Meeting your matcha: Hong Kong's best and coolest green tea cafes
Hong Kong's obsession with all things matcha shows no sign of subsiding. Here's our pick of the spots to climb aboard the green-tea-powder bandwagon
The matcha trail
1. Nakamura Tokichi Hong Kong Ten
This 161-year-old family-owned brand has been the talking point of green tea lovers since it arrived in the city last month. The food doesn't disappoint and is well worth the long wait.
With cream whipped up from Hokkaido milk, matcha cake, rice crispies, red bean paste, green tea jelly, mochi, and matcha soft ice cream, the maruto matcha parfait (HK$98) is the store's bestseller and one of our favourites.
Another must-try is the kyo no fukiyose (HK$98), which features four pieces of matcha and chocolate flavoured angel cakes, a scoop of full flavoured matcha ice cream, a piece of sweetened chestnut, some mochis, red bean paste, and cream made with Hokkaido milk. The angel cakes are delightfully soft, and especially nice when eaten with the cream.
The current owner, 63-year-old Nakamura, is the sixth generation of the Nakamura family and to ensure the quality of the output of the Hong Kong store, two of Nakamura's sons and six staff from the main Kyoto outlet run the Tsim Sha Tsui store. According to family tradition, it is only when the father passes away that the son can become the brand's owner and change his name to Nakamura Tokichi.
Besides serving tea-related food and drinks, the store will also hold irregular workshops (HK$50) in which masters flown in from Kyoto teach the art of grinding tea the Nakamura way.
18/F The One, 100 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2426 6111. Open: 11am-8pm
2. Fairy Tale Cafe
Since openin in March, this cafe has been capturing the hearts of matcha lovers with its signature matcha red bean mochi toast (HK$53). As the name suggests, the dish features green tea flavoured mochi clamped between two slices of toasted bread. A generous helping of sweet red beans and a scoop of green tea ice cream complete the job.
Owner and head chef Karl Yiu Ka-ho invents most of the recipes. "My girlfriend is the main reason for most of the products I create - she loves matcha flavours," says the 32-year-old.
After training under a Japanese chef, Yiu opened a cake shop in Yuen Long, but when it was forced to close last year due to high rents, he moved to a bigger but cheaper place in Tai Po.
Try the red bean matcha roll (HK$36), filled with red bean and green tea cream, and the matcha bavarois (HK$53), a creamy green tea pudding served with glutinous rice balls. The latest addition to the menu is a matcha parfait called Autumn (HK$58): a scoop of green tea ice cream atop layers of red bean, cream, cornflakes and yogurt.
Shop 2, Yan Hing Street, Tai Po, tel: 2653 0123.Open: noon-11pm
With a menu that focuses on healthy and nutritious eats, Kale might not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of sweet treats. But the latest addition to their board, matchalo, is definitely worth a try.
Matchalo (HK$58) is a Filipino-inspired dessert. Known as halo halo in the Philippines (literally "mix mix"), it consists of a scoop of green tea ice cream over a mix of crushed ice, coconut meat, sweet potato, mung beans, palm nuts, ube (purple yam), and jackfruit. To keep it more healthy, matchalo doesn't contain evaporated milk or sugar like the original dish.
"We started Kale because it's difficult to find places in Central that serve healthy food that is not too pricey," says co-founder Hero Leung Hei-noh, aged 22.
Recently graduated with an economics degree from the Chinese University, Leung decided to start her own restaurant with Brian Christopher Aguilar, 30, a Filipino who has been working in the food industry for several years.
"I'm 100 per cent into the food industry and I don't want to waste time doing things that I don't want to do," says Leung.
Also new on the menu is a delicious gluten-free vegan green tea doughnut (HK$12).
Room 1301, Cheungs Building, 1-3 Wing Lok Street, Sheung Wan, tel: 2320 5808.Open: Monday to Saturday 11am-9pm
4. Sense Dessert Cafe
This claims to be the first placed in the city to serve molecular desserts. The brainchild of three Poon brothers - Ricky, Joe and Jan - the cafe first opened in Yuen Long in 2012, then expanded to Jordan last year.
Their signature product - tiramisu - has always been a firm favourite with customers. But instead of serving it on a plate this comes decorated as a potted plant in a choice of three flavours: original, white chocolate and matcha (all HK$45 each). The bed of "soil", which is made of chocolate and isomaltulose, looks so real that you might hesitate to taste it at first. The matcha version has a soft green tea cream beneath the soil and isn't very sweet, which provides a good balance.
They do another dessert that's, literally, very cool. Molecular vanilla and sesame ice cream granules are added to minus 197 degrees Celsius liquid nitrogen and are served with a matcha lava cake. The waitress warned us to mix the warm lava cake to the ice cream before tucking in, so as to prevent frostbite.
Second brother Joe is the brains behind all the quirky creations. "One thing Hong Kong lacks is original desserts," says Joe. "Ours are all 100 per cent original."
While Joe is responsible for creating new dishes, Ricky takes care of business planning and Jan manages the two stores. "Working in the food industry is very tough and sometimes I do regret changing fields," says Joe, "but the sense of fulfilment returns every time I get some feedback from customers."
G/F Ho Shun Lee Building, 9 Fung Yau Street South, Yuen Long, tel: 2886 0499. Open: Monday to Sunday 3pm-midnight
Shop 6-8, Wah Chi Building, 286-294 Temple Street, Jordan, tel: 2886 0949. Open: Monday to Friday noon-12.30am; Saturday and Sunday 3pm-1am
Ever since it opened three years ago, Hiroshi has been a haven for matcha lovers. Named after Ouchi Hiroshi, its 71-year-old Japanese founder and owner, the restaurant is renowned for its cakes and desserts.
The most popular item is the matcha cake roll (HK$30), which is not too sweet and is finished with cream. According to store manager Gene Cheung Ka-shun, the finest Kyoto green tea powder and Hokkaido milk are used. Other must-try items include the chiffon (HK$30) - a light and moist cake with milky cream spread on top - and the green tea parfait (HK$44) - a tower of ice cream, mochi, jelly, cream and cereal, topped with a large piece of butter cookie.
"When Mr Hiroshi retired from Sharp in Japan 15 years ago, he came to Hong Kong to open an electric company," says Cheung. "He said it was difficult to find food with an authentic Japanese flavour here, so he decided to open a restaurant to fill that gap."
G/F The Lamma Commercial Centre, 15 Parkes Street, Jordan, tel: 2737 2665. Open: Sunday to Thursday noon-11pm; Friday and Saturday noon-11.30pm
6. Sinmei Tea
This charming upstairs shop in Sheung Wan's latest creation is the watermelon tea lover (HK$60), which features a thick matcha cream on top of chunks of earl grey angel sponge and a base of fresh watermelon pieces.
They also serve the matcha sizzling brownie (HK$78) which is brought to your table still sizzling on a small black pan. Pour a cup of warm matcha mousse on to the scoop of vanilla ice cream and matcha brownie and the sizzle gets louder. The combination of hot and cold, vanilla and matcha, all in one mouthful, is sensational. Also worth trying is the matcha angel cake (HK$40), which light in texture and heavy on the green tea flavour.
Founder and owner Cheung Sin Mei, 36, has worked with food since opening her first restaurant in Brisbane 15 years ago. An avid tea lover herself, Cheung calls herself the Tea Lady and has decorated the shop with traditional Chinese antique furniture and teapots.
"My idea was to create a trendy tea cafe brand that is unique to Hong Kong so we can carry on the tradition and promote it overseas," says Cheung. "I like tea not just for of its taste and health benefits, but also for the philosophy behind it. From a Confucian perspective, tea means harmony, calm and etiquette."
5/F CS Tower, 50 Wing Lok Street, Sheung Wan, tel: 3690 8238. Open: 11.30am-7.30pm
MEET YOUR MATCHA
So what exactly is matcha? Matcha is a finely grounded powder of specially grown and processed green tea. The tea leaves are shade-grown for three weeks and then harvested and laid out flat to dry. After taking away the veins and stems, the leaves are then stone-grounded to become matcha.
Why all the fuss? Matcha is believed to have many health benefits. It is high in theanine (said to improve mental focus) and antioxidant catechins (which help prevent cancer and heart disease). Thanks to its powder form, it can be perfectly blended into desserts, drinks and even noodles.