Zen Green Tea Liqueur and the Matcha Cocktail

by Stevi on December 11, 2008

in Bitters,Liqueurs,Original,Recipes,Vermouth

I have fond memories of witnessing a traditional Zen Buddhist tea ceremony at the Smithsonian Museum. We were given small sweets, and after the ceremony, a taste of the matcha tea. It was bitter and strong, not like any tea I had tasted before. I can still remember that taste today. Thus, when I read on the back of the Zen Green Tea Liqueur bottle I received that it used matcha tea, I was intrigued.

Matcha Cocktail

Matcha Cocktail

Zen Green Tea Liqueur, produced in Japan, infuses ground and whole green tea leaves, lemongrass and other herbs and flavors in a neutral grain base. The final product is 40 proof (20% ABV).

I initially tasted the liqueur at room temperature, straight from the bottle. The liqueur is a more muddled green than I expected. I found this promising, in that it made me feel the drink was less reliant on artificial colors.

The nose was sweet. I could place the lemongrass. On the tongue, the sweetness was dominant. I sensed the green tea mostly in the aftertaste, and it was reminiscent of my memory of those tastes of green tea at the ceremony I had attended.

Next I tried it over ice, which really quieted the sweetness. The green tea flavors were far more forward and dominant, although still not strongly present on the nose. The lemongrass was lost completely. The flavor did remind me of green tea ice cream, minus the dairy.

This isn’t a particularly complex liqueur. What it has to offer is a unique flavor profile in the matcha green tea. In a chilled cocktail, you can bring out the green tea flavor, but the mix must be aware of the sweetness this low proof liqueur brings.

I spent some time trying to think of a cocktail using Zen Green Tea Liqueur. Then I remembered my last trip to Zig Zag Cafe. I’d asked Murray Stenson to make me a drink to follow he Rembrandt I had just finished. He turned around to look at the bottles arrayed behind him, and came up with a tasty libation for me. I asked him to write it down, and managed to keep the coaster all this time.

I made a couple of small changes. The biggest change was to switch the garnish. Murray used a pearl onion. I decided to go with a red pepper stuffed olive. I also gave the drink a name.

Matcha Cocktail

1.75 oz London dry gin (No. 209)
0.5 oz Zen Green Tea Liqueur
0.5 oz bianco vermouth (Martini & Rossi Bianco)
0.25 oz Grand Marnier
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir over ice. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with red pepper stuffed green olive. Based on original by Murray Stenson, Zig Zag Cafe, Seattle, WA.

The resulting cocktail is a coppery gold, the combination of the Zen Green Tea Liqueur, Angostura bitters, and bianco vermouth. The drink does start quite sweet on the palate, but the high level of gin plus the bitters and the green tea aftertaste keep it in check. I picked a very large olive, that brought just enough brine to the party to dilute the sweetness towards the end and give a nice, palate cleansing bite. To make it less sweet, make it a little dirty, or use a dry vermouth in place of the bianco.

What flavors can you imagine pairing with green tea?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Dr. Bamboo December 11, 2008 at 5:54 am

I need this.


Anita / Married with dinner December 11, 2008 at 8:40 am

Mmm, I like your savory garnishes.

In the pastry world, matcha is often paired with white chocolate. I sometimes detect maple-like flavors, so that would be another way to go. I bet it would also be good with coconut (tiki drink?) and almond (orgeat or creme de noyeaux).

I have some Charbay green-tea vodka I might try some of these combos with. Is the Zen liqueur very sweet?


stevi December 11, 2008 at 8:52 am

The liqueur is a little sweeter than I would like; don’t think I’ll be drinking it straight. But it is less powerfully so when properly chilled.

Not as bad as the praline liqueur I found, which is so sweet I can’t use enough in a drink to get any pecan flavor before it’s undrinkable.


Pete December 13, 2008 at 1:48 pm

We played with this liquor about two years ago when it was easier to get a hold of. I found that the most popular drink was a twist on a long island that we called our Zen summer tea. great green tea and lemon ice tea flavors for a hot day. not a sexy cocktail, almost muddy green in apperance but a great summertime sipper.


Rosie September 7, 2009 at 1:26 pm

I had a Greentini at Mt. Fuji Steakhouse in Newtown, Pa. recently. It was made with Zen Green Tea Liqueur, sake, vodka and garnished with lime. Beautiful green color, and delicious!


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