Written by Andrew Madison, Features Editor.
Places that inspire and provide community are becoming more valuable than ever. We live in a time when, more often than not, it seems our differences are emphasized, instead of our similarities. Considering this, it’s important to have a place to sit, share experiences with others, and remind ourselves that we are not as different as we may believe.
I was continually reminded of this during my discussion with Rachel and Anthony Verbrick, the owners of Macha Tea Co. on 823 East Johnson Street in Madison, Wisconsin. As I sat and spoke with them, I was able to learn about the time and work that goes into the procurement, preparation, and presentation of the tea, as well as the community-centric motivations for opening the tea house.
Macha Tea Co. is a neighborhood tea house. While they do sometimes serve food, the shop is first and foremost a tea blender and retailer. “We try to present the food as a bonus,” Rachel explains. “We’re trying to keep the tea as a focus, and the food is a side thing.”
While their food is absolutely amazing, let’s first focus on the tea.
THE TEA SERVICE
The Verbricks provide a service that, for Madison, is unique. They are a dedicated tea bar and retailer, serving and selling teas that they source responsibly and blend themselves. However, unlike many coffee and tea shops, the customer isn’t meant to just run in, grab a to-go cup of tea, and leave.
Instead, Macha Tea Co. offers the customer a chance to sit down with others and share the experience of the tea bar with those around them. All the while, Anthony is behind the bar expertly preparing and serving a huge variety of teas, primarily sourced directly from Japan and China, to the customers.
The way the Verbricks serve their tea is unique. The tea service and interaction with the Verbricks and their employees is an entire experience. I sat down to speak with Anthony and Rachel, and practically before I could say a word, Anthony had prepared a beautifully crafted jasmine green tea and poured a cup for me. Throughout the rest of our conversation, I don’t believe I ever saw that cup truly empty. I barely noticed when he refilled it, but he made sure that neither Rachel nor I ran out of tea, all while they fondly recounted the story of the shop’s history and their goal in opening it.
This attentive service is not atypical in their shop, either. Every time I have visited, the tea bar has been full of customers laughing and talking with Anthony while he ensured no customer’s cup was ever empty. This service is something we often lose with the convenience and speed of many coffee and tea shops, but the Verbricks and their team make slowing down for the experience well worth it.
They source all of their teas themselves, which is why they’re able to get such high quality products. When I asked where exactly they got their teas, Rachel and Anthony laughed, with Rachel saying, “I doubt he’s going to divulge his secrets!” True to that statement, Anthony was delightfully cryptic about where exactly he got the teas. “We have some great connections in China and Japan, where we primarily get our teas. We don’t carry many Indian teas, and we get our herbals primarily in the US, which we blend here.” His lack of specificity wasn’t totally surprising. The best tea products often come from small, high-quality vendors and farms with close-knit, trusted networks. Through them, we are extended the privilege of access to tons of handcrafted teas prepared by the extremely experienced Verbricks.
On top of that, you don’t have to stay in-house to enjoy the teas (though I highly recommend that you do). They also sell the teas that they provide, as well as all the equipment you need to prepare tea yourself at home. There are some beautiful cast iron pots and cups, pucks of pu-erh (a high-grade dried, pressed, and fermented tea), and their own in-house tea blends that would be a shame to overlook.
Now, on to the food. While it is not the focus, Macha Tea Co. does serve lunch on Fridays and brunch on Sundays. The food they make, like everything else at the shop, is pretty jaw-dropping. Rachel runs the kitchen and does an amazing job of creating a new menu every week.
“In any given week, I kinda just look at the weather forecast and try to gauge how people are feeling, and base the menu off of that,” She said. We all laughed as Anthony chimed in, “That’s the name of your cookbook; what’s the weather gonna be like.”
And, of course, her choices are always spot on. Soup dishes and comforting meals always seem to show up on the menu right when people need them, and Rachel’s diverse, multiracial background shines through in her skillful fusion of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and other foods in the menu, all of which she executes perfectly.
While the tea is unmatched and the food is astounding, all of the beauty of the shop provided by Rachel, Anthony, and their team leads to one fantastic end–the community.
“I think the idea of a neighborhood tea bar is great, and I really believe in the connection that creates,”
Rachel tells me. “I mean, people come in here by themselves and sit at the bar, and in a month or so they know all the other regulars, and it has been really cool to see. You realize how important the shop is for some people.”
Anthony extrapolated on that, saying,
“We can use this place as a community tool. And we are going to focus on doing the best we can here.”
In a world of increasing speed, convenience, and the consequential disconnect that follows, it is important for people to have a place to come together, sit down, and share with one another. At the end of the day, Anthony and Rachel provide an space to do just that. With fantastic tea, service, and people, everyone has a chance to walk into Macha Tea Co. and learn a little something about those around them while sipping on one of the best drinks you can have in Madison.