Now, you will be able to add "legit matcha tea" to that list.
SHUHARI Matcha Café quietly opened its first American storefront in July with funding provided by the Japanese government through the Cool Japan Fund, which supports the development of Japanese cultural products and services abroad. The store is backed by Maeda-en, one of the biggest distributors of matcha tea in the US since 1984, way before matcha became cool. This is also the same company that introduced green tea mochi ice cream to the world in 1999, by the way.
This tiny storefront in Venice is the organization's first time backing up a food and beverage company in the US, offering some of the freshest, potent, and floral matcha products that you can find.
Matcha-kinako (toasted soybean powder) lattes, sparkling yuzu matcha soda, and perhaps the most ridiculous matcha-filled ice cream sundae. SHUHARI offers three grades of matcha: culinary matcha that they use for food or lattes; "everyday matcha" that is a middle-grade choice suitable for traditional whisked tea; and a ceremonial-quality that is the highest grade and smoothest-tasting.
I stopped by on a Thursday afternoon to meet up with Shogo Takebe, the store's soft-spoken "Green Tea Experience Designer," who taught me the fundamentals of the beverage. True Japanese matcha is apparently known as ten-cha. It is made from the more-delicate gyokura tea leaves, a class of tea that is grown in the shade, unlike sun-grown sen-cha tea. For matcha, instead of the tea being rolled into needles for a traditional steeped tea after drying, its leaves are de-veined, de-stemmed, and ground into a fine powder. Because there is no regulation of the term "matcha" in the US, however, most of the matcha that we have access to is made from sen-cha, not ten-cha.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, since it is still technically a green tea powder. (In Japan that would be called konacha, which means "powdered tea.") The flavor is where the real distinction is made: Ten-cha is intensely sweet upon first sip, whereas powdered sen-cha is immediately bitter and subsequently tannic.
I confirmed the tea's inherent smooth and sweet flavors through a brief tasting of SHUHARI'S ceremonial grade ten-cha. The cloudy, bright green tea's subtle flavor stands out in the way that the smooth drinkability of a fine wine compares to a cheaper, overly tannic wine. Despite the fact that it is $21 per ounce, it disappears quickly after only making a couple of cups of matcha. Nonetheless, since SHUHARI's matcha is all ten-cha based, it is really easy to enjoy some of their other grades of matcha just as much.