Wallpaper* October 2018 by Luke Halls
Rare Japanese matcha tea comes to London in new pop-up bar at Muji flagship
You might think the English have got tea covered, but Muji has other ideas. Opening for a two week residency until 11 November is OHH Cha Bar, a dedicated matcha bar serving green tea.
Tea company OHH spent two years scouring Japan in search of a quality selection of tea blends. Meeting with the country’s leading tea producers and farmers, the group brought together eight high-calibre blends of matcha, a nutrition-rich member of the green tea family, as well as further blends of black and green tea. OHH has brought this together in OHH Cha Bar, Europe’s first contemporary matcha bar in London, shaking up the English capital’s tea culture with its premium eastern offerings.
Housed within Muji’s Tottenham Court Road store, the pop-up bar provides an authentic Japanese tea experience. Visitors can sample the menu of Japanese matcha, hand-picked and stone-ground for optimal freshness, as well as attend tutorials covering how to make accessible versions of the powerful blend. For those who want to dig deeper, more specialised workshops are available, focusing on topics such as how various types of porcelain from Japan’s differing prefectures can impact flavour.
The space’s design correlates with Muji’s staple minimalist aesthetic. Stainless steel is applied throughout, from the translucent curtain shrouding the space to the central serving aisle inside and a bespoke folded aluminium bar with a white pearlescent finish that alters in colour depending on viewing position. The silvery, monochromatic space allows the verdant colour of the tea to shine, with the rich shade of green applied to customised Muji chairs from which visitors can immerse themselves in the rare flavours on offer
London’s First Speciality Matcha Bar Extends Tottenham Court Road Stay
London’s first specialised matcha bar opened this week in Muji’s Tottenham Court Road flagship store, continuing London’s habit of picking up food and drinks trends approximately three years after New York and Los Angeles. Ohh Cha is open — behind a curtain, at the Japanese clothing, homeware, and stationery store — until 25 November. The residency was originally slated until 11 November, but demand has prompted an extension.
American cities have made headway in transposing matcha from its original context in Japanese chanoyu (tea ceremony) by fusing it with the geekery of third wave coffee. In London, matcha has only been available unadulterated by sweetener, cakes, and lattes in a handful of Japanese cafes (including Katsute 100 in Angel,) and in select coffee shops. This lack of availability is one of the reasons Wei Yen Hui (aka YY) and Tom Holberton have opened Ohh Cha. “It’s so widely misunderstood,” Hui explains. “Matcha has either become a crude flavouring to mix with milk or sugar, or for the health-conscious simply as a bitter cup of punishment not to be enjoyed.”
Matcha, like other forms of speciality tea, has until now been unusually ignored in London — a city that boasts one of Europe’s strongest coffee and wine scenes. Hui, along with many of the staff, is ex-Tea Smith, the much missed Spitalfields tea house beloved by chefs, baristas and sommeliers — including Mãos’ Nuno Mendes — and Ohh emphasises the same parallels with speciality food and drink. At Ohh’s horseshoe-shaped bar it’s possible to try bowls of usucha (thin tea, whisked till frothy and usually served during chanoyu) using matcha from four different farms in Japan, showcasing different areas, preparations and cultivars. This recalls James Hoffmann and Tim William’s iconic Penny University pop-up on Redchurch Street, which introduced Londoners to the geographical nuances of speciality filter coffee back in 2010.
There’s also a chance to taste the lesser seen koicha (thick tea), caressed into a paste of a similar texture to melted chocolate and eaten here with a spoon. In one sense it’s a distillation of OHH’s intent: its intensity and thickness lends itself to sharing, as in Japanese tea ritual, but the tea is here presented in a modern way, divorced from that ritual.
Whether London’s infatuation with matcha will last beyond Ohh’s two week residency remains to be seen — so does whether or not Londoners will be happy to pay what good matcha made with care costs. A bowl at Ohh starts at £6.50. Nonetheless, it’s exciting for London to finally have something that goes beyond what is available across the Atlantic, even for a brief time.
Coincidentally, this week has seen another matcha bar, Matcha and Beyond, open in Chelsea as a permanent bricks and mortar, while the popularity of ice cream parlours such as Tombo and Tsujiri have been vital in introducing the powder to a new audience. All London needs is one more bar and a big-name advocate before the 2019 Next Big Trend takes begin in earnest.
Monocle 24 November 2018 with Markus Hippi
London’s new tea culture