Matcha, of course, is the hottest thing going in caffeinated beverages these days, but its roots go way back — some say all the way to China’s Tang dynasty — and for its entire history, it’s only been made one way: with specially cultivated green-tea leaves. That may be changing in Taiwan, however, where over the last few years some people have begun making matcha with oolong leaves. Taiwan is a major player in the global oolong market, and the change can be attributed to the machines used to make matcha becoming more common.
Called oocha, the drink has swiftly migrated across the Pacific by way of Drunken Meadow, a Brooklyn tea company founded by childhood friends Furay Chang and Eric Chan. For now, the duo exclusively get their oolong from Chang’s family plantation back in Taiwan, which was founded in 1932, and they use it for loose-leaf and bottled “cold brew” tea. For their oocha, they team up with a fellow they only know as Mr. Chen, who processes the leaves like green tea (meaning the leaves aren’t oxidized, whereas oolong usually is) and grinds them into a fine powder. Chen partners with other farms to make the oocha powder, but his operation is small, and he works out of a 1,000-square-foot facility with a trio of machines.
And now the product is rolling out in New York. While the powder itself is still unavailable — which might be good news to whisk-averse drinkers — chilled, eight-ounce bottles are available for $5 at both Court Street Grocers and Blue Apron Fine Foods. It’s worth a try if you can get your hands on it: For those who aren’t as keen on matcha’s seaweedlike flavor, the mellower, more refreshing, and less grassy flavor of Drunken Meadow’s oocha is particularly appealing.
That’s especially true during the dog days of summer, like right now, and it’ll still give you that intense jolt of caffeine. Chang refers to the oocha as a kind of “instant coffee” of iced tea, and says it’s something you can enjoy sipping or taking like a shot. However you might take it, oocha should be on your radar.