Tea for Two: Some thoughts on making cocktails with tea…
Tomorrow is National Tea Day and I’ve teamed up with Elin Lawrence, who writes the blog Travel Food Cool, to bring you some celebratory cocktails this week. There’s lots of information about making cocktails with tea that’s available online, but I wanted to share my own personal thoughts about tea as an ingredient and the experiences I’ve had using it. The first tea cocktail that I ever made was with a green tea vodka from Charbay in California, a company that makes excellent infused products. I found the flavoring to be very subtle and it definitely worked in the Cucumber Collins type drink that I made. It opened up a world of possibilities for me as I considered all the different cocktails I could make with this vodka. Purchasing an infused product is not a bad place to start, but just be sure that you buy something that’s top quality and not loaded up with anything artificial or sugary. A second option, and one that’s very easy and inexpensive, is to create your own tea-infused spirit. You would simply steep 3-4 tea bags in a bottle of whatever alcohol you choose as your base spirit and let it infuse for no more than 4 hours. Keep checking the flavor until you have it where you want it to be. As an alternative, you could also use actual tea leaves and then strain them out before using the spirit in a drink.
The most straightforward way of getting tea into a drink that I’ve tired so far is to just brew a cup of tea and add a portion of it in as an ingredient. Ironically this has been the most challenging way to go for me. Tea has a certain amount of bitterness to it and I’ve had to adjust recipes this way and that to compensate for it. Not the end of the world, but definitely something that required a bit more thinking and effort for me. My favorite method of using tea in cocktails is to make a simple syrup. I usually make a double strength cup of tea, measure out 8 ounces, and then add 4 ounces of sugar to it, reheating gently until the tea looks clear. This gives me plenty to use in my cocktail and some to store in a mason jar in the fridge for about 2 weeks or so. You can always adjust the sugar one way or another according to your own taste preferences or to suit what your trying to accomplish in a particular cocktail. With this method, I’ve found that the tea’s bitter component actually helps to temper the sweetness of the simple syrup, allowing you to bring flavor to your drink in a more subtle way.
In terms of which teas to use, the world is pretty much yours to explore. Common pairings will take you in the direction of lighter floral and herbal teas with vodka, gin, and white rum, leaving your black teas to match up with darker spirits. Green tea seems to be able to go both ways. As always, don’t think twice about breaking these rules; you may come up with a combination that’s unexpected and wonderful! The next tea ingredient that I plan on exploring more is matcha, which is actually a powder used in many green tea lattes which I absolutely love. It’s very potent so a little goes a long way, but it’s definitely next up on my tea radar.
Today I’ve made two cocktails for you with tea as an ingredient. The first one, pictured above, uses the method of just adding brewed tea to the recipe. I used Bluecoat Barrel Finished gin as my base spirit because I thought it would pair well with the Earl Grey tea and the lemon juice. I added pineapple gum syrup as a sweetener and some lavender lemon balm bitters to brighten things up. It definitely took some adjusting to get this cocktail right, mostly involving cutting back on the amount of tea that I was using, but I was happy with the end result.
And Why Not?
2 oz Bluecoat Barrel Finished gin
¾ oz Earl Grey tea
½ oz Liber & Co. pineapple gum syrup
½ oz lemon juice
2 dashes DRAM lavender lemon balm bitters
Place the ingredients in the bottom half of a cocktail shaker and add ice. Shake for 15-20 seconds or until very cold. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel. Enjoy!
For the second cocktail, I went with a lapsang souchong simple syrup with just a bit of vanilla added in. If you’ve never had this tea before, it’s worth exploring, especially if you love smokey flavors. I used Rujero Singani as my base in this drink, a wonderful spirit that is like a cross between a tequila and a pisco. It can be a bit difficult to find, but it’s more than worth the effort. As an alternative, you could substitute the tequila or the pisco; they’re readily available and will definitely work. For my other ingredients I went with Ancho Reyes, a chili liquor, and Element Shrub’s Honeydew Jalapeno, both of which brought some definite heat to the drink that paired nicely with the smokiness of the Rujero and the simple syrup. I added in some lime to brighten up the other flavors, and I had this cocktail right where I wanted it to be.
Be sure to pop over to Travel Food Cool to read about Elin’s fabulous tea-based cocktails!
Late Night Text
2 oz Rujero Singani
½ oz Ancho Reyes chili liqueur
1 oz Element Shrub Honeydew Jalapeno
½ oz Lapsang Souchong vanilla syrup*
½ oz lime juice
Place the ingredients in the bottom half of a cocktail shaker and add ice. Shake for 15-20 seconds or until very cold. Double strain into an old-fashioned glass over one large cube. Garnish with a lime twist. Enjoy!
*Brew an 8 oz cup of lapsang souchong tea and allow to steep. Add 4 oz sugar and reheat until the sugar dissolves. Stir in ½ tsp vanilla bean paste. Store in a mason jar in the fridge for 2 weeks.