The pairing of tea and booze; with two such ancient and honorable beverages it was only natural they should come together in sweet, tasty harmony. And, as more bartenders use tea, and bottles of tea-infused liquor appear in the market, this is a trend worth sampling.
“I think tea cocktails are showing up more because they have an exotic, yet familiar ingredient,” says Chris Cason, co-founder of Tavalon Tea and tea sommelier. “Bartenders are always looking for something new and trendy to add to their cocktails, and tea is the Holy Grail.”
Most of the drinks are made using a tea simple syrup and popular flavors include Earl Grey, Chinese black tea, the smoky lapsang souchong , and tisanes (meaning herbal teas) like chamomile. Cason says, “Tea lends itself well to mixing because it’s very versatile and fits in practically any recipe,” meaning, he added, that it can be hot or iced, caffeine-free or energizing, light or hearty.
At Jbird Cocktails on the Upper East Side they make the dark, fruity Imperial March with Chinese black tea- infused Cognac 1st Cru. They also offer the light, floral, and slightly sweet Camomila Cocktail with chamomile grappa. At Pegu Club, Audrey Saunders has been serving up her creamy, dessert-like Earl Grey MarTEAni for years. The Sin Nombre Punch at Mayahuel has raspberry tea in it, and if you hit up Summit Bar you can try their barrel-aged cocktail Born & Raised, which uses honey bush tea-infused Oak Cross Scotch in the recipe.
At Bistro The Tea Set, owner Jacques Doassans has transferred his love of tea into syrup form and serves up refreshing champagne cocktails with green apple mate. He uses red peach vanilla tisane in a Grey Goose martini. Lani Kai also goes the fruity route and infuses vodka with tropical black tea for their Hawaiian iced tea. In the Hamilton Park Swizzle, they utilize Applejack with mango black tea. For a pure tea- infused cocktail experience, the branch of Alice’s Tea Cup on the Upper East Side has an array of “mar-tea-nis” to choose from, including their Manhattan with Earl Grey- infused Jack Daniels, Moda Vieja with lapsang souchong doused tequila, and the Kim Gin Il, which has rooibos-infused gin in the mix.
If you are lazy and want tea-infused liquor all ready for you, Belvedere recently came out with a smooth vodka distilled with tea and lemon. As for a do-it-yourself version, Cason suggests that when making a tea cocktail, don’t mix a light tea with a strong spirit or it will overpower. “I usually pair hearty teas, like black and oolongs, with stronger-flavored mixers and spirits, and lighter teas, like green, white and herbals, with lighter mixers and spirits,” he says. “A proper tea cocktail is like a good democracy: everyone gets a voice.” So long, England; America has taken over your favorite beverage and given it a rebel spin.