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Matcha-drink

Matcha: the next big drink out of Asia?

 

Lauded for being high in antioxidants (containing around 130 times more than an average cup of green tea), it also has caffeine and the amino acid L-theanine, which is a mood-booster and said to strengthen cognitive ability. Particular to green tea, L-theanine is sold as a stress reliever in Japan; what makes it good news for caffeine-junkies is that it reacts with the caffeine to release it slowly into your system.

In Japan, matcha is pretty standard: iced versions are fridge staples in the summer, and the bright-green powder is used to flavour sweet treats such as ice-cream and smoothies. But in the UK, it costs £25 for 30g. Which explains why, until recently, it was the preserve of health-food aficionados, foodies and gym bunnies. They would buy matcha from health-food shops and specialist tea-importers.

At home, they’d sprinkle it on fruit, mix it in yoghurt, whisk it into frothed milk or make it into tea. They would do this firmly in the knowledge that they had the weight of history to validate their investment: matcha was drunk centuries ago by Buddhist monks, and used in tea ceremonies by 13th-century Japanese Samurai warriors, who practised Zen Buddhism and enjoyed the prolonged energy boost.

With this history, there’s something a bit crazy about calling matcha the latest fad. But it became inevitable when Starbucks introduced an Iced Green Tea Latte to its menu. It was only a matter of time before somebody new came to corner the market and make it their mission to get everyone drinking it.

That person is James Shillcock, a young entrepreneur who has a background in tea, and an ambition to brand matcha in the way that coconut water has been branded by other ultra-trendy companies.

Vivid-Matcha-drinkHe launched Vivid, the UK’s first matcha and fruit-blended drink, in August. At a price of £1.85 for a 330ml carton, it’s much more accessible to the casual consumer, and it fits into what the industry calls the RTD – ready to drink – category, a lucrative corner of the non-alcoholic drinks market.

It has already won the Innovation Challenge Gold award, and the list of stockists queuing to sell his product reads like a blueprint for success. For aspiration: Harvey Nichols and Selfridges now have it on their shelves. For health credibility: Whole Foods, Planet Organic. Niche appeal: 150 independent retailers in London so far, and counting.

“I keep reminding people this is not a fad,” Shillcock told The Independent on the telephone from the conference WIRED 2013, where Vivid is the official drink (this itself is a significant stamp of approval: WIRED prides itself on promoting cutting-edge thinking and says it aims to “showcase the future”).

“Matcha is green tea,” Shillcock says. “Just a powerful concentrate of it.” He is careful, he says, about over-promoting the health benefits, but is confident that the properties of the matcha leaf don’t need to be exaggerated.

Shillcock’s main hurdle, he confesses, was how matcha tastes: incredibly bitter in its raw form, it’s not for everyone. Which is a quite a big issue when you’re setting up a matcha drinks business…..

The Independent: Read the full article

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