Guest Blogger: Alison Goldy
Elevate your tea this New Years, perhaps with something a little more spirited!
Both tea and alcohol have long been libations to bring people together, so why not combine the two into a glorious beverage that shines at your next celebration?
As early as the mid-18th century, folks were mixing up tea-based cocktails like English Milk Punch, a perfectly proportionate mingling of booze, water (or tea), sweet, sour, and spice. In fact, these punches were the precursor to the first single-serve cocktail which we now call an Old-Fashioned, comprised of booze, water, sugar, and bitters (which basically replaced the tea). During the Prohibition Era, tea happened to be the drink of choice for law-abiding citizens and teetotalers, while ironically, the teacup was the vessel of choice for those feeling a little more rebellious. Clearly, the histories of tea and alcohol have been intertwined for many many years.
So why the seemingly sudden interest in bringing the flavor of tea into modern-day cocktails? Columbus, Ohio resident and home cocktail crafter and enthusiast, Scot Burbacher, found inspiration in the simplicity of those pre-Prohibition era cocktails, but also saw room for adaptation. Experimenting with a classic Hot Toddy, he notes “Why needlessly dilute those flavors with boring hot water when you could instead complement them with the spice notes from a good chai?” He also made a Whiskey Chai for his family’s Christmas Eve celebration which was received so well that two liters were gone before he could even think about going back for seconds.
For the skilled bartender or mixologist, the general aim is always to highlight a base spirit and create complexity and flavor enhancement by incorporating other ingredients. Adding tea may contribute flavor, bitterness, sweetness, or acidity, typically all essential components of a well-balanced cocktail. It should be no surprise that cocktails listing tea somewhere in the ingredients are popping up on bar menus all throughout the country. In Sarasota, Florida’s hip Pangea Alchemy Lounge, a speakeasy-style cocktail lounge, not one but three of the twelve drinks listed under “Classic Cocktails” use a green tea, spiced chai, or earl grey to elevate their spirits. I’m getting thirsty and we should all head to Pangea for a New Years Toast.
Ready to dream up your own tea-based cocktail? Take hints from the professionals for your pairings: it’s not a bad idea to start with Gin, as its floral and herbaceous qualities will pair well with most any tea. White spirits such as Vodka meld well with the subtle yet earthy tones of white, green, or fruity herbal teas. Spicy herbal, roasty, and black teas add great depth to brown spirits, and you can’t go wrong with pairing up chai and Rum. Or try Scotch with a mellow chamomile tea for a nutty, honey, floral experience.
Infusing a base spirit with tea results in a cocktail in which you can taste both flavors of the tea and spirit without undermining the other, and if you are a tea aficionado, you are in luck as your knowledge of tea puts you ahead of the game. Some familiarity with steeping times and density of leaves (tightly rolled oolong versus fluffy chamomile) will help determine the steeping time and amount of tea leaf used in an infusion. Keep these tips in mind: Higher proof spirits will lead to a quicker and bolder extraction of tea flavors, while shorter steeping times and using less tea will result in a more understated flavor. Herbal teas are less likely to become bitter, and there is a little more wiggle room with white and roasted teas as well (as opposed to black and green teas). Steeping time may also vary based on the type of drink desired – less for a simple, few ingredient cocktail, and more for a very busy conglomeration of spirit, juice, syrups, etc. And if you really want to get crazy, try using tea as a garnish atop your cocktail!
Infuse all these guidelines into your cocktail-making repertoire, and voila! – you’ve created an award-winning tea-based cocktail. With think it's time to celebrate New Years with a few of our favorite Love Tea inspired mixes:
"For Whom the Mint Tolls" - A fabulous Ernest Hemingway inspired infusion.
Give me a Double Chocolate Mar"tea"ini over ice!
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