Niko Neko Matcha's Founders: From Band Members To Matcha Mavens
Throwback to when you crossed paths in college: what was your first impression of each other?
Syun Hattori: Since it was almost 10 years ago, I honestly don’t remember, but we got along because we were in the same rock band which lasted four years. I played guitar and he was on drums.
Izzat Iskandar: I do remember thinking Syun stood out due to his sense of style; he did not really look like a college student, more like a rock star.
Having known each other for a while, how do your working styles complement each other?
Izzat: It is my style to prioritise practicality, workflow, logic, numbers, and facts. Syun tackles aesthetics, intuition, and the creative side of things. We are like the left brain working in tandem with the right brain for a body (our business) to function properly.
How long has Niko Neko Matcha been operating, both as a B2C and a B2B?
Hattori: We've always been a B2C brand since 2014, and explored B2B not long after due to the demand and inquiries about matcha powder from other businesses. We saw the untapped potential of Japanese green tea in Malaysia's F&B scene. With so much specialty coffee around, why not an artisanal matcha brand?
What was the driving force for Niko Neko Matcha to open its own café in Bangsar?
Izzat: The café side of our concept store allows us to set a whole new standard for matcha experiences.
Opening a physical concept store was crucial; customers can now have the full experience of what Niko Neko Matcha has to offer as the finest matcha provider in Malaysia.
The space serves as an educational platform for our customers and a training ground for our B2B clients; it also helps to spark both parties' interest in matcha culture and heritage.
Niko Neko Matcha's concept store feels a lot like a speakeasy, what with its discreet entrance. Inside, customers are submerged in a Zen-like ambiance. How does the store's aesthetic speak for the brand's identity?
Hattori: The idea and design of the store was done in-house, but we did work with a local artist for our ceiling paper decorations. The idea is to provide our walk-in customers with a full sensory experience: locating our hidden store, entering the minimalistic space, being greeted by our team, discovering a variety of teas, feeling the excitement of holding our beverages, sipping and savouring our matcha, and listening to our curated playlist—it all forms a holistic package.
While some brands believe it's every man for himself, Niko Neko is known for its willingness to work with others. Describe some memorable creative collaborations.
Izzat: Going back to one of our main reasons for opening a concept store: it is a collaborative platform where we work with our B2B clients, which include bakers, bakeries, and cafés. Collaborations are our very personal way of appreciating our fellow partners, and to further our alliance. In a healthy business ecosystem, things are not one-sided, but should bring benefits and be profitable to both parties.
We believe in the following principle: Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.
Each one of our collaborations is truly a one of a kind. We have had more than 30 collaborations in the past, more than 20 that are ongoing, and a lot more to be launched soon.
The seasonality of Niko Neko Matcha's desserts add to the excitement of following the brand. Is this scarcity intentional to create a spike in demand?
Hattori: We do our best to rotate our desserts often so that customers can expect the unexpected. A few treats have been turned into permanent signatures due to extremely high demand and inquiries. Most importantly, desserts enable us to support our baker clients, who have their own creative ways of utilising our matcha.
Who is the odd-eyed beauty that often features in your promotional material? Is Niko the cat the inspiration behind your brand’s logo?
Hattori: Yes, Niko is the inspiration behind our logo. We are all about going the unconventional way; other matcha brands often choose tea-related icons as their logo, but we chose to go with a completely unrelated cat. Much credit goes to your majesty, Niko the Odd! It’s fun to break the norm.
- Illustration Koyyi Chin
- Photography Niko Neko Matcha