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.
Ohh Cha is open until 25 November 2018: 10:00 to 20:00 Monday—Saturday, 12:00 to 18:00 Sunday.