Why I'm So Into the Nonalcoholic Tea Cocktails at This New York City Korean Spot

What’s not to love about a good nonalcoholic tea cocktail?

The last time I sought refuge from New York City’s recent rainy stretch inside NARO, 2019 Food & Wine Best New Chef Junghyun Park and Ellia Park’s fine-dining Korean spot in Rockefeller Center, I ducked into the dimly lit, horseshoe-shaped bar to snack on a few plates from the a la carte menu. Although NARO is predominantly a prix fixe establishment, the bar offers a more casual taste of what Park does so well at his other NYC restaurants, Atoboy and Atomix. 

I debated ordering a glass of sparkling Chenin Blanc or Champagne to go with juicy fried chicken morsels perched on crispy rice cakes coated in gochugaru and chili crisp, but ultimately couldn’t tear my eyes away from the thoughtfully crafted nonalcoholic beverage program. The menu includes the Woosoo Cooler, a refreshing green-tea-based drink that pairs surprisingly well with savory and sweet dishes (like the Pop Rocks popsicle, which is a must-order) alike.

As someone who firmly believes in the power and potential that tea has to bring floral, fruity, earthy, or vegetal notes to your mixed drinks, it’s not exactly surprising that I went for the Woosoo Cooler. At home, I'll often add a splash of gin to some iced Darjeeling tea, or a bit of mezcal to pack smoky notes into an otherwise delicate coupe of Jasmine tea. This Matcha Highball is one of my favorite ways to integrate matcha — milled green tea — into an eye-catching nightcap. Still, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect when I ordered the Woosoo Cooler, which harnesses the bright, floral flavor of hydrangeas to taper the earthier notes of barley. I learned that the drink also calls for Korean pear juice, which packs a bit of acidity and sweetness, and for a bit of effervescence, the bar team adds Wild Mountain Green tea, a sparkling tea with a surprisingly nutty flavor that I’d happily drink on its own. Beverage Director Jhonel Faelnar tells me it's the most popular item on the nonalcoholic list.

Beyond the Woosoo Cooler, the nonalcoholic beverage program at NARO features a tart, tangy shrub made with yuzu juice and prickly pear, which I plan to order the next time I’m in the mood for something to pair with the razor clams. There are also several oolong-tea-based offerings from Unified Ferments, whose bubbly, complex creations straddle the line between kombucha and sparkling wine. "A non-alcoholic program can take hours of prep to get fresh and fermented ingredients to come to life. Even the simple use of fresh juices for daily service takes a lot of time to prepare, an often underrated part of any bar program," Faelnar explains. "But a new roster of methods and also NA spirit producers are coming to the forefront to fill this need and we should continue seeing more exciting nonalcoholic beverages pop up across the city, especially at NARO."

As someone who loves a stiff drink but loves unpacking what goes into making a perfectly balanced, booze-free cocktail even more, NARO’s nonalcoholic drinks list is one I plan to make my way through — with many more orders of rice cakes.

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