Matcha, a green tea-based drink originally from East Asia, has arrived in Manhattan at Chalait. Airy and minimalistic, the West Village café is lively yet comfortable—an excellent spot for a casual brunch and some reading.
As expected, the main draw of the café is the matcha menu. From matcha shots to matcha hot chocolate to fizzy matcha to iced matcha to matcha yogurt, it boasts an impressive collection of delicacies.
Chalait owner Michelle Gardner described the mystery behind the superfood.
"Matcha comes from the same tea leaf as all other teas. What they do is they pick it by hand, steam it, and then grind it into a really fine powder. We take that powder, and we make a shot for all of our matcha-based drinks," Gardner said. "So, the shot is very similar to what your coffee drinks are built off of. You have your espresso shot, and the matcha basically reduces the tea shot for all of our matcha-based drinks."
Since I had never tried matcha before, I wanted to taste this legendary tea in one of its classic forms—the matcha latte ($4.75), sister to the caffè latte. The beverage came in a deep black cup filled with swirling white foam. Instead of the usual brown bubbles of a caffè latte, these were a vibrant bright green.
Expecting a chai-latte rip-off, I was surprised that the drink was not sweet. Instead, it was earthy and grainy. Hoping for something with a stronger taste, I didn't love it. The taste of milk was overpowering. However, my aversion to the milk and desire for sweetness is an arbitrary opinion. There are a variety of other matcha products to experience, and matcha is completely unique, incomparable in taste to any other beverage—or food—I've ever had.
Beyond the drinks, the dishes at Chalait definitely are not typical comfort food. The café takes classic dishes like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but in lieu of the usual ingredients, uses pear, brie, and apricot jam (PB&J, $10). Despite being snack-like, the meals are still quite filling with their rich flavors and fresh ingredients.
I ordered smoked salmon Benedict ($11). The dish's aesthetics are beautiful: The light-peach salmon folds sit across lightly toasted whole-wheat bread, topped with a poached egg and decorated with fresh greens. The portion size was just right, complemented by the perfectly crunchy-chewy toast and piqued with a tangy dressing that added an unexpected twist to the familiar dish.
Though simple, the décor, featuring little mason jars filled with fresh yellow flowers, provide a peaceful contrast to the bustling, cacophonous street outside. Through floor-to-ceiling windows, the bar faces the street, the Empire State Building, and One World Trade Center. Ideal for people-watching, I felt at ease.
Chalait is unique—a place where East meets West. As matcha slowly spreads its influence through idiosyncratic desserts and beverages, Chalait maintains its feel of a Western café, taking interesting spins on classic dishes to create a dining experience definitely worth trying.