In Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia, the sultry weather calls for the cooling relief of strongly flavored drinks.
Pungent ginger tea -- a popular beverage available at most cafes and from street vendors in Bangkok -- is simple to make at home. Hand-sized roots of the peppery-flavored plant are sliced, crushed and boiled with water. Add sugar or honey to taste. Serve hot or cold. Simple as that.
But be warned: the characteristic flavor of traditional ginger tea is notably piquant -- a far cry from common ginger ale.
"For American tastes it would be too strong. But I love it," says Aulie Bunyarataphan, chef and co-owner of Bangkok Joe's, which opened last summer in Georgetown, and T.H.A.I. in Shirlington. "Back home we call ginger king of the herbs."
With affection for ginger and respect for her customers palates in mind, Bunyarataphan created a ginger-lemon iced tea -- an ideal quencher to accompany her Thai stuffed dumplings and spicy dishes such as green curry on somen noodles.
On my first visit to Joe's, while seated at the pretty dumpling bar made of polished stone, I downed three tall glasses of ginger-lemon tea in minutes. At the same time it's light, tangy and refreshing.
"It's a hit, even with the kids," says Bunyarataphan who is not the only Thai in town making Asian-inspired drinks to beat the summer heat.
Sak Pollert, owner of Rice restaurant on 14th Street NW, says the latest culinary trend in Bangkok is adding matcha -- powdered green tea -- to everything.
"I was there in February and they were adding green tea to drinks, in foods," says Pollert who took the cue and composed a special menu for Rice featuring green-tea-flavored sticky rice and green tea dumplings, pork marinated in green tea, as well as beef topped with crisp green tea leaves. His lemon grass and green tea drink is a slightly earthy, out-of-the-ordinary, thirst-quencher.
"In Thailand, they are doing it for the health benefits of green tea. But for me, it's the fresh taste and the color," says Pollert who grew up on his family's rice farm in northern Thailand.
At Asia Nora in the West End, chef Haidar Karoum makes a subtle kaffir lime-ginger spritzer with leaves from owner Nora Pouillon's very own kaffir lime tree -- perfect for a muggy day.
At the Teaism cafes in downtown Washington executive chef Arpad Lengyel has come up with what he calls the imli cooler: a sour, yet sweet, tamarind-based drink that would be a welcome addition to a summer picnic with, let's say, a curried chicken salad and Vietnamese shrimp summer rolls.