At Matchacha Seoul in Seongsu-dong, owner Lee Yenie can be found behind the counter, vigorously whisking pulverized green tea leaves into a frothy, creamy beverage.
“I have a fondness for matcha,” said Lee, 29, of why she decided to specialize in beverages crafted from the powdered green tea.
Considered by many health-conscious consumers to be a wholesome caffeine fix, matcha has been gaining traction around the world.
For traditional ceremonial-style matcha, owner Lee Yeni sifts ceremonial grade matcha through a sieve before vigorously stirring the powder and hot water with a bamboo whisk to create an ultra-smooth, frothy tea. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
More and more matcha cafes have been popping up in big cities like London, Sydney, Paris, Los Angeles and New York, with high-profile celebrities fueling the fire by Instagramming those spots and their matcha.
Matcha originated in China before crossing over to Japan in the 12th century, where it became an integral part of the traditional tea ceremony.
Viewed as a healthy beverage, rich in antioxidants and low in calories, matcha is made by steaming tea leaves, then drying them and grinding them into a delicate powder.
Traditionally, the powder is combined with hot water and blended into frothy tea with a bamboo whisk but more recently matcha has been used in a more versatile manner, popping up in cakes, lattes and main dishes.
At Matchacha, which opened inside a curated space called Moodlab, one can enjoy ceremonial-style matcha or other variations, including the shop-in-shop’s popular matcha blanc.
“I was inspired by the Einspanner when coming up with this drink,” Lee referred to the Viennese coffee house classic, known for its cool and sweet topping of whipped fresh cream.
For her matcha blanc, Lee takes an intense matcha latte and tops it with cool, smooth cream, using unrefined cane sugar to create a light sweetness that acts as a bridge between the rich bitterness of the matcha and the mellow dairy.
For another popular riff off the powdered green tea beverage, Lee adds squares of mochi -- glutinous rice cake -- and red bean paste to a warm cup of bitter, emerald green matcha for a dessert-like drink.
All Lee’s matcha is sourced from a green tea plantation in Jeju Island.
“I traveled to Boseong, Hadong and Jeju Island looking for the right matcha,” said Lee before settling on a place that grows a Japanese varietal and has studied Japanese growing methods.
“The tea is shade-grown,” Lee added, pinpointing a crucial aspect to the harvesting of the tea used for matcha, which needs to be shade-grown for a specific period of time
Even though the leaves have already been ground into a fine ceremonial grade powder, Lee sifts her matcha through a sieve for an extra smooth, creamy cup.
“I am preparing a matcha freeze and an iced variation of our matcha ceremony,” said Lee, who launched Matchacha in Moodlab last December.
Only three months into business, Matchacha is still in its soft opening stage, but customers can rest assured that whatever changes are made, there will be plenty of matcha on the menu.
685-254 Seongsu-dong 1-ga, Seongdong-gu, Seoul
Open noon to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, till 6 p.m. Sundays, closed Mondays