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The Wakaba cocktail features green-tea-infused vodka, lemon and simple syrup. Photo: Michael Tulipan.

Tea is nothing new in the cocktail world, being one of the five key ingredients in punches, which predate even the word “cocktail.” Still, as far as traditional and modern cocktails go, it’s rare to find a drink that brings the best of both worlds: This tipple balances the bright and strong flavors expected from a great cocktail without diminishing the flowery and herbal notes of the tea.

At downtown NYC sushi den Neta, beverage manager and barman Cole Schaffer has created a number of original cocktails that match the precision of the restaurant’s kaiseki-style dishes, most notably a tea-driven aperitif called the Wakaba. Schaffer first infuses Woody Creek potato vodka with a rich and buttery Japanese genmaicha (green tea with toasted rice, similar to the better known matcha powdered teas), then adds lemon and simple syrup to create an incredible shaken sour variation that tastes unlike anything you’ve experienced before.

Bright in color and flavor, the green tea in the Wakaba, which translates to “youthful green leaves,” somehow adds a frothy texture akin to an egg-white cocktail but leaves a toasty, nutty tannin on the palate. After numerous experiments, Schaffer found that pouring the vodka over the genmaicha to infuse the spirit with the tea provided the best results, rather than steeping it. It’s a truly transporting drink, and as restaurants continue to up their cocktail games, it’s also a great reminder that the sorry days of finding a lychee martini on the menu are thankfully long gone. Enjoy.

Traditional Gin Sour

Servings: 1 cocktail

Ingredients
2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
Egg white (optional)

Directions:

  1. Combine ingredients in a shaker tin and shake vigorously with ice for 10 seconds.
  2. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with an orange wedge and brandied cherry.

Wakaba Cocktail

Servings: 1 cocktail

Ingredients
1 1/2 ounces Woody Creek potato vodka, infused with genmaicha green tea*
1/2 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup (1:1)

Directions:

  1. Combine ingredients in a shaker tin and shake vigorously with ice for 10 seconds.
  2. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. No garnish.

*Vodka-genmaicha infusion:

  1. Place 3 teaspoons of genmaicha (not matcha powder, not green tea) in a mesh filter.
  2. Strain 1 bottle of vodka through the tea to infuse. Genmaicha does not need to be steeped, but you can reuse this tea if desired.
  3. The tea should be pronounced in flavor and bright green in color. Store for later use.