Chalait: Matcha’s Greener Pastures
224 West 4th Street
New York, NY 10014
So, I didn’t mean to multitask my daily commute with small food business research. But a single deviation from my usual route has led to an amazing discovery, one that has made a serious change to the way I caffeinate before work. Sorry, Coffee, we’ve had a good run, but it’s time to move on to greener pastures thanks to Chalait, a West Village cafe dedicated to matcha tea.
Matcha – finely milled green tea – is a bit of a foodie buzzword, with numerous iterations of matcha-infused drinks and desserts popular on the market. However, I often find that these cloyingly sweet treats do not capture the subtleties of the actual tea itself. A cup of matcha prepared without embellishment has an earthy taste, followed by a mellow finish. It’s a lovely treat, and a fun tea-drinking experience; however, it is hard to find prepared properly.
Fortunately, the kind folks who run Chalait are very passionate about their product and are eager to share their knowledge of all things matcha with tea aficionados and newbies alike.
Silver Spork News article sharpener Bailey and I recently sat down with Chalait owners, Michelle Gardner and Ramon Puyane, to hear their story about what it takes to break out in the small food business scene. Chalait’s success began with an inspiring business trip to Japan two years ago, where Michelle and Ramon first experienced the traditional Japanese tea ceremony and fell in love with the tea’s subtle taste. Determined to bring this unique taste to NYC, the pair have since put in the time and research to making the perfect cup of matcha tea.
Notably, Michelle and Ramon did not start Chalait as experienced restaurateurs. In fact, Michelle first worked in finance, but found food service and hospitality to be her true passion. After quitting her white-collar job, Michelle applied to the ICE and earned a restaurant management degree. In addition, she also worked at Little Collins in Midtown East to get first-hand barista experience and learn the tricks of the trade. On top of this intensive training, they have searched out the best source for their ceremonial matcha blend, specifically partnering with farmers in Uji, a region in Japan most famous for their high quality tea.
In regards to starting Chalait, Michelle and Ramon gave us some advice that many might find peculiar against the usual narrative about “following your dream job.” In fact, according to Michelle, the best advice for daydreaming restaurateurs: “Stick to the day job. A lot of what we learned in the office has helped us understand and implement the structure necessary to run our own business.” Though the romantics in us may scoff at the idea that the white collar life is beneficial to artistic culinary pursuit, this strategy has worked for Chalait and is paying off in spades.
After all, they undeniably produce some of the best matcha lattes in the city.
This passion for that perfect cup of tea isn’t just reserved for the owners: Chalait’s staff is just as knowledgeable and just as happy to walk customers through their extensive menu of tea and coffee drinks. The staff is encouraged to ease new customers in by asking about their drinking preferences and making recommendations based on likes and dislikes. Whether it’s a creamy matcha latte, or perhaps a chocolate matcha latte, a shot of expertly whipped matcha, or a classic pour over made with Counter Culture beans, Chalait’s staff will be happy to turn out an excellent drink for new and old customers alike (with Instagram-able latte art too).
But it’s the people that make Chalait such a happening spot. Chalait’s been only open since January, but it’s already becoming a West Village staple, built on a strong collaborative spirit between the great minds of Michelle and Ramon, the staff, the farmers of Uji, and the community that is growing around this cheerful place. As Michelle astutely noted during our conversation, a small business can fail easily without the support of a community just as passionate as its owners. Thankfully, Chalait has slowly, but surely, grown a loyal fan following—and some dedicated regulars, such as yours truly, who happily stop in for a chat while mulling over deliciously brewed drinks.
Post and photos by Angeli Rafer. Special thanks to Michelle and Ramon.