Hive Life went behind the scenes with Matchali’s co-founders to experience firsthand their matcha-brilliance at their flagship store. Over a cup of refreshing matcha, we chatted with the co-founders of the homegrown concept, Cara Li and Laura Li, on the essence of their brand and how they are serving Hong Kong Uji’s finest blends.
Matcha-loving cousin duo, Cara and Laura Li, made their passion a reality with their contemporary homegrown concept, Matchali. The matcha paradise first had its humble beginnings back in 2019 at the The Upper House, followed by a series of hit pop-ups across Hong Kong.
Matchali’s flagship has now found its new home on Moon Street in Wan Chai, where they serve premium ceremonial grade matcha, along with a specialty food and drink menu customised to the city’s unique palette. The stylish teahouse’s minimalist interior is adorned with soft sage tones, wooden furnishings, and a warm homey ambiance. The cafe is designed so that customers can witness firsthand the whisking techniques used to make their handcrafted drinks while enjoying the nature-inspired space and unwinding over a fine “matcha-infused cuppa.”
Cara and Laura shared their unique matcha inspirations with Hive Life, the passion behind Matchali, and the importance of authenticity when crafting their drinks and sourcing exceptional quality matcha powder from Uji, Japan.
Can you tell us about your journey entering into Hong Kong’s F&B Scene?
Laura started: “I had been working in multiple different industries, starting off with art. Then I went into public relations (PR) for luxury brands, food and beverages (F&B) marketing, fashion retail, and I finally went back to F&B, doing something that we are so happy about. Basically, all roads of my career led me to this. I am focused more on marketing and lifestyle, and that is how I contribute in this space.”
Cara followed: “Laura and I are actually third cousins, so our great grandfathers were brothers, and although we did not actually know each other growing up, we started hanging out around five to six years ago. I was living in New York at the time, and came back to Hong Kong, and went to some of the events that she was doing, and thought it was pretty cool. We later became friends and often would hang out- we were always on the hunt for a really good matcha spot.
[Back in the] United States, I went to culinary school, and had a background in all things food related, [although] not so much on the drink side. Also, I was living a very healthy lifestyle in the US, had cut out coffee and switched to matcha, so, we both bonded over our shared vision, [and felt] that Hong Kong needed something like this.”
Cara and Laura, without prior experience of running a restaurant, decided to launch their own contemporary matcha concept, upon researching the space. Matchali came together organically, as the co-founders called it their “matcha fate.”
Can you Introduce us to the Concept Behind Matchali?
“When I was living in the States, I was addicted to matcha. There were many contemporary matcha-focused brands in the US. In Asia, obviously, matcha was very popular, but there was nothing that quite existed that was a fun and contemporary matcha cafe where you could go relax, bring your laptop to work, and that was health-focused,” stated Cara.
Laura continued: “Also, most of my Japanese friends didn’t quite know or have plant-based milk or different sugar level options, although they are starting now. We wanted to combine all those concepts into one and bring an accessible and healthy matcha label to this market.”
What are Some of the Benefits of Matcha?
Our matcha is ceremonial grade, which is the highest quality of matcha. During the cultivation process, it is shade grown which increases the chlorophyll levels, boosts it with antioxidants and amino acids called L-Theanine, which slowly releases caffeine into your body.
So, unlike when you drink coffee, where you get a sudden rush of caffeine and then you eventually crash, with the L-Theanine in matcha, you get a nice long yet slow release, giving you a calming caffeine boost. Matcha is full of whole benefits, and is a great source of antioxidants.
What Differentiates Matcha from Other Green Teas?
Matcha is a powder form of the leaf, hence, you are ingesting the whole leaf- this is about 137 times more nutritious than drinking regular green tea, which is simply steeped in hot water. For regular green tea, the leaves are not grown in the shade during the end of its cultivation.
The fact that matcha comes in powder form, after it is shade grown, then dried and grounded into the powder, [offers] you all the benefits of the green tea leaves rather than just them steeping in water.
What are Your Individual Roles at Matchali?
Cara shared, “When we got started, we did a bit of everything together. There was just the two of us- we were our baristas, we did marketing, handled the operations, and everything. Naturally, I have more of an operational role, while Laura has more of a marketing and PR role. I would say Laura has had more experience prior to starting than I did, as she started her own business before, which had been of great help to us. She also speaks Chinese but I don’t, and that has really helped us too.”
The founders referred to their respective roles as “ying and yang” bringing together their different skillsets and expertise.
Laura concluded, “Neither one of us would have been able to do it alone, which is great- having that support.”
What is it Like Being Both Family and Business Partners?
Cara started, “Since we did not grow up together, we were not coming into this with any previous baggage- it started as friendship, and then family was just another layer.”
“There is an unspoken trust and secure energy for us,” Laura added.
What has been the Best Part of Working Together?
Cara: “Our personalities are quite different, yet we are able to laugh together. I would say that it has been one of the best things about working together- we can laugh at things, at each other, and also at things that happen daily.”
Laura: “Everything is enjoyable, where we have a good time but it is also our work. [In addition,] we developed a nice sisterhood bond, and we also had our babies at the same time!”
What has the Experience been Like Introducing a Wellness Concept to Hong Kong?
“It has been interesting, since when we started, some people would ask us why we wouldn’t simply be 100% plant-based. While wellness is at the forefront of our brand, we do not want to pigeonhole ourselves and would like to give people options. So, if you want full fat milk, we have it, and if you want your drink to be a little sweet, we also offer that. We use non-refined sugar, and all of our drinks are handmade with fresh ingredients.
We do not compromise on taste and [we believe] our customers appreciate the many options we have.
We have launched a soft serve, which is quite popular. Our soft serve is vegan and we try to keep it yummy and healthy, and people naturally gravitate towards it,” shared Cara.
Adding to their list of wellness initiatives, the brand has also introduced its composting programme, sourcing eco-friendly packaging, as they continue to work towards supporting rising environmental concerns and evolving their green practices.
What Makes Your Concept Unique?
“[A huge part of it is] our atmosphere! When I was living in the States, I would go to these cool cafes that would have really good matcha whilst, when I came back to Hong Kong there was nowhere that had such a vibe.
I believe for us, it’s [that] vibe and energy, as well as our staff, they are lovely and friendly, and we have had plenty of compliments. It is a friendly place where people can hang out, get a drink and enjoy themselves,” explained Cara.
The co-founders expressed how they study market demand and local preferences when developing new flavours. One of the many qualities that has set them apart is remaining true to their branding while bringing newness to the frontier.
Can You Tell us More About the Matcha Products you Carry?
Cara began: “We started with developing the core offerings, which are our drinks. Of course, we wanted to have a good matcha latte and other instagrammable drinks, that obviously tasted good. That is the pillar of what we offer and where we started.
We [also] offer everything from breakfast tea to ice cream, which was something we always wanted for our flagship store. And now we even have our all-day food menu. It has been a process for us to introduce that, as we always wanted to take it step-by-step.”
Aside from their many food and drink options available at their flagship store, the label has been in the retail business for quite some time now, presenting a range of their finest ceremonial grade matcha, hojicha, along with other essential accessories to start your own matcha whisking journey.
Laura added: “We have the bowls and whisks, so you can “Matchali” at home anytime. You can buy them all on our online store!”
What are Some of the Traditional Techniques You Use?
All of our drinks are hand whisked, every drink is prepared-to-order, and many places do not do that and often use a pre-mix.
When you order a drink, a scoop of matcha is taken out, and we use about five grams for each drink. It [later] gets sifted, which is important to get rid of all the lumps, then goes into the chasen, which is the traditional Japanese ceramic whisking bowl, we then whisk it with 80 degree water, and it is served either on top of iced milk or in a hot latte, with a foamed milk of your choice!
We believe that people appreciate the authenticity and can taste that our drinks are all handmade and made-to-order.
What Tip Can You Share on Whisking Your Own Matcha?
Sift your matcha, use a bamboo whisk, get it nice and frothy on the top, and simply enjoy that tranquil and meditative process of preparing matcha, since that is how it was initially intended.
What are Some of Your Customer Favourites this Summer?
“We have a seasonal selection on our menu we rotate. This summer, we brought back the Watermelon Matcha, which is a hit. Watermelon pairs really well with matcha and is quite refreshing and thirst-quenching. We have also brought back the Mango Matcha Latte.
Our next switch will be for Christmas and Halloween, and we will bring back fall favourites, because people look forward to those kinds of comforting drinks in cooler months,” said Cara.
Laura added, “Also, the soft serve is probably one of the customers favourites, and our starburst matcha, a tooty-fruity layered drink which is tasty, not too sweet, and very colourful, which hits the spot- my hero drink!”
What is Your Go-To Matcha Drink?
Cara: “Most days when I come here, I just want matcha latte. I love hojicha as well, especially when I have had matcha at home, then I’ll come in and have hojicha. I also love the yuzu lemonade.”
Laura: “I am loving the strawberry matcha and our strawberry hojicha is just the perfect amount of fruitiness.”
What Future do You Envision for Matchali?
More stores for sure, perhaps one or two more in Hong Kong. We also think about other regions and cities in Asia!
Do You Have any Exciting News to Share?
We are doing a mooncake collaboration with esca, who we have actually worked with for three years. The vegetarian mooncakes are [quite] popular, and not many other brands usually make them without the lard and preservatives.
We are [also] excited for Christmas and we have plenty of exciting things planned, so stay tuned for some fun new Christmas collaborations!
How can we Purchase Your New Matchali x esca: Mooncake Sets?
They are available for purchase on our website, as well as in store. We hold a limited number of stock in-store, but you can come in and order them through a QR code or All-Star.
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