Cara and Laura Li founded Matchali in January 2020, Hong Kong’s first home-grown matcha tea brand selling matcha drinks and food at their Moon Street café

What is green, delivers clean energy, and originates from Kyoto, Japan? Matcha, the ground powder of green tea leaves traditional to the Land of the Rising Sun – and an instrument of both fascination and business for cousins Cara and Laura Li.

On paper, the pair of third cousins are related through their great-grandfather. Cara’s culinary education and Laura’s marketing acumen helped to birth a new member of their extended family in January 2020:  Matchali, Hong Kong’s first home-grown matcha brand.

The Matchali story began in Uji, Japan, the home of matcha in the nation, in June 2019, when Cara and Laura conducted an extensive research and development trip sourcing the finest of ceremonial-grade matcha powder to create their concept.

Matchali Hong Kong

Like any entrepreneurial story in Hong Kong’s F&B industry, a successful business comes at the expense of something lacking in the city: Cara was in need of a good matcha drink. 

“When I was living in New York [studying at the Institute of Culinary Education], I began to drink a lot of matcha. Coming back home and visiting my family, I was on the hunt for a good matcha latte. Cafés had lattes on the menu, but none focused solely on the tea. We wanted to specialise in matcha,” Cara tells Foodie.

The day following New Year’s 2020 marked the first day of Matchali’s pop-up at The Upper House, the Admiralty-based five-star hotel. Cara and Laura stocked a simple menu of matcha drinks, attracting tea and coffee drinkers to taste alternatives to their drinking habits. In May 2020, the pair relocated to LANDMARK in Central, occupying a larger space and menu, experiencing great customer response.

Matchali Hong Kong

Later in the year came the opening of their third pop-up at Pacific Place, a bright pink store that upped the ante with signatures matcha latte, traditional hand-whisked matcha, matcha chai latte, and starburst matcha. They became the talk of the town (and foodie Instagram pages).

Familiar with the Japanese tea and latte variant, Hong Kong responded well, generating  a buzz about Matchali. “Coffee is such a saturated market [in Hong Kong], and I think there are many people who are looking for an alternative to coffee,” Cara explains.

“Matcha has less caffeine than coffee, with a greater extended release than the typical spike of energy with a cup of coffee. You don’t get the crash, as you would with coffee, and it is a really good alternative for your morning or post-lunch drink.”

Matchali Hong Kong

Sourcing from a fifth-generation tea farm in Uji, Kyoto, Matchali marks itself as a premium alternative to the matcha offerings at Hong Kong cafés. The “superpowered green tea” delivers a key balance of calmness, focus, and energy, according to the Li cousins, hand-whisked and made to order using plant-based milk alternatives.

Ridding Hong Kong of its jitters, the need to base themselves in a permanent, flagship location was evident, and Cara and Laura skipped east from Pacific Place to Moon Street in Wan Chai, opening their avant-garde pastel store in June 2022. 

“As this was our first entrepreneurial venture, we had grown in the confidence of our stores and designing the style and experience for our customers.” Coloured in a cream and dark tea-green palette, the Moon Street store screams matcha.  “We are not afraid to use colour. We wanted the green elements of tea and wood to feel light and airy in our store.”

Matchali Hong Kong

The Li’s Moon Street store expanded the Matchali offerings to healthy lunch plates, beer, and cocktails. “The environment [of Starstreet Precinct] lends itself to sitting down and enjoying lunch. This area is known for café-hopping, and our customers are looking for places to grab a bite.”

Customers can enjoy cosy matcha overnight oats, green tea soba salad, tofu poke bowl, and scrambled egg and avocado, whilst enjoying vegan matcha soft serve, grey latte, and matcha latte.

In an interview with Foodie, Cara mentions her joy working with her close family member. “[Creating Matchali together with Laura] has been a nice journey. We both have two kids the same age as each other and went through motherhood together creating Matchali. We bonded over our love for matcha. The journey has made us grow closer.”

Matchali Hong Kong

Matchali successfully held Hong Kong’s first-ever matcha latte art championship in early March, seeing dozens of Hong Kong-based baristas design ornate matcha latte creations to win the top award for best matcha barista in the city. The judges chose the finest matcha latte art design based on beauty, clarity, colour, creativity, and difficulty, crafted using Matchali’s ceremonial-grade matcha powder from Uji.

Alongside a new Matchali collaboration with The Farmhouse at the Hyatt Centric Victoria Harbour hotel, Cara and Laura are searching for other opportunities in Hong Kong to open sister stores, as well as abroad – in cities like Singapore and Bangkok – to spread the love of Matchali.

Get your fix of matcha lattes at Matchali’s Moon Street café and keep up with their latest offerings on Instagram.

Rubin Verebes is the Managing Editor of Foodie, a culinary connoisseur, and guiding force behind the magazine's delectable stories. With a knack for cooking up mouthwatering profiles, crafting immersive restaurant reviews, and dishing out tasty features, Rubin tells the great stories of Hong Kong's dining scene.

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