Nearing midterms week, I’ve found myself craving an extra caffeine boost to get me through the day. As someone who gets tired and has headaches from drinking coffee — does anyone else experience this? — my saving grace is a good cup of matcha. As I’m sure all matcha-lovers know, however, the perfect cup of matcha is very hard to find. In the past week, I’ve made it my mission to drink at the most popular matcha places around Princeton to determine where the go-to place is, regardless of if you’re a matcha aficionado or curious first-timer.
Here is a list of Princeton’s matcha places, ranked from worst to best:
Placing Junbi at the bottom of the list may be a bit controversial given its status as a favorite pick me up among Princeton students. However, upon trying their most popular menu item, the Madagascar Vanilla Matcha, I couldn’t help but wish that the matcha taste was more pronounced. The vanilla flavor was lovely and added a touch of complexity to the drink, but the sweetness of the drink was overpowering and masked the taste of matcha. If you are someone who enjoys a sweeter taste, then Junbi is a great match. But if you are someone who enjoys the bitter, earthy profile of matcha, then you should look elsewhere. I will vouch for their matcha soft serve, though, which is creamy, decadent, and has a strong matcha taste!
4. New College West (NCW) Coffee Club.
As someone who frequents Coffee Club, I was excited to try their iced matcha latte this semester. Compared to Junbi, the drink’s sweetness was more balanced, which brought out more of the earthiness and richness of the matcha. The flavors, however, were still not as pronounced as I would have liked them to be, as the drink was on the milkier side. I could see some matcha clumps at the bottom of my cup, which indicated that the matcha may have needed to be mixed more thoroughly. Something good about Coffee Club is that you can add additional flavors to your matcha, which elevates the taste. Last semester, Coffee Club had a fantastic honey matcha that was rich, smooth, and super consistent. The matcha this semester was slightly less yummy, although still tastier than Junbi!
3. Campus Club Coffee Club.
Of course, I had to try matcha at both locations of Coffee Club! Although the taste difference between the NCW and Campus Club location wasn’t very significant, I did find that the matcha was slightly more watery here, as opposed to the milky taste found in NCW’s matcha. I noted that the matcha taste was more pronounced without the taste of milk covering it up, which made me like this cup more. I also really enjoyed the ambiance of the Campus Club location, with its live music and cozy interior. Enjoying your cup of matcha is also about where you drink it, so the lovely vibes of Campus Club really added to the experience!
As someone who doesn’t drink Starbucks a lot, their iced matcha latte was shockingly good to me. Although it was still a bit too sweet, the matcha flavor was strong, and the drink was very smooth, so there weren’t any clumps. Starbucks is also quite consistent, with every matcha drink being the same quality. I would recommend trying their matcha with two pumps of chai — the spices of the chai add a really nice balance to the more rounded notes of the matcha.
1. Small World.
You guys, this has been a game changer. At the start of this semester, I discovered that Small World introduced an oat-infused matcha on their menu. As someone who doesn’t usually go for milk alternatives, I was a bit skeptical at first. But upon trying, I was pleasantly surprised at how rich, creamy, and silky their matcha was. You couldn’t tell that it was made from oat milk, and the matcha profile was very pronounced but not too bitter — perfect for any palette! The quality at Small World is also super consistent, as they make their matcha in batches every day. I could run out of adjectives describing how downright tasty their matcha was, so I just ask that you do yourself a favor and try it out. A pro-tip is to ask for less ice (they won’t charge you extra)!
Going through this experience and listing out all the matcha flavor profiles I’ve encountered, I’ve realized that there really isn’t a simple definition for what a perfect cup of matcha is. Depending on your preference, any of these places can be on the top of your list. All I ask of you is, if you haven’t tried matcha ever before, to give it a go. Who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself on a matcha-tasting journey through Princeton very soon.
Laura Zhang is a contributing writer for The Prospect from Sydney, Australia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.