From the the New York Post naming it “New York City’s hot new cult,” to its spotlight on NBC’s “The Today Show,” a recent wave of publicity has thrust matcha in front of the eyes of the general public. And while the explosion of coverage from mainstream media might suggest otherwise, the popularity of the Japanese powdered green tea beverage is hardly an overnight success story. In fact, matcha’s got a history that dates back centuries, which begs the question, why all the fuss now?
And lots of companies have started fussing: In March, Jade Monk launched a line of high pressure processed organic, cold-brewed matcha green teas in Whole Foods. Tea Pigs, the category leader of powdered matcha in the United Kingdom, is bringing a line of ready-to-drink flavored matcha to the United States, where it will also launch in Whole Foods’ Northeast and North Atlantic regions this month. ITO EN’s recently unveiled Matcha LOVE line has made its debut in the natural grocery heavyweight as well. Meanwhile, it’s moving into more products as an ingredient as well.
Cort Bucher and Derek Pippin were among the forefront of introducing matcha to the United States when they launched Jade Monk in 2012, selling the ingredient in its traditional powdered form. Upon the brand’s launch, the Austin-based duo spent a great deal of their time educating consumers on what matcha was and the health benefits of drinking it – a single cup of matcha boasts the amount of antioxidants than can be found in ten cups of green tea. But towards the end of 2013, Bucher and Pippin began to notice a change in the market.
“Slowly, more and more people we were talking to had heard about matcha,” says Pippin; getting it into an RTD format seemed the next step.
Mostly, people had heard about it by way of celebrities like Dr. Oz and Cameron Diaz who gushed about matcha and its healthy properties in an episode of The Dr. Oz Show. From there, cosigns from tastemakers and trendsetters accelerated the beverage’s popularity on the coasts in cities like New York and Los Angeles. The rise of brick and mortar stores offering a matcha cafe experience, like Brooklyn’s MatchaBar, garnered it even more attention. In March, ABC News took a visit to MatchaBar, which reportedly sees lines of patrons out the door on weekends.
Adam Hertel, vice president of grocery and natural Sales for tea company ITO EN North America credits today’s matcha craze for providing innovation within the tea category, galvanizing existing tea drinkers but also bringing new users into the fold.
“[Existing tea drinkers] are excited to see this burst of innovation, says Hertel. “Then you also have new people that are coming in because matcha is associated with this clean energy movement and people have an awareness that it’s healthy.”
But for matcha to truly go mainstream it will likely require more than the visibility that its current media hype cycle is providing. To make the entry into the product more accessible, brands like Jade Monk, ITO EN, Vivid Drinks, Motto, and Tea Pigs ushered in matcha in a flavored, ready-to-drink bottled format, allowing users to take part in the matcha experience on-the-go and also bypass the barrier of an expensive entry point of buying a $30 tin of powdered matcha.
“Getting the consumer to buy a tin of matcha, a whisk, and a bowl is a lot of hardware,” says Tea Pigs’ US General Manager Matthew Wood. “So for this to be a long term permanent trend, the idea is to get matcha in front of more people and find new ways to make it approachable.”