Matcha is certainly having a moment, but for Matt Bax it's no fad. The mercurial hospitality entrepreneur, who for years has led the Melbourne bar pack with the likes of Der Raum and Bar Americano, has been a matcha devotee for the for the past two decades after discovering it through his interest in Zen philosophy.
It's led to one of the more intriguing collaborations of recent times: Bax is bringing his interpretation of the Japanese tea ceremony to Andrew McConnell's Supernormal for the next two weeks.
"We prefer the term 'tea meditation'," says Bax. "We're not calling them tea ceremonies because that would be like comparing opera to a 30-second YouTube clip. It will be a contemporary distilled service of amazing tea."
The finely ground green tea powder is a hot topic across Australia and internationally, beloved by the health fraternity for its antioxidants and by food lovers for its intriguing grassy, umami qualities. Bax's appreciation extends much further back in history to the ancient Japanese rituals surrounding its preparation. So is Samu the real deal?
"Depends on your definition of the real deal. If matcha lattes are your thing, then go for it. It's just not our bag. There is nothing I've experienced in the world, let alone Australia, that I can compare to what we hope to achieve with Samu. The experience of Samu is what interests us, not just the quality of the tea."
It's unsurprising for the man who brought us Bar Exuberante, compared by many to being thrown onto the set of Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, that Samu should also be meticulously designed. Samu is named for the Zen-like practice of mindfulness in physical activity, but Bax points out it is also a play on "sa", meaning tea, and "mu" meaning - "well, nothing in the Zen sense. A very important element in zen teaching."
Central to the custom-built wood and canvas teahouse, which has been constructed not actually inside the bustling restaurant but rather looms like a glowing beacon inside a pitch black, silent carpark space out back, is a wooden bar seating only five people at a time, handcrafted by Ravi Avasti, the designer behind Bax's other venues. Bax has also worked closely with McConnell to create a unique selection of wagashi-style sweets to accompany the tea, which has been sourced from Tea Sensei Adam Wojcinski and Nippon Cha.
The preparation of matcha is an important feature of Japanese tea ceremonies but, typically, Bax doesn't want to divulge too much information aside from the fact his matcha is ceremonial grade (from a single crop in Kyoto) and the water is taken from a Victorian alpine spring. "So many experiences these days are ruined with too many details prior to arrival. Samu is a one-of-a-kind experience I'm looking forward to sharing with my guests."
Matt Bax at Samu, Supernormal.
Samu at Supernormal, 18 July to 1 August, 180 Flinders La, Melbourne; (03) 9650 8688, supernormal.net.au; 11am-3pm and 5pm-10pm daily. Tea ceremonies run every 15 minutes.