American tea culture still lags behind coffee, but the matcha category, a powdered Japanese tea, continues to grow. The owners of Brooklyn’s first café dedicated to the electric-green drink, appropriately called Matcha Bar, recently unveiled a second location in Chelsea (256 West 15th Street, 212-627-1058).
Founders and brothers Max and Graham Fortgang opened in the ultra-competitive market because, as they told the Voice, “so many amazing friends” — whom they call their “Matchafam” — “were dying for us to get to Manhattan.”
The duo debuted their first location in Williamsburg a year ago, in the fall of 2014. They said the learning curve for locals was fairly short. “We were used to hearing ‘What is matcha?’ when people first walked through our door. Now we get ‘Large iced!’ and ‘Did the fall menu drop yet?’ ” said Graham. “In Manhattan,” he added, “we have had to start the education process all over again, but it’s nothing compared to when we first opened. If you look around, matcha is all over the place.”
The slender Chelsea location offers the same classic and seasonal drinks as in Brooklyn — customers can order it prepared with water only, or with steamed milk, like a “matchiato” or a flat green, both riffs on espresso-based drinks.
For the autumn menu, two new signature matcha lattes speak to the popularity of flavored drinks: cinnamon maple and coconut chai. Despite the names’ sounding evocative of liquid Starbucks desserts, Graham said neither of these come close.
“We have sourced some of the finest ingredients to deliver innovative matcha drinks that are not only tasty, but healthy. Our coconut chai uses an organic single-origin chai and coconut milk. Our cinnamon maple uses a ground cinnamon powder and a dash of a homemade maple syrup that comes from Valley View farm in Haydenville, Massachusetts. No syrups, added sugar, or any of the BS,” said Graham.
As for the tea itself, the brothers source matcha from a family-owned farm in Nishio. “Japan is a magical place. I travel every year to oversee the spring harvest and hang with our awesome farming partners,” said Graham.
The Fortgangs recently held a three-day pop-up event in Tokyo that generated two-hour lines for their drinks. “Brooklyn culture is huge over there,” said Max.
“We were beyond humbled with the response. We have some big plans in the future for Japan that we cannot wait to make a reality,” Graham added.
The brothers are also working to launch local distribution of three different ten-ounce, ready-to-drink products based on their signature flavors blended with ceremonial-grade tea. “Come January, keep an eye out for our products at your local bodega and grocery,” said Max.
In the meantime, city-dwellers can grab one of the few seats inside to sample hot and cold drinks, breakfast wraps, and matcha-infused sweet treats like biscotti and macaroons. Alternatively, pick up a tin of powdered tea and a whisk and learn the art of matcha preparation at home.