It might not be easy being green according to Kermit, but for the team behind one of our favourite speciality tea brands, Matcha Maiden, everything is green. The wonderful team behind the organic matcha green tea powder have gone from strength to strength over the last year and since we last spoke they’ve expanded into the US and have worked with some of Australia’s best brands on unique collaborations showcasing the varied use of the green matcha powder. Their next venture brings to life a dream to bring a matcha speciality venue to the masses with the opening of Matcha Mylkbar in St Kilda at the end of this month. Teaming up with some impressive forces in Melbourne hospitality as well as some secret Hollywood investors (we tried to get the low down but lips are sealed right now!), the new venture will lift the level of being green in Melbourne!
We caught up with Sarah Holloway, one of the co-founders of Matcha Maiden, to talk about Matcha Mylkbar and what’s in store for Melburnians.
We’re so excited to hear that the Matcha Maiden brand is expanding! Tell us a bit about Matcha Mylkbar and what was the inspiration behind it?
Yes, it’s all so exciting and has happened so quickly! We had never planned to expand into a physical venue, but sometimes opportunities just turn up on your doorstep and all you can say is #YOLO. We’ve teamed up with dear friends and talented brothers Mark and Attil Filippelli (whose cafes include Il Fornaio, The Last Piece and Brighton Schoolhouse) along with some super exciting Hollywood investors that we can’t announce just yet. Everything sort of came together around New Year’s Eve and we’ve all been flat chat since then bringing our dreams to life.
Mark spent six months of last year in LA scoping out venues for another of his exciting projects and Nic and I met up with him when we flew over to spend time with our major Matcha Maiden stockist, Urban Outfitters, and to set up our LA warehouse. We visited a few matcha specialty venues together, noting how much interest there seemed to be but how much better we could do it ourselves if we ever joined forces to do a matcha pop up. After many nights spent out at healthy (and incidentally, vegan) hotspots Café Gratitude and Gracias Madre, our daydream extended to a matcha pop up venue with a delicious and innovative menu to accompany all the green tea beverages. Months later, when the perfect space came up, we realised we could actually bring a matcha venue to Melbourne. And so at the end of this month, that’s exactly what we’re doing!!
For those that are unfamiliar with the plant based concept, what will we expect from the menu and what would you say to those that might be a bit reluctant to try a vegan café?
None of us being strictly vegan ourselves, we nonetheless made the bold decision to go fully plant-based for the Matcha Mylkbar menu. Unlike what you might expect from a wholly “vegan venue”, the focus is not on any particular political/value-based factors but simply on the statistics surrounding sustainability. There are five “blue zones” in the world where people live the longest and one of the factors they have in common is their primarily plant-based diet. One of those zones is Okinawa in Japan, which boasts the highest number of centenarians in the world whose longevity is also attributable to high consumption levels of matcha (so that’s where it all ties together). We wanted to make these longevity benefits available to vegans and non-vegans alike, simply by bringing these stats to people’s attention and crafting an amazing menu around “blue zone” dining principles that can satisfy any palate regardless of whether or not you eat meat when you’re at home or at other venues. To that end, we have developed one of world’s first Matcha Mylkbar vegan eggs™ with the same nutritional profile as a regular egg (I know, mind – blown) so that no one will be missing out their standard brunch options!
To anyone hesitant to try a vegan café, all I can say is that Matcha Mylkbar isn’t really a vegan café like you have ever seen it before. In many cases, you won’t even realise you are eating that way, which is what we wanted to achieve. The menu caters for everyone, with hearty options, lighter options, adventurous, traditional, sweet, savoury, eat-in, to-go… we’ve thought of it all. This is plant-based dining brought to you by non plant-based eaters – revolutionary!
Has it been fun to develop some of the menu items? Lots of testing and tasting?
As a devout foodie, I have been in absolute heaven!!!! Particularly not being a strict vegan eater myself, experimenting with things like the vegan eggs™ has been fascinating to see how you can draw the same nutritional values and protein content from vegan sources and not sacrifice taste, substance, or presentation. Having a physical place to use as a testing ground for our Matcha Maiden creations has also added a new dimension to our business, enabling us to test new flavours, blends and recipes. Any excuse to eat myself into a food coma! We also have a wonderful head chef, Lachlan Timms, who recently spent 3 months in Okinawa studying the local diet and eating habits so there has been so much education around the testing and taste testing as well.
It’s a bit of a different move for Matcha Maiden moving into hospitality! As you mentioned, you’ve teamed up with brothers Mark and Attil Filippelli whose cafes include Il Fornaio, The Last Piece and Brighton Schoolhouse. What have you found to be the most interesting aspect so far in coming up with Matcha Mylkbar?
As a very regular café hopper, I thought I had a pretty good grip on what it takes to run a café. But I realised how many little details you pay no attention to when you’re dining, but which are a crucial part of your subliminal experience. Choosing ramekins for “sauce on the side” orders (yep, I’m one of those), cutlery colour, crockery colour and style, serviette thickness, salt and pepper holders – they’re all little details that combine to create your overall impression of a place. Suddenly I started paying attention to EVERY little detail, and I realised how unobservant I was before!
Matcha Maiden has gone from strength to strength over the last 12 months with various collaborations with some great brands. Most recently, the collaboration with shu uemura art of hair and ProPlenish for the limited edition Hair Beautifying Matcha blend with marine collagen. What goes into coming up with the new matcha flavours and how have these collaborations come about?
We love collaborating with likeminded brands and supporting each other in the local community. It’s the best way to share audiences and grow together, as well as leverage everyone’s different but complementary skills. New matcha flavours come about most often from us just experimenting or from customers experimenting and tagging us in their creations. If we see something come up quite often, it’s a sign for us to look into bringing that on as an actual blend. We have so far not released any mixed blends permanently, just because the whole point of Matcha Maiden’s matcha is its versatility. The more you add, the less versatile it becomes and the less control people have to choose their own ingredients and quantities to mix it with. But we love limited edition releases, so always have an eye out for innovative ideas to keep things fresh.
After you’ve had a nice rest after all these activities, what’s next for Matcha Maiden?
Rest is something I have long forgotten! One of my favourite quotes is to “look after your body, it’s the only place you have to live” but I am terrible at practising what I preach! I think the Mylkbar will be a pretty strong focus for the next few months. Matcha Maiden’s big focus will be making the most of having a physical venue to experiment and continue to innovate. We are growing continually in the US too, so that’s probably our main focus for this year. But who knows? We’re super open-minded, spontaneous and excited about life. So anything is possible!
72 Acland St, St Kilda VIC 3182
Opens Friday 1 April, 2016