It’s been a couple of years since matcha emerged as a miracle ingredient that took the culinary world by storm.
The green tea variety may have been a staple in Japanese tea ceremonies for centuries, but its ascent to superfood status has been more recent. It was in 2015 that, fuelled by celebrity endorsements (we’re looking at you, Gwyneth Paltrow), matcha emerged as a popular flavour in its own right. Today, you can easily find the ingredient on most supermarket shelves, in lattes and baked goods, and numerous other dishes.
The craze isn’t only limited to dishes either; over the past few years, a number of matcha cafes – venues dedicated to tea – have cropped up in many parts of the world, including the UAE.
Soo Matcha, launched in Abu Dhabi's Danet neighbourhood on Muroor in February 2020, right before Covid-19 led to the temporary closure of food and beverage outlets in the country, so you’d be forgiven if you haven’t heard of the quaint establishment.
That said, the cafe is now going from strength to strength, according to co-founder Nina Zachej. “We have managed to establish a regular customer base,” she says. “I’m honestly quite pleased to have tapped into the local tastes.”
Part of that success can be credited to it being a first-of-its-kind in the emirate. Zachej, who has years of experience in the hospitality sector, always wanted to launch her own business. So when friends in New York mentioned the hype around matcha bars there “it just clicked”.
“I’ve always loved green tea ice cream, and I realised I haven’t tried one since I moved to Abu Dhabi. Locals here are close to Japanese culture and have a real appreciation for it. So I did some market research on local palates and preferences, and decided to set up Soo Matcha.”
Of course, the many health benefits of matcha have only helped. Matcha is known for being rich in antioxidants, amino acids and minerals, and is believed to be good for the immune system, brain function, heart health and weight loss. The fact it has an Instagrammable light green hue doesn’t hurt either.
Zachej admits it was a risk setting up shop, especially since it revolved around one less-known ingredient. "The love for coffee locally is massive here. But I figured not everyone enjoys drinking coffee, or perhaps they’d like to try an alternative. So there had to be a market for matcha.”
The venue's “chill California” vibes and picture-friendly interiors certainly boost the appeal. As does the menu, which features a number of treats, from matcha-flavoured cookies and cakes to hot and cold beverages.
“I enjoy coming up with new recipes and seasonal creations,” says Zachej. “For example, the vegan matcha croissants, even matcha cakelett – the latter is my mum’s traditional Slovak recipe with a matcha twist.”
The best-sellers so far are the matcha soft serves. The cafe has a vegan matcha soft serve that they tweak throughout the year. Other flavours include matcha with beetroot, home-made spiced pumpkin, Christmas blossom and peppermint, and adzuki beans and tangerine. At the moment, they have an ube and lavender special, too.
With a loyal customer base and some creative offerings, Zachej is all set to bring the magic of matcha to new markets. She’s now planning a second branch of Soo Matcha, in Dubai on Jumeirah Road, to open later this year. Zachej confirms the menu will be similar to the one in Abu Dhabi, with a focus on matcha superfood creations, and a variety of vegan and keto-friendly drinks and bites.
“I generally feel like matcha calms and relaxes the mind and body, and I hope more people can see that.”