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Probably no drink carries the mystery and cachet of the noble martini. Shaken or stirred, on the rocks or straight up, and flavored with everything from chocolate to ginger to vanilla, martinis have become so popular that entire books are written about them. By now, nearly everyone over the age of 21 knows that an appletini is a martini made with sour apple liquor, but even the most sophisticated sippers may not know that a litchi martini is simply a martini that invites another fruit, the Asian litchi, out for a drink.
Litchis, also spelled lychees, are occasionally served in Chinese restaurants as a dessert, but most Americans haven’t been introduced to their smooth, sweet flavor. Like many fruits, litchis are born on the branches of trees. Due to the tough, protective rind that must be peeled away before the translucent, white fruit can be eaten, litchis are often referred to as a type of nut, but this isn’t exactly true. The litchi fruit does contain a hard, nutlike seed, but like a peach, this seed is not edible.
While traditional martinis such as the one everyone’s favorite spy insisted upon are made with dry vermouth and gin, a host of alternatives have recently made their claim by adding tini to their names. Vodka martinis are probably the earliest variation and appeared on the drinks scene practically tripping over the heels of its less-subtle cousin, the gin martini. Both traditional gin and vodka martinis are typically served either with a green olive or two or a toothpick skewer of tiny cocktail onions. A litchi martini, in contrast, is served with the jellylike fruit in the belly of the martini glass.
True martini aficionados might be a little perplexed by James Bond’s insistence that his martinis should be shaken and not stirred. Hard-core fans believe that shaking a gin martini is nothing short of rude behavior toward the gin. They claim that only the best-quality gins should be used in martinis and that shaking excellent gin will bruise the subtly rich flavor. As a litchi martini is made with vodka rather than gin, either shaking or stirring is acceptable.
With the explosion of flavored liquors, martini lovers the world over have been discovering endless variations on the theme. Most of these substitute the flavored liqueur for vermouth and change the olive or onion for the appropriate fruit. Thus, a melonini is made with melon liqueur and served with a tiny melon ball, while a chocotini contains chocolate liqueur and is presented in a martini glass rimmed in melted chocolate. A litchi martini requires litchi jarred in its own juices as well as litchi liqueur if it is available.
Not only has vermouth become an optional ingredient in a martini, but even gin and vodka might be given the boot and replaced by rum, champagne, or even saki. The type of liquor is open to interpretation, and so is the flavoring. The first wave of cutting-edge martinis favored fruity flavors like raspberry or honeydew, and the second wave explored less common fruits — hence, the litchi martini. These days, variations such as the curry or lavender martini are making the drinks scene.