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Ellicott City's Matcha Time Cafe specializes in Japanese brews

To Hatsumi Watanabe-Smith, Ellicott City’s new Japanese tea parlor is a “daydream” come true.

Matcha Time Cafe, according to Watanabe-Smith, fills a void in the local tea market and in her life -- having missed the shop’s signature green matcha brew since moving to the United States some 20 years ago.

Brewed from tea leaves ground into a fine powder, matcha is a somewhat thick green tea touted for its antioxidant qualities. To offset its bitterness, it is traditionally served with a confection, such as red-bean-filled mochi.

“Whenever I have matcha I feel more comfortable,” says Watanabe-Smith, an Ellicott City resident. “I’ve been here a long time, and I’ve been missing it.”

While matcha is the cafe’s namesake, it’s not the only tea on the menu. Watanabe-Smith also offers a variety of black, chai, herbal, rooibos and green teas -- even a sweet matcha latte for those hesitant to try matcha in its traditional form. (Try the iced ginger lime rooibos on a hot day.)

A small selection of sushi, pastries, smoothies and ice cream (matcha and black sesame flavors included) rounds out the menu.

“Her dream as long as I’ve known her is to open a cafe of some sort,” says Watanabe-Smith’s husband, Derek Smith, who helped build and set up the shop. She even purchased her web domain five years ago.

When space in Historic Ellicott City opened up last year, tucked off Main Street at the top of the main parking lot behind LaPalapa’s, “suddenly, my daydream became a reality,” she says.

The cafe uses a reverse osmosis water purification system along with a UV sterilization system in an effort to use highly purified water for its teas, sushi rice and baking.

“We have to set ourselves apart,” Derek Smith says of his wife’s efforts, including the water purification system, homemade sushi vinegar and pastries, and cold brewed coffee. “We can’t be like everyone else. We need to be unique and as good as or better than anyone else.”

A gift shop attached to the cafe showcases a wide variety of items from Japan, from kimonos, origami jewelry and artwork to toys, candies and -- naturally -- teas and tea sets.

Matcha Time Cafe, 8381 Merryman St., Ellicott City. 410-418-4832, facebook.com/MatchaTimeCafe.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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