Meet British entrepreneur giving 'matcha' a new twist

By Richard Sunley, Kyodo

Posted at Feb 02 2014 08:33 AM | Updated as of Feb 02 2014 04:33 PM

A photo of Vivid Drinks as seen on the company website.

LONDON -- "Matcha," a powdered form of green tea, is one of Japan's most traditional ingredients and the centerpiece of the Japanese tea ceremony.

In Britain, a start-up business has devised a novel way to use the powder, which has recently become a popular flavoring for cakes, chocolate and green tea lattes.

James Shillcock, a young British entrepreneur, has created an energy drink using matcha, which he believes is a healthy alternative to caffeinated beverages such as coffee and conventional energy drinks.

Branded "Vivid Drinks," the product combines matcha powder with traditional British flavors such as pear, rhubarb and elderflower. The new item went on sale in 2013 and has now made its way to the shelves of numerous department stores and health food outlets around the country.

Shillcock had the idea while working at a specialist tea shop catering to office workers in London's financial district. Having received some matcha powder from a supplier, he tried it, felt a "healthy boost" and then started creating his own matcha drinks at home.

"I used to blend matcha up at home with fresh lime, ginger and honey, put it in a blender and then strain it," Shillcock said. "It was an unbelievably refreshing drink. I got all my family drinking it and they thought this is a great product."

After nine months of testing, finding a place to produce the drink and raising funds, Vivid's matcha drink finally hit the shelves. Since then, the product has been mentioned in national newspapers and has even been presented as an example of Britain's push to encourage young entrepreneurs to start their own businesses.

The drink sells for 1.85 pounds (about 310 yen) for a 330 milliliter carton and is now stocked in over 200 independent sites around Britain as well as a major supermarket chain.

Although matcha is still relatively unknown in Britain, Shillcock feels that knowledge of the health benefits of green tea have helped to spread the word.

"I think it is getting very widely accepted that green tea is good for you. This is something we're lucky to have on our side," Shillcock said.

"This is not some fad that's going to be here today, gone tomorrow. Green tea has been around for centuries and it has been in the press for years now for its health benefits and its antioxidant levels," the entrepreneur added.

"Our job is to get the message across about matcha. We've been saying matcha is the world's most powerful green tea," he said.

Shillcock has big ambitions for his matcha-based drink and hopes to expand outside Britain in the future, with Germany earmarked as a possible source of further growth.

"I know that this will be popular internationally," he said. "Germany has a really vibrant matcha market. As you can get coffee, you can get matcha there. That's a really buzzing market that we want to look at next."

As for taking the drink to matcha's home in Japan, Shillcock is a little more cautious. The entrepreneur will visit Japan later this year to meet his matcha suppliers for the first time, but he said he wants to "test the water" before potentially selling the item in Japan.

"I would love to (sell in Japan) but I don't know what the response to it will be," he said. "Whether there will be a reluctance to it because it's not how it's supposed to be drunk or whether people will really accept it and go 'this is a really innovative way of drinking it or presenting it.'"

For now, Shillcock is determined to increase matcha's profile in Britain, a process that he believes is key to the product's continued success.

"We want to really own matcha in Britain and really be the brand that brings it to the mass population," Shillcock said. "Ultimately we want everyone in the country to know what matcha is. I really believe in matcha so I want to make sure that we spread the word."