Everything You Wanted to Know About Matcha with Chalait’s John Shin

No doubt, matcha is the cool kid on the block these days. There are matcha concepts popping up all over the city, and today we catch up with John Shin, Cafe Manager at Chalait, to learn everything there is to know about Matcha. Well, we not everything, but we learn a lot about matcha. If you are not familiar with Chalait, it is the Matcha cafe that is located in the West Village that is taking NYC by storm.

Tell us in your words a quick “about” the Chalait concept.

Chalait is about using simple ingredients and doing them really well. We like to create familiar experiences for everyone but we also want to push the boundaries by bringing the old and the new together.

For anyone that’s been living under a rock during the craze, what is matcha?

Matcha is a green tea traditionally grown in Japan. The main difference is that matcha is crushed into a very fine powder and is whisked with hot water. Today, there are tons of brand, like Kenko Tea, that offer you a taste of matcha.

What are the different grades of matcha?

There are a few different names in the market right now but mainly, there’s culinary and ceremonial. Culinary grade is mainly used for cooking and ceremonial should be used for beverage consumption. Generally speaking, culinary tends to be more bitter with less sweetness than ceremonial.

How did you prepare for working with Chalait?

I got pretty lucky with working at Chalait. I knew the owner from a while back and she was preparing to open her own cafe. A couple weeks after Chalait opened, I popped in, applied for a job and stayed here ever since. Honestly speaking, it’s a tough job and there’s a lot of learning involved.

Aside from learning about coffee at Counter Culture Coffee, there’s also conversations about the matcha we source and the food we serve. I’ve seen plenty of experienced baristas, including myself, get behind the bar at Chalait only to realize that there are a lot of moving pieces and it’s not so similar to most specialty coffee shops. It’s no longer just about making good coffee; there’s this whole matcha side to it so everything you understand about drink-building or efficiency totally changes.

You start to realize that the tea is just as important as the coffee and there are as many nuances in tea as there are in coffee. On the flip side, Chalait is an intimate space and the bar lends itself to lots of conversation about our approach to good coffee and tea. This really challenges a lot of baristas to be more hospitable, eyes up, and knowing how to hold many conversations at the same time while making awesome beverages at the same time.

What’s the breakdown of matcha vs. coffee vs. tea?

Generally speaking, coffee tends to have more caffeine than both matcha and tea; matcha has about half the amount of caffeine as coffee. Also, it tends to have a sustaining caffeine effect instead of the quick jolt you get from coffee. Since matcha is a green tea in a very fine powder form, it has to be whisked thoroughly so that the powder completely breaks down.

That being said, most teas are steeped in hot water then strained through a filter whereas matcha is completely mixed into your beverage. This might explain why a lot of people really feel the caffeine from matcha versus other teas.


Matcha Tea Powder/Image by the Cozy Coffee

The Chalait beverages are pretty Instagram-able… thoughts?

We take our beverage program pretty seriously. Most baristas, even those who come with experience from reputable places, don’t become fully bar-approved until about 3-6 months of training. We want to make really good matcha beverages for everyone so we spend a lot of time training and learning the craft. Latte art has been around forever but we kinda took it to the next level by making it green and just as beautiful as coffee latte art. With that said, I owe a good deal of our success to Instagram. People get really excited about our beverages and everyone wants to experience Chalait. That passion really pushes us to make better drinks and continue to improve on our quality.

When you aren’t drinking matcha at Chalait, who else do you think is doing matcha justice?

I can only think of one and it’s Ippodo Tea in midtown. This is not to be mistaken with Ippudo which is a ramen spot near Union Square. There’s a lot of cafes who serve matcha on the side now but Ippodo is probably the only other spot who treats with great respect and brews it with love. Not to mention, their space is beautiful and the staff is knowledgeable.

We have come to learn that you have great taste in the cocktail world as well. What are some of your favorite bars? Got a favorite matcha cocktail?

Favorite cocktail bars? There are so many good bars in New York City but Little Branch, Dutch Kills, and Angel’s Share hit the top of my list. I really do enjoy everything the cocktail bar scene is doing in NYC but some of the best cocktails I’ve ever had came from those three.

I haven’t really had any matcha cocktails yet but I’m excited to see what bartenders can do with it if there was an opportunity. Heck, I might even supply the matcha if it’s a really cool bar!

What do you think is the “next” trend?

Hmm, it’s hard to tell but I think bread is going to make a comeback. I think people are developing better palates and pretty soon even something as common as bread is going to become a hot topic. I was talking to Dan Barber (chef and co-owner of Blue Hill) the other day and the bread he’s cultivating at his farm is absolutely mind-blowing. Seriously, I’ve never known better bread than the stuff he’s doing.

Dan Barber Bread

How can we follow your thirsty adventures?

Our social media handle for Chalait is @chalaitnyc and mine is @jshinster. I’m there most days and most times but if you ever want to chat or just kick it at the shop, message me and I’ll make time. Thanks, guys!

Chalait NYC Details

224 West 4th Street,
New York, NY 10014

Photo Credit: www.matchasecrets.com

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