When I was a little girl, I loved having high tea with my mom and friends. There was something about the delicate china, tiny sandwiches and getting to say fancy things like “Devonshire cream” that made me feel like a million bucks.
The complex and sometimes delicate flavors of tea still speak to me — but in a different light.
Given the never-ending search for wellness in our society, tea has become a sensation all over again. Tea shops are popping up all around town, offering hundreds of options for green, black, herbal and nouveau blends that promise to energize, enlighten and invigorate.
It was only a matter of time before we found tea sneaking its way onto the cocktail scene in exciting ways.
Tea has a long history in cocktails, dating to the original recipes for punch. The ingredients of a traditional punch from the 1700s were booze (brandy, whiskey, rum or gin), lemon or other citrus, spices, sugar, water and ice.
Jerry Thomas, considered the father of American mixology, insists that tea be used as a spice component, and in place of water, which makes for a much more complex punch.
Today we use teas to infuse spirits, flavor syrups and sometimes even act as a probiotic.
Iced tea variation
Many people associate Thai food with those bright orange iced teas that are sweet, a little creamy and a perfect complement to the spices found in Southeast Asian cuisine. This version is enhanced with a five-spice syrup and an aged rum that blends perfectly with the earthy flavors in the tea. The actual tea is important in this cocktail, as it is the main highlight and cannot be easily duplicated. It might take an extra stop to track it down, but you’ll be happy that you did.
From Thailand With Love
Toast spices until fragrant, add water and ginger, bring to a boil, add sugar. When sugar is dissolved, lower heat and simmer 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely. Strain into clean container.
Note: Make Thai iced tea using Pantai Thai Tea Mix (sold at Lao Asian Market, 65 N. Pauahi St. in Chinatown). A cup of the mix in 4 cups water will make 10 cocktails. Boil 3 minutes, then steep at least 30 minutes, cool and strain. The more concentrated the tea flavor, the better it tastes.
The beauty of this process is that it’s fast. You don’t have to put all of your ingredients in a jar and wait days or weeks to enjoy it.
Remember to use high-quality spirits, as cheap liquors will taste astringent after infusing. Also note that the higher the alcohol content, the faster the infusion.
Green teas can go bitter if infused for too long; black teas are intense and can overwhelm the spirit if steeped too long.
The Golden Age
Combine all ingredients in mixing glass with ice. Shake vigorously, strain into another glass and dry-shake (shake again without ice to further emulsify). Strain into martini glass.
Garnish: orange peel “flower” and bitters dropped onto froth and swirled
Notes: To make tea-infused gin, add 1/4 cup loose jasmine tea to a 750-milliliter bottle of gin. Let sit about 20 minutes. Strain. To make simple syrup, combine 2 parts sugar and 1 part water; bring to boil just long enough to dissolve sugar.
These syrups lend the flavors of tea without the extra liquid you’d get if you were to use brewed tea. This cocktail is a twist on the old-fashioned, but using Japanese whiskey and a hint of shiso. Green tea syrup lends a beautiful earthiness to the cocktail, and the whiskey barrel-aged bitters lend a cinnamon component.
Note: To make green tea syrup, place 2 green tea bags (or 2 tablespoons loose tea) in 1 cup boiling water. Add 1 cup sugar; steep 5 minutes. Remove tea bags or strain into clean container.
Kombucha is an effervescent, fermented beverage made from sweetened green or black teas. Because of the fermentation that takes place with a symbiotic colony of bacteria or yeast, it is considered a probiotic with detoxifying effects.
Its use in China as an “Immortality Tea” dates back 2,000 years but has only resurfaced in the West recently.
These days you will be hard-pressed to find a grocery store that doesn’t carry it. It is the coconut water of 2016, found in a variety of flavors, colors and brands.
The flavor profile of kombucha can take some getting used to, as it has pungent, vinegarlike notes in aroma and flavor. I have become a big fan — the vinegary taste doesn’t bother me at all; in fact, I find it refreshing and uplifting. And I do feel a boost in energy after I’ve consumed some.
One of my favorite flavors is ginger, so I love using it in a Moscow Mule alternative, substituting high-sugar ginger beer with health-inducing kombucha.
Combine lemon, ginger syrup and vodka in highball or copper mug. Fill with ice and top with kombucha; stir to combine.
Garnish: candied ginger, mint sprig and lemon wheel
Chandra Lucariello is director of mixology for Southern Wine & Spirits.