Several years ago, brothers Max and Graham Fortgang were juggling jobs in real estate, event production, art curation, and part-time student obligations. They were desperately seeking out a less intense alternative to coffee in order to function. What they found was matcha, a fine-ground Japanese green tea.
Yesterday, the two brothers opened MatchaBar, New York's first matcha-centric cafe. Their Williamsburg storefront offers drinks made with the fine-ground tea, including hot and iced matcha teas, iced specialty drinks, and Matchaccino, a matcha "cappuccino" made with almond milk and vanilla powder that tastes like a remarkably creamy, full-bodied cup of green tea.
While a typical cup of coffee contains 80-120mg of caffeine, every drink at MatchaBar contains just 70mg, resulting in what Graham describes as a gentler, healthier, and more balanced boost.
By opening MatchaBar, Max and Graham hope to achieve two things: introduce matcha to as many people as possible, and push the limits of how matcha can be used.
While the duo sees their collaboration primarily as a tea company, and sell loose 30g tins of matcha powder ($22 for the classic blend, $30 for premium), the brick and mortar store allows them to control how the drinks are produced, ensuring that people are introduced to matcha properly.
"A lot of people, they'll get a tin, they'll get the powder, and they'll think it's instant coffee," explains Graham. "They'll stir it with a spoon and be left with this bizarre, clumpy, awful-tasting tea." To combat this, the already fine-ground matcha is sifted during preparation, and drinks are mixed with a fast electric mixer instead of a traditional wooden whisk (both can be purchased at the store for home use).
The powder itself is supplied by the fifth-generation family farm in Nishio, Japan where Max and Graham learned how to prepare matcha, and the two maintain a close personal relationship with the farm's management and employees.
"What's really cool is we've taken matcha outside its comfort zone and done some really exciting preparations," says Graham. "Not only is this a grab-and-go in under five minutes, we do an iced watermelon, an iced cucumber, an iced mint. All of our juices we make fresh every morning, so we'll bring the matcha into kind of a new sphere in a refreshing, light, uplifting taste, rather than some of the savory profiles it's known for."
Max and Graham also sell matcha-based foods by Watty & Meg, including salads, noodle dishes, granola, sandwiches with matchamole (their matcha spin on guacamole), and chocolate cupcakes with matcha frosting. Toby's Estate coffee is also available at their full espresso bar, but they hope hesitant guests will try matcha by their third or fourth visit.
Looking forward, MatchaBar will be hosting "a little music oriented speakeasy" on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, starting October 18th. Beer, wine and sake will be served, along with a mix of intimate live music and DJ events organized by business partner/music director Eli Libman. In the meantime, they're announcing their presence in the neighborhood with an opening reception tonight from 6-9 p.m.
MatchaBar, 93 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn (near North 10th Street)
Open Monday through Thursday from 8am-7pm, Friday through Sunday from 9am-7pm