For the love of tea

Millennials are making their mark across the world, realising their aspirations in ways that previous generations might not have thought of. Our series, Big Plans Take Time, explores how the young take bold steps to achieve their dreams. Mr Kevin Chee, founder of Matchaya, tells Hafiz Rasid how he turned his love for Japanese milk teas into a thriving business.

“We want people to take notice and realise that we are genuinely working on all aspect of the business — from sourcing, to tea-blending and menu creation,” Mr Kevin Chee says. PHOTO: KEVIN CHEE

Just a sip could make or break your business. That is why no less than a hundred taste trials were done before Matchaya launched its now-popular milk teas.

To ensure that their teas were just right for the local market, Matchaya founders Kevin Chee, 31, and Kaelyn Ong, 30, set up pop-up stores to conduct taste trials of their milk teas at various locations for six months.

They brewed, blended and gathered feedback before deciding on the final formulations for four milk teas: matcha latte, houjicha latte, royal milk tea and kuromitsu latte.

All the hard work has paid off. The two-year-old brand has been lauded by food bloggers and local magazines as Singapore's version of Tsujiri, a well-respected 155-year-old Japanese tea brand synonymous with high-quality matcha.

That devotion to excellence is what the founders stand for. "We want people to take notice and realise that we are genuinely working on all aspect of the business - from sourcing, to tea-blending and menu creation," Mr Chee says.

Today, Matchaya sells a diverse offering of tea-based products. PHOTO: MATCHAYA

Wide variety

Today, Matchaya sells a diverse offering of tea-based products, such as tea blends, tea-infused toast spreads, ice creams and baked goods. For tea purists who prefer drinking matchas in the way it is prepared traditionally in Japan, Matchaya offers teas served in "tea ceremony style".

The pair became fans of Japan's tea drinking culture in 2014, after visits to the country. They were impressed by the grade of tea used, and how the tea shops did not skimp on quality in making milk teas. Over a year, they tried - and failed - to find matcha products in Singapore stores that would meet their high standards.


They wanted to fill a gap in the market by setting up a tea shop focused on quality and premium ingredients, so they set about looking for "the best matcha".

When they unearthed the right mix of matcha and other tea blends in Japan by working directly with tea farmers and masters, they quit their jobs as a banker and flight attendant in 2016 before opening the first Matchaya retail store at Icon Village that year.

Making the jump

"It was just the two of us running it, seven days a week for three months, before we recruited our first staff. The struggle for survival made us adapt," says Mr Chee.

"We learnt to run a food and beverage com-pany from scratch - finance, inventory management, menu planning and design, pricing, logistics and customer service."

That lean approach kept Matchaya man-ageable for the first-time entrepreneurs. A year after the first store opened, the second outlet, at The Cathay, followed. Its expanded offerings keeps its millennial clientele, predominantly between the ages of 18 and 34, interested.

"Millennial consumers move fast and value innovation and convenience. Thus, we constantly refresh our menu with seasonal Japanese products while engineering our menu to better influence customers' decisions," Mr Chee says.

Ms Ong has since relocated overseas, but Mr Chee has gone on to act as a consultant to aspiring business owners in Malaysia, with up to five tea stores there adopting Matchaya's business model of providing an authentic Japanese tea-appreciation experience.

"Matchaya has one simple motto: We believe in serving happiness to our customers and giving them a slice of Japan in Singapore," he adds.

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