By Meghan Horvath
The deep green, frothy liquid runs towards the rim of the porcelain mug as swirls of milk add more color to the tea, the white pattern contrasting with the deep matcha tones. Following a year long hiatus, Macha Tea Company is back.
After serving Monroe Street for seven years, Ma Cha Teahouse and Art Gallery closed its doors at the end of 2014. With an expiring lease and anticipated construction on Monroe, owners Anthony Verbrick and Rachel Fox decided to close the neighborhood’s beloved tea shop.
Just over a year later, on Feb. 12 Macha reopened under the same owners, this time on the city’s east side.
“After we closed our Monroe Street location in 2014, we didn’t have plans to reopen at that time,” Fox said. “But a few months later we came across a space we were familiar with that was only a few blocks from where we live. It felt serendipitous, so we had to take the leap.”
Now located at 823 East Johnson Street, Macha Tea Company offers an inviting space to relax and travel the world through tea.
“The renovation process was challenging since the building we are in is 100 years old, but with that age comes a lot of character, which was appealing,” Fox said.
Macha held a grand opening event in their new space, which was publicized via social media and drew nearly 800 people to express interest in the event on Facebook.
“I started following them on Instagram when they were doing renovations last summer,” UW student Yusi Liu said, “When they posted they were opening in the new location on Johnson, I knew I had to try it.”
Liu, a sophomore in Art History, is from Beijing, where tea is integral part of her daily routine. When far from home, tea provides a sense of comfort. That familiarity, however, also means high standards for Liu in terms of what makes it quality.
“I’m from China and I cannot accept the lower quality powder of tea bags,” Liu said, “There’s no comparison to real leaf tea and Macha has real leaf tea.”
Fox is half Chinese and grew up around tea as well. Jasmine and oolong were originally her main staples, and it wasn’t until college that she gained exposure to the immense variety of teas out there.
“We both feel Madison is a great place for a small business, but particularly for tea because the market isn’t overly saturated yet,” Fox said, “It’s exciting to have the opportunity to offer something new and different to a city we love.”
Both Fox and Verbrick have been drinking tea for quite some time, and with the opening of Macha, they hope to share their passion with locals.
“Ultimately we want to remove the intimidation and pretension from tea drinking, and make it fun and easy for people to learn more and build their own knowledge base,” Fox said, “Some of the stereotypes that exist around tea drive us crazy, and we’re going to do our best to abolish them completely.”
The atmosphere of the new shop is indeed conducive to relaxed imbibing over studying or conversation. Sunlight floods in from Johnson Street as Macha’s floor-length windows illuminate the space. The walls are painted a matcha-esque shade of green and lit lanterns hang from the ceiling through the center of the room.
“I’ve been to almost every coffee shop on State Street and they all kind of have the same feel,” UW student Ibstisam Haq said. “The interior at Macha is much different, very Japanese and minimalistic.”
For Haq, a sophomore in Fashion Design and originally from Pakistan, tea is also central to his lifestyle.
“I’m from a former British colony so yes tea is huge,” Haq said, “and I love tea, I do. I drink it on a regular basis. It’s a cultural thing.”
Elaborate tea sets are available for purchase, as well as a variety of teas hand-selected by Verbrick and Fox. A world map decorates the wall above the assortment of teas, displaying the global fondness for the drink and how deeply ingrained tea is in various world cultures.
“We really dove in to more intensive research and plenty of tea drinking to continue expanding our base knowledge,” Fox said, “Over the years we’ve developed meaningful relationships with people in the industry, which is tremendously important in continuing to learn more.”
Macha offers a varied mix of seating arrangements. A cozy alcove of cushioned chairs is set up in the front of the shop, where guests can experience a more comfortable, intimate space. Then in front of the counter is a communal table ideal for studying sessions and larger groups. The back portion of Macha also houses a tea bar, which reimagines norms in terms of coffee and tea shop seating.
“The focal point of the new space is the tea bar, which is allowing us to interact with customers in an entirely different way,” Fox said, “We want people to be comfortable dropping by for a pot of tea, and while they are enjoying that we might pour them a sample of something else.”
Fresh baked goods are also offered. Gluten free sweet potato cake, chocolate zucchini cupcakes, ginger scones and a traditional matcha chiffon cake are all baked in house. Each can be paired with a select tea that compliments the flavors of the dessert, and owners Verbrick and Fox are more than willing to help you choose.
“We’re going to show everyone what you can do with tea, including cooking and making cocktails, to give a few examples,” Fox said, “We are always experimenting with tea blends and trying new things in the kitchen, so the new space is about continuing to challenge ourselves.”
Though the shop was out of commission for a year, it continues to attract customers new and old. With its appeal to international students and locals alike, Macha doesn’t seem to have lost its charm.
“And now that we’re open, running a business in our own neighborhood feels very comfortable and like we were always meant to be here,” Fox said, “The energy in the East Johnson Street area is wonderful to be a part of.”