Between its long-running list of antioxidants, memory-boosting bonuses and natural levels of caffeine, there’s much to love about matcha, the vibrant green tea powder that’s been recently gussying up everything from lattes to libations.
It’s the latter that’s catching our eye, thanks to the myriad ways bartenders are weaving the potent powder into cocktails. “The flavor of matcha is really compatible with complementary, traditionally sweeter flavors, such as banana, honey and chocolate,” Nandini Khaund of Cindy’s in Chicago says. Raul Ayala of San Francisco’s Dirty Habit agrees. “It’s a very flexible, complex and well-rounded ingredient. It has a depth of flavor including sweetness, bitterness, saltiness and floral notes, so it goes well with a variety of spirits.”
Case in point: the seven drinks below, which all underscore matcha’s awesome potential in potables.
① The Matcha, Matcha, Matcha: FIG Restaurant (Santa Monica)
Taking inspiration from tiki-style cocktails, lead bartender Vincent Anter combines light and dark rums, fresh citrus juices, orgeat (an almond-and-sugar syrup) and matcha for a swizzle-style sipper that’s garnished with green tea flowers.
② The Matcha Latte: Cindy’s (Chicago)
Khaund, Cindy’s “spirit guide,” takes cues from her favorite dessert. “I love to bake when I have free time, and I once made a really delicious matcha-almond cookie,” she says. “I wanted to recreate that flavor profile in drink form.” So she steeps first-flush matcha—from young leaves—with water and honey to create a syrup, which she layers atop steamed almond milk laced with Tanqueray Old Tom Gin.
Photo: Kelsey Sullivan
③ The Strike Anywhere: Campfire (San Diego)
Inspired by the vivid colors found in nature, bartender Leigh Lacap uses matcha to give a highball cocktail with white rum, cacao and lime its signature fierce hue. A dusting of black sesame powder on top offers a dramatic, high-contrast finish.
④ The Curse of Lo Pan: Slowly Shirley (NYC)
The full-flavored tea takes a frothy turn at this West Village hangout, where bartender Ray Sakover combines matcha with Beefeater 24 gin, an egg white, lemon and Coco Mix, and serves it up in an elegant orchid-adorned coupe.
Photo: Nick Vorderman
⑤ The Matcha Mule: The Forge Lounge (Seattle)
Bartender Thanny Bradford was once flying bulkhead when he spilled his ginger ale on a businessman eating a green tea Kit Kat bar—and an idea was born. “After apologizing profusely, I was like, ‘Huh, a green tea mule would be pretty good,’” Bradford says. So he blends matcha-infused vodka with lime before pouring it into a highball glass and topping it off with Bedford’s ginger beer.
⑥ The She-lei-lei: Pouring Ribbons (NYC)
St. Patrick’s Day serves as the driving force behind this green dram from bartender Joaquín Simó. “We wanted to offer a light and refreshing cocktail perfectly suited to the long day of drinking that St. Patrick’s Day traditionally implies,” Simó says. He shakes together coconut water, matcha tea and Knappogue Castle 12-year Irish whiskey before straining the drink into a rocks glass and garnishing it with a cinnamon stick.
Photo: Jenny Adams
⑦ The Bonzai: Dirty Habit (San Francisco)
Small-batch whiskey is the name of the game at this SOMA bar, where recently appointed bar manager Ayala serves up a cocktail consisting of Suntory Whisky Toki, matcha, orgeat, lemon and grapefruit. “I’m a big fan of utilizing tea in cocktails, so we’ve incorporated a nice grassy matcha into this one—it complements the whisky so well.”
During In Good Spirits month, we're going behind the bar to find out what separates aperitifs from digestifs, which It cocktails the world's top bartenders crave and how to turn your home into the hottest speakeasy in town.
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