Show me the matcha

Portland has a pretty good matcha scene.

You may have noticed the vibrant green drink has been taking over your local coffee shop, your Starbucks menu board and your social media feed.

Simply put, matcha is green tea that has been finely ground into powder. The tea is whisked into hot water rather than steeped. Matcha can be pricier than regular tea because it is grown under much more restrictive conditions and comes in several grades, with the most expensive being “ceremonial grade.” Plus, it’s got more caffeine than regular green tea and has more of a grassy flavor, if you’re into that sort of thing.

If you’ve never tried it and are wary of eating anything described as grassy, start with a mixed drink, like a matcha lemonade, or even a matcha-flavored snack like Pocky. That way you can experience the elements of matcha flavors without fully committing to the boldness.


Location: Upstream Coffee

What to Order: Matcha latte with soy milk and cinnamon syrup. Sound gross? I thought so too when the barista recommended cinnamon syrup in lieu of honey as a sweetener. “It tastes like a snickerdoodle!” she promised. I didn’t really want my iced grass water to taste like a cookie but to be honest the pale green drink handed off to me was, indeed, snickerdoodle heaven. Soy milk adds the perfect touch of vanilla flavor, but almond milk works if you wanted a fuller, nuttier taste.


Location: In J Coffee

What to order: Matcha latte

Joe Yang, owner of In J Coffee, takes his drinks seriously. Every time I’ve ordered a matcha latte, it’s been served in a mug with a beautiful design poured into the top. In addition, the coffee shop is an Instagram dream—white walls, light wood and menu on a roll of butcher paper. In summary: perfect matcha and perfect photo content. In J is a perfect place to bring a quiet project or a friend to catch up with.


Location: Starbucks

What to order: Matcha Lemonade. Unfortunately, Starbucks’ matcha powder is 50% sugar and 50% matcha powder. The fact that it’s not 100% matcha is disappointing, and thus I am labeling it as an imposter. On the plus side, that does mean it makes for a good introduction to the taste of matcha. If you want a light, sunny drink that cuts down on the earthiness of matcha and replaces it with sweet citrus, go for this one. No dairy means no creaminess, but sunny forecasts call for lemonade anyway.


Location: Green Zebra Grocery

If you’re not looking for any bells, whistles or high level of Instragramability, but something that you can buy, knock back and keep moving forward with your day, then the Green Zebra Grocery on campus has two winners for you—MatchaBar’s Hustle energy drink and Picnik’s Golden Milk Matcha latte. MatchaBar’s canned drinks are thin, sparkling and low in sugar, while Picnik’s have a creamier texture that promises to be good brain fuel. Get the Hustle drink for when you need to stay awake during a lecture. Get the Picnik latte for when you need to power through a project due at midnight.


Location: Smith Teamaker (Inner Southeast Location)

What to order: Matcha Madness Flight. At the earthy cafe tucked inside Steven Smith’s buzzing production center, servers will bring you a flight of rare matcha and offer information on every variety. Included in the flight is matcha with jasmine pearls, which you won’t get to try anywhere else. You’ll also try matcha in its purest form and experience the flavor with nothing masking it at all. Also, it comes with a shortbread cookie that’s perfect for tea-dunking.


Location: Portland Japanese Garden

What to try: Matcha made during a Chado—or tea ceremony—at the Portland Japanese Garden. These ceremonies are pre-scheduled events, so make sure you’ve planned your visit accordingly. If you miss out on a ceremony, go to the Umami Cafe on the premises and order one of their several matcha tea sets. Guaranteed to be the most educational and enlightening matcha experience on this list.

Godspeed, children of matcha.

Maggie Lombard is a future theatre educator and current grocery store cashier. She has been published by the Portland State Vanguard and Neopets. You can find her online @calilombardi on twitter or in the park blocks, acting like a Disney princess to urban pests.