Introducing our new matcha and hōjicha tea lattes
In Japan, matcha and hōjicha tea lattes are often served at kissaten, the country’s very best coffee shops. That’s where our President of Asia, Saki Igawa fell in love with them. A Tokyo native, she’s a particular fan of hōjicha lattes. “Their roasted flavor reminds me of Japanese temples, where they have incense burning. Those scents make me calm.”
So when the Mayor of Kyoto, Daisaku Kadokawa, told our CEO Bryan Meehan (photo below) that our cafes were perfect—except they lacked matcha—she had to agree.
Through our Tokyo team, she connected with the preeminent Japanese tea company Rishouen, which handles tea as we do coffee: As a fresh crop, to be sourced from the best farms and served at its peak. Their matcha and hōjicha come from the Uji tea fields in Kyoto prefecture, which is considered among the finest origins for tea anywhere. The Tokyo team knew they were delicious—they were baking them in a matcha poundcake, and matcha-mint cookie, among other confections. But how would they do in a latte?
Saki charged our beverage innovator Matt Longwell with developing the recipes. Longwell felt an immediate affinity for the project. “It might sound a little far-fetched, but the milk we use in our lattes has this mellow grassiness to it that almost speaks to me of Japanese green tea,” Matt says. “We tend to think of milk as being sweet, or just tasting like milk. But cows eat grass. For me, it was almost as though our milk was saying, ‘hey, I’m a little grassy, let’s see what might happen!’”
He also had a hunch that the right teas could taste as good with milk as our Hayes Valley espresso blend does in our caffe lattes. At the right high concentration, they could take on a similar density and viscosity—ideal qualities for steamed milk.
It took months of tests, trying different tea blends at different ratios. The formula he landed on, perhaps no surprise, most closely mimicked the power and intensity of our classic caffè lattes—which start with a particularly intense version of an Italian ristretto.
“In Italian espresso semantics, you have three kinds, defined by the lengths of their pulls: ristretto, or short, normale, normal, and lungo, or long,” Matt explains. “At Blue Bottle, our ristretto is very strong, about twice the intensity of the average. It’s in that Italian tradition of packing as much flavor into a short bang as possible.”
In the same way, for our new tea lattes, we start with an intense brew. “Most people recommend roughly a 1:20 ratio of matcha to water, such as 2 grams of matcha and 40 grams of water,” Matt says. “We’re serving it at a 1:10 ratio, so twice that strength. That’s reflective of the strength of flavor of all our espresso drinks. Because we would be adding milk to it to mellow it out, we didn’t want the matcha or hōjicha base to be super-delicate. We wanted it to be like, Boom.”