he found it a preferable and more versatile alternative to coffee (he’d even experimented with pinches of matcha powder in his coffee). Since incorporating it into his routine, he said that in addition to feeling more alert, he’d rarely gotten sick, which he suspected was due to the antioxidants.
Sadly, my sense of belonging came to a halt at Harney and Son’s just a day later, where despite the elegant preparation (they whisk the matcha in a bowl in front of you) and the purity of the product (I ordered thick ceremonial grade matcha, hot with water alone), I struggled immensely. Of all the matcha I’d tried, this was the most brilliant green, prepared most traditionally — and I felt as though I were sipping liquefied chard. One sip of unadulterated matcha had exposed me as a fraud. And I was mystified as the kind server told me that she too felt no caffeine boost, but drank matcha purely for enjoyment.
I’ve since tasted more matcha that I found pleasant enough, so it’s safe to say ours is an evolving love story, replete with ups and downs and as of yet devoid of seriousness or commitment. In other words, it’s modern.
Photo courtesy of Breakaway Matcha.
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