Green tea a trendy ingredient in margaritas, martinis

From the kettle to the cocktail: green tea a trendy ingredient in margaritas, martinis

Gary Regan

Every time I sit down to write this column, my first job is to search my file of cocktail recipes that have crossed my desk in recent weeks, looking for common threads that could point toward a new trend.

This is the fourth consecutive column I’ve written in which tea is a significant factor–not because I’m a tea fanatic, but because bars and restaurants nationwide seem to be using tea in some pretty unorthodox ways. The specific subject this week is green tea.

There’s a green-tea-flavored vodka on the market, as well as a green-tea-flavored liqueur, and regular brewed green tea is finding its way into cocktail glasses, as well. Green tea seems to be where it’s at.

Green tea, as opposed to black tea and oolong tea, is unfermented and, according to an article on the University of Maryland Medical Center’s website, is therefore “reputed to contain the highest concentration of polyphenols, chemicals that act as powerful antioxidants.”

The article goes on to say, “Antioxidants are substances that scavenge free radicals–damaging compounds in the body that alter cell membranes, tamper with DNA and even cause cell death.” So it would seem that green tea can be good for you.

There’s a great selling point.

The Chinese, of course, have long believed in the medicinal qualities of tea. Song Huizong, emperor of China from 1082 until 1135, wrote this on the subject: “Tea induces lightness of spirit, clarity of mind and freedom from all sense of constriction, whether mental or physical; and it promotes such serenity that mundane cares fall away so that whatever is strident or exacerbating in daily life can be put out of mind for a while.”

I think I could use a cup of tea right now. And this evening I might indulge in a green tea cocktail or two.

At Haru, a Japanese-fusion concept with branches in Manhattan and Philadelphia, the Green Tea Margarita has been popular since it was introduced about four years ago at Haru’s Times Square location. Megan O’Connor, a spokeswoman for the Benihana-owned chain, says that the cocktail started as a frozen drink, but customers began to ask for Green Tea Margaritas on the rocks and sometimes in a martini glass. “It became so popular [at the Times Square restaurant] that we adopted it company wide,” she says.

Bartenders at Haru simply add powdered green tea to their margaritas to make the drink, but other restaurants use different forms of the tea to make all sorts of variations on the theme. At Sortie, a hot spot in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, for instance, bartenders simply shake up a mixture of green tea vodka and green tea liqueur to make their Green Tea Martini. And over at Park Blue, a restaurant on West 58th Street that boasts more than 100 half-bottles of wine, customers ordering a Zen Green MarTEAni get a mixture of citrus vodka, green tea liqueur and lime juice with a splash of club soda.

Duggan McDonnell, bar manager at Frisson, a trendy supper club in San Francisco, makes some interesting cocktails using passion green tea. His Perestroika Cocktail, for example, is made with a top-shelf Russian vodka, passion green tea, green tea liqueur, melon liqueur and wildflower honey. And customers ordering a Zen High receive a nonalcoholic drink flavored with mango, ginseng, passion green tea, oranges and wildflower honey. Even the nonpotent potables are pretty exotic at Frisson.

Green tea is certainly making its presence known in the bars these days, and I’m keeping my eye on the recipes sent to me by bartenders to see if there are any other new trends among the cocktail set. Could it be that I’ll see drinks made with organic soy milk one of these days?

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