Matcha, the finely ground powder from carefully cultivated green tea, is said to have spiritual qualities. If you’re like most folks, however, it’s not the spiritual benefits that interest you most: It’s the taste.

And, at one of Chinatown’s newest cafes, aficionados of tea and treats can taste just how good matcha tea-based recipes can be. The recipes are all lovingly planned by the café’s team, headed by proprietor Ahn Nguyen, a former banker.

Nguyen has always been fascinated with Japanese culture, in particular its close relationship with tea, she said, while seated in the homey Saigon Arts Matcha Café. So she combined that interest in tea with her love of art, as the café’s name suggests.

She’s been a collector of art for decades and is a painter, having shown her works at local galleries. Some are on display at the café, along with works by artists as far away as Ukraine.

 “I’ve collected art forever, and I love it,” she said. “So, this was something I dreamed of doing, and now I have.”

Besides the art, the heart of the café’s menu is the matcha. In true artistic fashion, the menu is a gustatory and aesthetic combination, including the best sellers: matcha soft serve ice cream treats. The 24-carat gold cone includes gold leaf atop the ice cream.

You can’t really taste the gold, but just the idea of ingesting the precious metal makes the experience more grand. The cost is a whopping $9.25 for a cone.

In addition to delicious cakes, one of the best and frequently requested desserts is panna cotta – literally “cooked cream.” It’s prepared with delicate texture and elegance as a set of cookie-sized, colorful pieces, for $3.95.

For the most adventurous, there are other unusual combinations of flavor to try, including the matcha waffle cheese stick ($5.25). Along the same lines is the matcha cheese hojika (toasted tea) drink. There is an assortment of lattes and fruit-flavored teas, including the popular matcha fruit tea orange lemon.

Any of the drinks can be turned into a float with a scoop of green tea ice cream. Extras like boba and cheese foam can be added, too.

For Nguyen, being a proprietor of Japanese-inspired treats isn’t her only goal.

“I want to also inspire art and make an impact on the future,” the mother of two daughters said.

As such, the eatery is sponsoring a children’s art contest. It is accepting entries through Jan. 20. The works will be displayed and winners crowned in the near future, Nguyen said.

Saigon Arts Matcha Café
6650 Corporate Drive Suite E-1
(713) 931-3030
 Open 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. weekdays (Friday-Sunday until 10 p.m.)