Overall, Matcha Bar’s Peach Hustle is a pretty good option for a sustainable energy drink (and from personal experience tastes great!). With the product being fully recyclable, vegan, all-natural, non-GMO, and carbon offsetting, it's clear that the company has taken steps to become a truly sustainable brand. However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t have anything to improve. For instance, their ingredients are not farmed organically, and the company could be much more transparent about the working conditions and pay of the Japanese family farms they partner with. I think if these changes were made, Matcha Bar could be seen as an industry leader in sustainable drink production.
Matcha Bar has a very transparent ingredient list on its website. Their products are all vegan, non-GMO, and contain no chemicals or artificial flavoring. This all sounds great, however, none of their ingredients, including their matcha, are organically farmed. They claim to “comply with all US standards” in regards to pesticides, but what does this mean? Well, based on the USDA standards for pesticides in tea plants, the amount of pesticides that can be used typically ranges from 10-50 milligrams per kilogram of soil. Each plant needed to produce matcha needs about 418 kg of soil, so they require somewhere between 4-21 grams of pesticide per plant (the equivalent of 1-4 teaspoons). This is not a substantial amount of pesticide, but the best alternative would be not to use it at all, as pesticides contribute to agricultural runoff. Matcha Bar claims they are currently working towards certifying their product as organic, and given how little pesticides are used now I think this is an achievable goal.
In terms of drink packaging, their use of aluminum cans is one of the better options since the material can achieve closed-loop recycling. Closed-loop recycling refers to aluminum’s ability to be turned back into the same product (aluminum cans can be recycled into more aluminum cans!). This differs from plastic and glass alternatives because they are often down-cycled into lower-quality products such as fiberglass and carpet filler.
Matcha Bar sources 100% of its ceremonial-grade matcha from family farms in Kagoshima, Japan. The manufacturing process is very delicate and labor-intensive. Each leaf is handpicked before being tumble-shifted to remove stems, and then flash-steamed to prevent oxidation. After this, the leaves are air-dried and later ground in traditional granite wheels. This grinding process is especially time-consuming as it can take over an hour to produce just 30 grams of matcha (about the size of a small tin). Despite this process being highly labor-intensive, the company does not provide any information on how much the workers and farms they partner with are paid. Matcha Bar also doesn’t state if the machinery used for these processes runs on renewable energy or how they transport their matcha overseas, but they have partnered with an organization called CHOOOSE to offset the carbon footprint of each product sold by funding renewable energy projects. Through this partnership, they are offsetting the equivalent of 35 plastic water bottles per product sold through the funding of a Virginia-based company that captures and destroys methane.
In 2014, Matcha Bar was founded by brothers Max and Graham Fortgang in Brooklyn, NY. Although two white millennial men profiting off the traditional food practices of other cultures is a problematic phenomenon, I believe the owners do take the time to acknowledge the rich history of matcha through their educational content about the ceremonial production process. Their partnerships with family farms and tea masters in Japan also allow local communities to be supported and provide expertise. Max and Graham always emphasize that matcha (along with other popular drinks such as yerba mate, kombucha, coconut water etc.) did not just appear 5 years ago, but have a long history and culture attached to them. The one area that the company could still work on is diversifying their team in their Brooklyn headquarters. New York is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, and I’d love to see that reflected not only in their advertisements but behind the scenes.