Sōrate, an online purveyor of Japanese matcha and green tea, based out of Brooklyn, New York, just opened a brick-and-mortar teahouse in the heart of SoHo, N.Y.C.
The intimate to-go and counter-service space, with Italian culinary influences, delivers the ritual of midday tea – inspired by traditional wabi-cha ceremonies – and beckons tea enthusiasts and the tea curious to downtown Manhattan.
Helmed by Italian entrepreneur Silvia Mella – in collaboration with Tea Master Keiko Kitazawa – the new Sōrate Teahouse offers ceremonial grade matcha, hand-crafted to order, with an array of high-grade green teas – sencha, gyokuro, hojicha and genmaicha.
Sōrate was first introduced during the 2019/2020 holiday season as a subscription-based model, and the business was aimed at helping customers receive their recommended daily dose of catechins, as part of a daily ritual.
“The primary goal was to encourage coffee enthusiasts to transition to tea consumption while providing consumers with ongoing guidance through periodic newsletters about the green tea plant [Camellia sinensis] and its daily consumption,” explained Mella.
Shortly after the initial launch, Sōrate expanded its offerings to include pay-per-product matcha and tea packages, kits and accessories. However, just three months following the launch, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, necessitating lockdowns.
“This crisis highlighted the importance of improving daily habits, and for many, it served as a wake-up call to stay well-informed about what is beneficial for their health,” said Mella. “Since then, we have successfully built a loyal client base, with the majority of our customers returning to us time and again, demonstrating a high level of trust in our brand.”
According to Mella, there were numerous reasons why she decided to establish a brick-and-mortar tea business, including her profound passion for tea, its myriad health benefits, and the captivating allure of Japanese culture and aesthetics.
“I was eager to share not only my enthusiasm for this beverage, but also the rich rituals that accompany it, and I aimed to craft an environment where individuals could embark on a tactile exploration of the world of tea,” Mella said. “Moreover, I discerned a growing appetite for exceptional and distinctive tea experiences that transcended the limitations of online platforms. A physical tea shop offers customers the opportunity to engage all their senses – from savoring the aromatic profiles of different teas to feeling the texture of tea leaves and accessories, all while immersing themselves in the tranquil and serene surroundings.”
Mella said she wanted to create a “welcoming and instructive” setting to personally engage with patrons, share her knowledge of tea, and guide customers in discovering their ideal tea selections – all tailored to their preferences and health objectives. “Brick-and-mortar establishments, in this respect, provide the perfect stage for these intimate one-on-one interactions, cultivating a stronger sense of community and fostering customer loyalty,” she revealed.
Honoring Tradition While Delivering a Fresh, Modern Twist
Starting at $5 per cup, the Sōrate Teahouse offerings present customers with an opportunity to personalize their matcha experience; they can opt for either traditional preparation with warm water or a modern twist with a choice of milk (served hot or iced). The menu also includes composed drinks like a Sparkling Iced Matcha with a hint of yuzu, a common refreshment in Japan. And for those seeking caffeine-free options, customers can explore Sōrate’s shiso leaf tea and kombucha.
The teahouse offers light wagashi (or traditional tea ceremony sweets), including matcha-infused desserts. They also have a Sorashi Lunch Box (for US$20), an original creation that combines Italian ingredients like prosciutto, robiola cheese and freshly grated bottarga, along with Japanese elements of velvety black sesame tofu, pureed nori, pickled radish and candied yuzu. The boxes are available in four different varieties, all gluten free, as well as one vegan option.
In addition to to-go and dine-in service, Sōrate features a retail outlet with premium matcha and green tea packages, in addition to vintage ceramic and brewing accessories – all of which are available via Sōrate’s e-commerce site.
The striking design of the Sōrate Teahouse was conceived in collaboration with Venezia-based Studio Architecture AMAA, and it aims to create an escape from the commotion of New York City.
The teahouse itself is situated within an early 20th century building with the original tin ceiling, and diverse materials and shapes were selected for the venue, while neutral blue hues add a relaxed vibe. The teahouse’s four-seat counter stretches across the 376 square foot space, opposite wooden display cases.
“The customer reaction to Sōrate Teahouse has been truly remarkable and has exceeded our expectations,” shared Mella. “The local neighborhood has shown incredible support since our opening. In particular, our store window – featuring a tatami mat and a Japanese scroll – has become a captivating focal point, drawing the curiosity and attention of passersby. We're delighted by the positive response and the warm embrace of our concept by the community.”
Mella pointed out that the Sōrate Teahouse offers a unique approach to Japanese tea culture and a modern yet traditional atmosphere that she says cannot be found elsewhere in New York City. “We've poured our passion into every detail, from our hand-selected teas to the serene ambiance, making Sōrate SoHo an unforgettable destination," she said.
Paying homage to the local scene, Mella added: “It's important to note that New York City is home to a vibrant Japanese teahouse community, and we hold great respect for the diverse and creative approaches of our peers in the industry. Each teahouse in this city has its own identity and unique offerings, and we value the enriching tapestry they contribute to the culture of Japanese tea in N.Y.C. While there are other exceptional Japanese teahouses in the city, we are proud to stand out as a one-of-a-kind establishment that offers something truly special.”
Tea Master Keiko Kitazawa, who was involved with the creation of Sōrate Teahouse, is also an advocate for the business within her community. She’s an Omotesenke-style tea ceremony instructor, an inaugural member of the Omotesenke Domonkai Eastern Region USA, and the lead tea master at Sōrate.
Mella noted that Kitazawa has also been a mentor, and the two have orchestrated enchanting tea ceremonies for special occasions and esteemed clients such as En Japanese Brasserie, Suntory Whisky, Moet & Hennessy and many more. Sōrate also sponsors Kitazawa for her monthly tea ceremonies at a hidden Japanese tea house in Union Square, and Mella herself is a devoted student of Keiko.
Matcha's Rise and ‘Beauty, Minimalism, Warmth, Calmness and Tranquility’
According to Sōrate Managing Partner Nicola Zanatta, matcha is still growing and gaining new customers. “Matcha has gained significant popularity in the United States,” he said. “The increasing preference among consumers for embracing a healthier lifestyle and the associated health advantages of matcha tea have resulted in a substantial surge in its demand.”
Zanatta explained that the Sōrate wholesale clientele includes numerous Japanese restaurants, but they’ve noticed an increasing number of orders from high-end coffeehouses each month. “This trend is driven by consumers who are increasingly choosing matcha over coffee due to its health benefits and remarkable versatility, especially when paired with acidic foods like milk,” he shared.
“The most captivating aspect for us is that matcha hails from a place we hold in deep affection – Japan, and more specifically, Kyoto,” Zanatta added. “At Sōrate, we source all our products from a single farm in Uji, Kyoto. What we endeavor to achieve at Sōrate SoHo [the teahouse] is to introduce a taste of Kyoto into the daily routines of New Yorkers. This endeavor begins with the quality of our products and extends to the visual aesthetics of our space and the choice of furniture, all of which exude a heartfelt and gentle aura. When you're in Kyoto, you're enveloped by the ambiance of the people and the place itself, with its beauty, minimalism, warmth, calmness and tranquility. We humbly aim to recreate that atmosphere at Sōrate SoHo.”
To learn more about Sōrate and its online shop, as well as the Sōrate Teahouse in New York City, visit Sorate.co.
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