An amazing place for lovers of green tea in the City of Angels.
As much as I love living in Japan, I’m also seriously fond of my hometown. So whenever I get a chance to go back, I spend a few days immersing myself in the sights, and tastes, of Los Angeles.
And then, after a few days, I start craving Japanese food. On my most recent trip to California, I managed to make it exactly one week before literally having a dream about eating Japanese desserts, and so I found myself on the freeway speeding towards L.A.’s recently opened Matcha-Cha matcha green tea sweets shop.
Los Angeles is diverse enough that it has more than one Japanese enclave. While most of them are centered in Little Tokyo, on the east edge of downtown, Matcha-Cha is further west in the Sawtelle neighborhood, which sometimes gets referred to as “Little Osaka.” However, it’s actually Kyoto that plays a part in producing Matcha-Cha’s desserts, since the shop sources its matcha green tea powder from Japan’s ancient capital.
▼ We’re not sure what constitutes a “matcha problem,” but if yours is not having a green tea dessert in your hands, Matcha-Cha is here to help.
Aside from the stylish simulated sakura trees, the first thing you’ll notice when walking up to the store is a display window next to the entrance, filled with models of Matcha-Cha’s desserts and beverages. Food models like this are an iconic part of Japan’s restaurant culture, and their presence here is a reassuring touch for anyone who’s enjoyed Japanese cuisine in its homeland, much like the broth-appropriate noodle thicknesses as Las Vegas’ Monta Ramen.
Macha-Cha’s desserts come in three different varieties: matcha pancakes, soft serve ice cream cones (matcha, strawberry, or mixed), or “signature soft serve ice cream,” as the cafe calls its parfaits.
Colorful pictures of each can be found on the menu to help first-timers choose, but if you’re a hard-core Japanese sweets fan, it’s actually a pretty easy decision. You don’t go all the way to a green tea dessert shop to eat strawberry ice cream, and you can make matcha pancakes yourself pretty easily, so despite my usual indecisiveness in ordering food, to me the matcha parfait is a no-brainer.
Specifically, that’s the “Deep Matcha Matcha Signature Soft Serve Ice Cream,” which differs from the non-deep version by drizzling glistening matcha sauce on top.
▼ Matcha-Cha’s Deep Matcha Matcha wants to make absolutely sure you know it’s matcha-flavored.
Inside the cafe there’s only a tiny bench for customers to sit on while their food is being prepared, with nowhere to actually eat. This being Los Angeles, though, there’s a pretty good chance that whenever you stop by Matcha-Cha, you’re going to have the sort of warm, sunny weather that’s perfect for eating outside, and in front of the entrance are tables and chairs so that you can eat underneath the artificial cherry trees, making the experience feel a bit like a hanami cherry blossom viewing party.
Running through the cast of characters in the parfait, the star is, of course, the matcha ice cream. Sometimes overseas green tea ice creams skimp on the matcha and can end up with a strangly minty, almost toothpaste like aftertaste. That’s absolutely not the case at Matcha-Cha, though. It’s matcha ice cream is authentic and delicious even by Japanese standards, and as the matcha syrup melts and mixes in with the cream, the flavor becomes even more richly satisfying.
Accompanying the ice cream are a trio of Pocky sticks, which seem a bit like a concession to foreign Japanese sweets fans, for whom Pocky is often the gateway experience to the wide world of Japanese snack foods. It’s a little surprising that Matcha-Cha uses the ordinary chocolate version instead of Matcha Pocky, but a little contrast isn’t a bad thing, especially since chocolate and matcha go so well together.
▼ And if you really want green tea Pocky, you can always use the stick like a spoon and scoop up some extra ice cream before taking a bite.
There’s also a nice-sized serving of anko, sweet red bean paste, which is a bit more in line with what you’d find at a dessert place in Japan. As I’ve mentioned before, anko makes everything better, and that holds true here, with its smooth texture and hint of saltiness adding just the right amount of pleasing complexity to the taste and texture.
Oddly, the one component Matcha-Cha stumbles over are the shiratama mochi dumplings. Shiratama aren’t particularly hard to make (they’re even a common cooking class project for elementary school students in Japan), but the ones here had an unusual stiffness to their outer layer and were on the dry side. It’s possible they simply came from a bad batch, though, and at least they’re dusted with matcha powder.
As you’ve probably noticed, Matcha-Cha’s parfaits are served in an edible waffle cone bowl. Unless you eat your dessert with blinding speed, you’re going to end up with a mouthwatering mixture of melted ice cream, matcha powder, and anko at the end, and thankfully the bowl doubles as a handy drinking vessel that you can thoughtfully sip from like you’re having a confectionery tea ceremony.
▼ The non-deep Matcha Matcha, on the left, leaves off the matcha sauce, but is identically priced at US$5.75.
As Japanese as Matcha-Cha’s desserts may be, the portions are American-sized, and the Deep Matcha Matcha left me happily stuffed, yet almost instantly looking forward to a repeat visit. The cafe is open until 11:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and 11 during the rest of the week, making it easy to get your matcha fix whenever the mood strikes.
Address: 11301 W. Olympic Blvd., #122, Los Angeles, CA 90064
Open 11:30 a.m-11 p.m. (Sunday-Thursday), 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. (Friday-Saturday)