You know matcha lattes well. The green drink emerged as a trend a few years ago and has been taking over Instagram and all of your favorite cafes ever since. The powdered green tea is aesthetically pleasing and has been touted as a superfood for its high number of antioxidants. You can get it hot—and with some artsy latte art—or served over ice, which is my preference. And if you’re feeling particularly motivated you can even make it yourself at home.
When looking for a good matcha latte, there are a few important things to consider. First, there needs to be a good liquid to ice ratio. Matcha is pricey, with most of the lattes I tried priced between $4 —$5, so it’s important that you’re not getting a cup full of ice with just a few sips of matcha. It’s also important that the distinct sweet yet grassy flavor of the matcha comes through strong enough, so you’re not just drinking a glass of milk with a splash of green tea. Finally, matcha should be nice and smooth, without big clumps of matcha powder sneaking up the straw.
So, as a matcha connoisseur, I set out to find the best iced matcha latte around campus.
Starbucks at 34th and Walnut
The matcha latte from Starbucks was the most noticeably distinct from all of the other ones that I tried. It was a much more vibrant green and had very visible chunks of matcha powder. I placed my order online for an Iced Matcha Green Tea Latte with almond milk. Unfortunately, the rewards stars i racked up were the best part of the experience. With the longest prep time of all the places I tried, my matcha latte from Starbucks did not feel worth the wait.
The drink was the most artificial, with its incredible sweetness negating all of matcha’s positive health benefits. It was very chunky, and large clumps of matcha kept disrupting the silkiness I desired. Starbucks also has a tendency to overload on ice, giving you less matcha at similar prices to the other places I tried.
Saxbys has the largest variety of matcha lattes of all the places that I tried, with five exclusive matcha drinks on their menu. I decided to keep it simple, ordering the traditional iced matcha latte with almond milk to ensure a fair comparison with the other places I tried. The matcha was deliciously mellow and smooth, although the milk was a tinge overpowering. It would've benefitted from being a tad bit sweeter or more flavorful, so opting for one of the exclusive matchas with a bit more character could give Saxbys a boost to the top spot in the rankings.
Joe Coffee Company
Joe’s is located at 3200 Chestnut St—the intersection of Penn and Drexel's campus—so it's a little less convenient than the other places on my list. Although their matcha wasn’t good enough to warrant a trek for the drink alone, I would definitely bring my books and hunker down to get some work done in the cafe’s upper level seating area. Though, I would probably order something other than matcha.
This drink tasted more like milk than matcha. Out of all the places I tried, it had the weakest flavor—smooth, but far too milky. One thing that I did like about Joe’s is that they serve their drinks without a lid or straw, in an environmentally conscious fashion. For patrons who do choose to use a straw, they are 100% compostable.
Wilcaf was by far my favorite matcha latte. I ordered the smallest size with almond milk, and it was ready in an instant, leaving me enough time to get it in–between classes. The drink was light and airy, lifting me up with newfound energy. There was just the right amount of ice to keep it cool, but not so much that ice remained after I had downed the drink, just a few minutes into my next lecture. It was sweet, but not too sweet, and not artificial or powdery in the same way as Starbucks.
United By Blue
There’s no question that United By Blue belongs at the bottom of the list. It had a strong, bitter matcha flavor that left a bad taste in my mouth. It was not at all sweet, and I could only handle a few sips before throwing it in the trash. The matcha’s one redeeming quality was its liquid to ice ratio, but that’s not enough to move past its bitter taste. Nonetheless, I will commend United By Blue for their use of reusable cups for customers who dine in, and how they serve their to–go drinks in cups without lids or straws.