Newly arrived is another first in the ready-to-drink tea beverage market: Canned Nitro Matcha.
In keeping with tea experts’ predictions for 2017, kegged tea, and specifically, nitrogenated tea, is already becoming big business. You can now find nitrogenated teas at cafes in every major city in America, a concept that would have been unthinkable just three years ago. Yet here we are, and the process of kegging and tapping drinks with a nitrogen tank has led innovators to experiment with canned versions. After all, how does one enjoy the silky smooth mouthfeel of a nitrogenated tea or coffee outside of a third-wave coffee shop or cafe?
The origins of canned nitro coffee, the direct predecessor to canned nitro tea, are a little murky, but many agree that it might have begun with Cuvée Coffee in Texas. Portland’s own Stumptown Coffee had been serving nitro cold brew coffee in their cafes since 2013 and eventually developed their canned version, which became the trend leader. This led a number of tea makers to experiment with their own versions of nitro tapped tea, including Smith Tea Maker in Portland and Tea People in San Francisco. Naturally, this led some to play with matcha being nitrogenated. Conceptually this is a bit more challenging, but this too was achieved by experimenters in the field. Outside of a cafe, and with the general lack of good matcha beverages in the ready-to-drink market, who would be the first to can it?
Enter B Sweet Coffee Co., founded eight years ago in Barbara Batiste’s home kitchen. Originally begun as a catering company specializing in sweet treats such as chocolate chip banana bread and cupcakes, they’ve expanded to own a fleet of dessert catering trucks, a permanent location on Sawtelle (a food-trendy street in West Los Angeles), and now a kegged and ready-to-drink tea and coffee program.
If you think this company is an odd match to be the first to can a nitro matcha, you’d be right. So how did it happen? I asked CEO Kurt Steinitz the same question.
He told me it started as a simple desire to serve their own coffee, not someone else’s. And once they started cold brewing, kegging was the next logical step, since its air-tight seal kept the coffee good for weeks, not days. And once they started kegging, all it took was for Kurt to see a nitro coffee before he thought they could do that too. Finally, a canning step was introduced as a way to make “mini kegs” for customers in the ready-to-drink market. A canned Nitro Cold Brew Coffee was their first ready-to-drink product.
Steinitz says they were attracted to matcha for it’s health benefits, bright color, and smooth flavor. B Sweet’s Nitro Matcha is a custom blend from two different Japanese importers. The flavor is rich, sweet, without any astringency or bitterness. This is partly to do with the matcha blend and partly to do with cold brewing the tea. The nitrogen itself helps, which forms very small bubbles and “softens” flavor. Ultimately, they wanted to make a matcha that would be perfect on it’s own, and wouldn’t require the addition of sugar or preservatives.
First, they cold brew 200-300 gallon batches of the matcha and pre-nitrogenate it giant stainless beer-brewing tanks. After a couple days, they force pump the matcha into the cans and seal it with a puff of liquid nitrogen. There isn’t a nitrogen widget inside the can, as is the case with canned Guinness Draught and Stumptown’s Nitro Cold Brew. Instead, the pre-nitrogenation and the puff of liquid nitrogen at canning keep the bubbles suspended, and when you pop the can, the intent is to pour hard into a cup, thus releasing the bubbles… and the cascading of the matcha ensues.
This isn’t the end of the line for B Sweet Coffee Co. either. They have just introduced a canned Nitro Hibiscus and are close to unveiling a dairy-free canned latte. They continue to experiment with kegged and nitro teas and are sourcing these kegs to stores around Los Angeles. Currently, you can only find the Nitro Matcha in California, but their distribution is wide, reaching from San Francisco to San Diego, and is available at Whole Foods, Gelson’s, Bristol Farms, and Erewhon.