Every now and then, after a nice, satisfying dinner, I’ll find myself with both a thirst and a quandary. Do I feel like capping the meal with a relaxing cup of tea, or something stronger?
Thanks to a new drink that just hit stores in Japan, though, I don’t necessarily have to choose one or the other, because this alcoholic beverage is made with matcha green tea powder.
When I first heard about the newest offering from beverage maker Suntory, I was a little skeptical. The reason wasn’t just because the name, Matcha Kaoru Osake, doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but because it translates as Alcohol with the Fragrance of Matcha.
Recently, marketers in Japan have been pushing extra-fragrant beers as the next big thing, but frankly, I only care slightly more about how my beer smells than how my deodorant tastes. Besides, calling something Alcohol with the Fragrance of Matcha makes it sound like there’s not actually any matcha green tea in it, don’t you think?
Surprisingly enough, though, Matcha Kaoru Osake is not only made with Japanese-grown green tea, but actually two separate kinds. Figuring this gave me twice as many ways to pass off my boozing as “exploring the rich traditional culture of Japan,” I got my hands on a 500-milliliter (16.9-ounce) 494-yen (US$4.15) bottle as soon as possible.
The idea of mixing green tea and alcohol isn’t completely unheard of in Japan, as many bars and pubs will mix you up a glass of shochu, Japan’s favorite distilled mixer, cut with green tea. Matcha Kaoru Osake is a little different though, because Suntory doesn’t just brew a pot of tea and blend the contents with the alcohol (the exact class of which the company somewhat cryptically refers to as simply a “spirit”).
Instead, matcha powder is added directly to the alcohol during production. In addition, gyokuro tea leaves, a premium variety of sencha tea, are steeped in the spirit, inseparably fusing the tea and alcohol. Finally, an extra portion of matcha powder is added before bottling.
During shipping, the matcha powder tends to settle at the base of the bottle, so Suntory suggests turning it over and back a few times before drinking.
▼ All nice and mixed
The cap twists off, and while normal green tea can be drunk hot or cold, Matcha Kaoru Osake is meant to be drunk on the rocks.
True to its name, it really does smell like matcha. As a matter of fact, from the scent alone you wouldn’t suspect there’s any alcohol in it at all. Matcha Kaoru Osake is also incredibly green, getting a bit of extra help from some added colors.
▼ Setting up a backlight makes it look like the sort of thing they’d charge 12 bucks for at a club.
As the above picture demonstrates, Matcha Kaoru Osake works pretty well as an interior decoration, but how is it as a drink? Not half bad, although much like matcha itself, it might take some getting used to.
Compared to other Japanese teas, matcha could more aptly be described as “flavorful” than “smooth.” In other words, it’s strongly bitter, and you could say much of the same about gyokuro. As such, the first taste sensation from Matcha Kaoru Osake is straight bitterness as it hits the roof of the mouth. It’s also got a discernible amount of mouth feel as a result of the mixed-in matcha powder.
Regular matcha is bitter enough that even in Japan it’s customarily served with confectionaries to take some of the edge off. Similarly, the ingredient list for Matcha Kaoru Osake incudes sugar, which comes as a tantalizingly sweet transition point before the beverage’s alcoholic notes make their presence felt as they slide down your throat.
There’s actually a pretty noticeable kick, although at just eight percent the non-carbonated Matcha Kaoru Osake is lower in alcohol content than wine, sake, or shochu.
Suntory recommends its new product as a beverage to be paired with food, but to be honest, the flavor is so strong that it seems like it would overpower the rest of your meal. As such it seems better suited as an after-dinner drink, one that you can enjoy in either a whiskey tumbler or a teacup.
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