by Mable Yiu
Taste it to believe it: the original MatchaBar brothers make it best.
Why did you start MatchaBar?
Where do I begin? It began with an obsession – followed by a vision. I think any great product, really any great brand is created out of drive to share something with the world. For my brother Max & I, we wanted to bring matcha to the people. Plain and simple. We whole heartedly fell in love with the way matcha made us feel. I was amazed at how hard it was to find, and how few people even knew of matcha. In fact, there was so much education and awareness in the category to achieve, we knew right away a physical location was essential. We had to create a real community and hub for matcha lovers in New York! That community today is known as our MatchaFam.
What are your thoughts on the matcha trend? How did that all begin recently?
I like to think any product that becomes a household name needs to go through a "trendy" phase. Let's look at similar examples... salad, coconut water, yoga, fresh juice, even specialty espresso shops. When Max & I created the concept to launch MatchaBar, hardly anyone knew what it was. I remember Max and I joking that there was a good chance 50% of our sales would come from espresso in the first year. That being said, we had faith in the product, and our ability to educate and foster a real community. We have seen first hand the excitement behind matcha as we have brought pop-up stores to College Campuses, Music Festivals, cities as far as LA and Tokyo, corporate offices from the New York Post to Forbes Magazine. We do anything we can to share our matcha with the world. Why? Because we believe matcha is on its way to become a staple in the caffeinated beverage world, what I call your "morning cup." Now the key to success lies in who is promoting the product, how it is positioned, and the baseline quality behind it. Matcha is a tricky product. NOT ALL MATCHA IS CREATED EQUAL. The crap the Starbucks, The Bean, etc is serving... Even half the trendy coffee shops in New York who are launching lines of matcha - the preparation is inconsistent and generally lacking in taste, but what really upsets me, is that they are using at most, 1 gram of matcha per cup.... essentially shorting the customer half of what we call "the good stuff" (caffeine, L-theanine, and antioxidants). At MatchaBar we use a 2 gram serving, something that may make the margins less pretty, but delivers the full functional benefit of matcha. Imagine a cafe serving an espresso with a half shot of an espresso - good luck getting through your day with that.
Now, how do we create a unified movement behind matcha when there is such a lack of quality control on the market? It's a tough challenge that we plan on tackling!
What have your experiences in Japan been like? How did you find the family farm to partner with?
Japan is a wonderful country. It all started with cold calls to farms we could find online with a translator on the line. Some were more receptive than others. In the end, I had to travel to Japan myself, meet with these farmers, and find a partner that was right for us. Our current farming partners are extremely supportive of our vision as a company. What really surprised us was the reaction from our pop-up store in Tokyo! To this day, we see a great chunk of business coming from those traveling to New York from Japan!
How did the pop-up in Japan come about? What was that like?
The pop-up in Japan came about from a fantasy. We see ourselves as the authority of matcha in New York - but how can we think of ourselves so highly when the home of matcha itself hasn't even heard of us. There is only one thing to do, get on a damn plane and open up in Tokyo - even if it is for 3 days!
I remember Max, my partner Eli, and I sitting in Tokyo the night before the pop-up wondering if anyone would even show up. To see 2-3 hour lines the following day was one of the most humbling and exciting experiences of our lives.
We were so inspired by this event that we will not only return this spring, but also have our eyes on expanding our cafes out there in the next few years!
What are your plans for the near and distant future?
We just opened a cafe in Chelsea. 256 W 15th, come by!
Our biggest venture yet will launch this winter. We are launching a bottled product! We have taken three signature flavors from our cafe, and created a 10oz glass bottled product we will distribute throughout New York, and soon after, the rest of the United States. Each bottle will contain a full 2 gram serving of MatchaBar matcha. We are beyond excited to share this project with our MatchaFam - and look forward with being able to share our matcha with so many passionate matcha lovers who cannot make it to our stores in New York!