The teahouse designers were apparently inspired by the Zen principle of kanso — simplicity and elimination of clutter. They were so effective in this aim that my first three attempts to locate the shop were entirely unsuccessful. Just as I was about to give up, however, I saw a man walk by holding a cup of brilliant green liquid. I could’ve hugged him.
A word on matcha — it might be the greenest green you’ve ever seen, at least a dozen shades greener than the Amazon rainforest or Kermit the Frog. Matcha comes in powdered form, not in a teabag, so it retains a much more vibrant hue than most teas. You can take a photo on Instagram and run it through the sepia-est filter you’ve got; matcha will still resemble a cup of finely ground emeralds. It’s a pleasant, reassuring colour. You feel healthier just looking at it.
Not only is matcha easy on the eyes, it’s also the Incredible Hulk of green teas. Packed with antioxidants and amino acids, matcha has been shown in clinical studies to reduce mental stress and curb compulsive eating habits. If the scientists are right, matcha certainly packs more of a nutritional punch than your typical cup of tra da. I was eager to see for myself.
Plain Hot Matcha
When I went inside, the teahouse was almost empty. The soothing melodies of Lionel Ritchie played quietly as a solitary man pecked at his laptop and two baristas murmured to each other behind the counter. I stared at the menu and felt overwhelmed by the startling variety of choices. There were so many kinds of matcha — hot, cold, ice-blended. There were matcha lattés (VND37,000) and matcha with marshmallows (VND46,000), even matcha with pink yoghurt (VND48,000) or cookies and ice cream (VND43,000). I didn’t even bother considering the coffees, though the caramel frappé was tempting at a mere VND35,000.
The barista, sensing my bewilderment, suggested I try the plain hot matcha. Since one of Saigon’s early afternoon rainstorms was now underway, this seemed appropriate. Who doesn’t enjoy a nice hot cup of tea on a rainy day? I watched as he prepared the drink, pouring the bright green powder into a special mixing bowl and whisking it to silky perfection.
Moments later I was holding the warm mug between my hands, sipping cautiously and marveling at the unique flavour of this Japanese tea. It was thicker than most teas I’ve tried, but not in an unpleasant way. Its taste was rich and substantial; I felt satiated despite skipping breakfast that morning. When I finished the cup, my mind was energised as if I had just taken a really great nap. I preferred it to the jittery buzz of coffee.
On my way out, I bumped into a friend of the owner’s named Hai, who gave me his business card and asked me how I liked the tea. His associate wandered over and proudly declared that his English name was Louis, then asked if we could take a photo together. Although I was the only customer in the teahouse, I had the feeling they would have treated me just the same if the place had been packed. Maybe they’d been getting into the matcha themselves… — Niko Savvas
Newdays Japanese Matcha & Coffee has locations at 86B Cong Quynh, Q1, HCMC and 21 Hoa Cuc, Phu Nhuan, HCMC. Check them out online at newdays.vn