Why Japanese Matcha is Showing Up on Cocktail Menus

Matcha, the fine powder made from Japanese green tea, adds complex umami flavors, an earthy element and a retro hue to drinks.
Photo by Meg Baggott

Matcha shows up as scoops of green ice cream after you’ve crushed a platter of nigiri at your favorite sushi restaurant, and even makes an appearance in your iced latte. Now, this love-it-or-hate-it ingredient has found its way into cocktails via infused syrups, shrubs and powder dissolved in shakers.

“Matcha adds a complexity of fresh flavor in a very fun and approachable way,” says Ebony Perry, beverage director of The Point Restaurants, which has eateries in Los Angeles (Laurel Point) and Denver (Wewatta Point). “It can be either sweet or savory, so it’s an ingredient that lends itself to creativity and a dish that warrants a pop of color.”

Matcha—the fine powder derived from drying, crushing and grinding shade-grown green tea—was first produced in China amid the Tang dynasty (618–907 A.D.). Green tea would be steamed and made into blocks before being roasted and steeped. During the Song Dynasty, drying the leaves, instead of roasting, became popular and made it possible to fully incorporate matcha with hot water. It was brought to Japan in the late 12th century by Eisai, a Japanese Buddhist monk.

Steeped in tradition, the Japanese tea ceremony is centered around the ritual of preparing, serving and drinking matcha. It’s dissolved in hot water in a ratio of about three to one, and it’s either whipped or mixed with a bamboo whisk, depending on whether you want light and airy (usucha) or thick and smooth (koicha) tea.

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But now its appeal goes beyond that steaming teapot. At its restaurants, The Point offers a unique cocktail that employs matcha: The Geisha. It’s a Japanese-inspired “green-tini” that evokes the green color of the ocean and complements the restaurant’s seafood menu.

“Matcha is a fun trend that really hit a peak alongside other seasonal flavors this year,” says Perry. Besides cocktails, matcha has been introduced into desserts, drink rimmers, lemonade and even soup.

Other bartenders have been stirred by the applications of its unique flavor profile. In New York City, The 18th Room serves The Grass is Always Greener, which mixes a housemade matcha and nectarine shrub with mezcal, pisco, cucumber, egg and celery salt flakes.

At Fine China in Dallas, The Going Green shakes matcha with Monkey Shoulder Scotch Whisky, Velvet Falernum, pineapple, lemon and egg white. Inside The Cosmopolitan hotel in Las Vegas, Estiatorio Milos mingles a lemon matcha sour with Mitilini Lemon Mastic Tears, rosemary and Greek sea salt, topped with Fever Tree Club Soda.

Of course, just like with any drink component, it’s easy to overdo it. Perry says that a sprinkle is usually all you need. Experiment by adding a little matcha to a gin, vodka or a Midori Sour, or sweeten a cucumber martini with matcha syrup. You might find the taste to be just your cup of tea.

Warm Up with These Four Hot Tea Cocktails

The Geisha

Courtesy of The Point Restaurants, Los Angeles and Denver

Ingredients
  • ½ ounce honey syrup (equal parts honey and warm water, stirred to combine)
  • 3–5 slices cucumber
  • ½ ounce lemon juice
  • ½ ounce Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
  • 1½ ounces Tito’s Vodka
  • ½ ounce matcha
  • Cucumber ribbon and slice of candied ginger (for garnish)
Directions

Pour honey syrup into cocktail shaker. Drop cucumber slices into shaker, and muddle to combine with syrup. Add remaining ingredients (except garnish), and dry shake, vigorously and without ice, 3–5 seconds. Add ice, and shake 15–20 seconds, or until properly diluted and chilled. Double-strain into chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with cucumber ribbon and candied ginger.

Published on November 5, 2018
About the Author
Kelly A. Magyarics
Contributor

Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C., area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com.



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