Foam is more than a garnish; it aerates the cocktail, enhancing its scent.
ANTONIO LAI, owner of the Hong Kong bar Quinary, says he saw far more local customers than international tourists over the last year or so. In this same period he also traveled less, with more time near home giving him a newfound appreciation for modest, close comforts. Comforts that are as small as a quick stay (and a nice shower) at a nearby hotel. “I tried it, and it's like, Okay, ‘staycation’ sounds very stupid, but I understand,” he says. He sees this with customers as well: “They're willing to spend a little more money because they know they go out less, so they want something a little bit better than just what they normally have,” he says.
One of Lai’s favorite cocktails, the Taste of HK, is an example of that elevated experience. Its two key ingredients — lychee red tea and sugarcane juice — both come from shops close by that have been run by the same families for 50 years. Traditional Chinese medicine recommends both herbal tea and sugarcane juice to stave off heat and humidity in the summer. “Combining these together allowed me to share a little bit of the memory of Hong Kong, going to tea shops to have tea and having a chat with the boss, drinking sugarcane juice when we are really hot.”
The name Quinary refers to Lai's belief that cocktails should engage each of our senses. For instance, foam is more than a garnish; it aerates the cocktail, enhancing its scent. Quinary wins many awards for its experimental approach to cocktails — radial acceleration, spherification, and fat-washing are just some of the bartenders' transformative techniques. Lai says the cocktail works without the foam and the gold leaf, but these elements add something special. “I understand that it’s a lot less easy to just buy a few grams of lecithin and some edible gold at the market,” he says. Once you have the ingredients, the technique is rather straightforward, explains Lai. You only need to invest in a cheap aquarium pump to create your foam, transforming this and any future cocktails. “Using small money to achieve big,” Lai says. It’s another way to turn what you normally have into something just a little bit better.
The Taste of HK
- 20 ml lychee red tea cordial (20g tea with 500g hot water)
- 200 g sugar
- 5g citric acid
- 45 ml fresh sugarcane juice
- 30 ml Ketel One vodka
- Lychee tea air (lychee red tea and lecithin)
- Edible gold leaf
- Brew lychee tea in hot water for 15 minutes. Add sugar and let cool. Add citric acid.
- Combine all ingredients in a highball glass and top with soda.
- Garnish with lychee tea air and edible gold leaf.
Jessica Suarez Writer
Jessica Suarez is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York.
Grant Cornett Photographer
Grant Cornett is a photographer and director based in upstate New York. He likes to take pictures of pristine detritus and austere moments.