Cha-An, New York’s Original Teahouse, Expands with Grab-and-Go Matcha Shop
When Bon Yagi launched Cha-An Teahouse in Manhattan fifteen years ago, the pioneering Japanese restaurateur—who is credited, beginning in the mid-1980s, with shaping the East Village into the Japantown it is today via his now-11 establishments—was intent on sharing a vital element of Japanese culture with New Yorkers: the art of tea, including matcha, the beverage brewed during traditional tea ceremonies, and wagashi, the sweets consumed alongside. But, what Yagi could never have predicted was matcha's extraordinary rise in America. Thanks to the tea’s zippy green color, high caffeine content, and richness in antioxidants, matcha has become the darling drink for health enthusiasts and those seeking a low-acid energy boost.
“Since [Cha-An], our second-floor tea house, is limited in seats, we wanted to reach more people who are curious about wagashi and teas,” explains Sakura Yagi, who helps run her father’s restaurant group, T.I.C., which stands for Total Information Center. In an effort to react to New York’s growing demand for matcha, along with other Japanese teas and desserts, T.I.C. decided to expand upon their long-standing tea concept with a quick-serve addition: Cha-An BONBON soft-launches for friends and family on Friday, with a public debut slated for May 1.
“Tea and sweets go hand-in-hand in the Japanese tea world,” explains Sakura Yagi, adding that, “As Japanese teas, like matcha, have gained traction … New Yorkers are starting to look for places that have wagashi and wagashi-inspired desserts.” Hence, her family’s decision to expand.
The tiny sliver of a 105-square-foot space that’s home to Cha-An BONBON lands on 9th Street, four stores over from the original, functioning as a take-away spot dedicated to many of Cha-An’s most popular drinks and bites, including a number of new seasonal teas and sweets––recipes Yagi’s mother Tomoko developed, along with other Cha-An staff members.
Fans of the teahouse’s original matcha latte—made from a pre-mixed blend of milk plus In Pursuit of Tea matcha powder—will be able to order the drink at BONBON, with the option to add other ingredients like red bean, soft-serve ice cream, and shiratama, a type of soft mochi. However, the team has also created a second matcha latte option that’s unique to BONBON, made from matcha that’s whisked à la minute, then poured over milk. Beyond matcha, expect more Japanese teas such as genmaicha and yuzu sencha.
Sweets like Cha-An’s Earl Grey-chocolate, matcha, and black sesame mochi will reappear, alongside matcha tiramisu, and hojicha (roasted green tea) anmitsu, a classic Japanese dessert made from agar jelly cubes. BONBON’s new additions include a hojicha float with freshly-brewed hojicha tea, hojicha ice cream, and red bean, and a number of seasonal wagashi, such as sakura nerikiri (a cherry blossom confection made from sweetened bean paste), and mitarashi dango (mochi balls skewered on a stick and dipped in a sweet-savoy soy sauce glaze).
T.I.C. Restaurant Group isn’t the only team noticing the potential of Japanese tea in America. Ippodo, a tiny tea bar on 39th and Lexington Avenue—the only international outpost of the famed Kyoto’s green tea brand—debuted back in 2013. Meanwhile, other more Westernized matcha-focused cafes, like MatchaBar, have hit New York in the last few years, also banking on the success of Japan’s magical green drink. Perhaps a cup of frothy matcha and mochi on a stick will one day become as de rigueur as coffee and a doughnut. But only time will tell.