By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America
Tea Time has a new meaning. Mixologists are working with the ancient beverage to craft cool contemporary cocktails. These go beyond mom’s whiskey-spiked cold cure. They go further than the spiked Arnold Palmer, a tea-lemonade-vodka blend known as the “John Daly.” And, forget about the Long Island Iced T ea. That killer collection lacks suitable botanical origin.
Today’s bartenders are using the Camellia sinensis in its pure form and variations — matcha, chai — to prepare potent palate pleasers. Herbal blends are also popular.
“In the United States we drink more iced tea than any other country, it makes sense to use it in our cocktails,” says Paula Hershman, owner of Storehouse Teas, a custom blender of organic, fair-trade tea in Cleveland, Ohio. “Tea can be used as the main flavor of the drink or a component.”
Any tea-spirit combination is fair game and she encourages mixologists to experiment. “You can choose to accent flavors from tea or use tea as a cocktail’s base. There are so many combinations we have yet to discover. Heartier teas like Earl Grey and Assam teamight be better with darker liquors. White rum goes well with peach white tea or vodka with a citron jasmine herbal blend.”
Like wine, tannin is a flavor component of tea. A cold brew minimizes the tannic harshness. Meanwhile adding simple syrup to a drink softens them. “The secret is adding the simple syrup to smooth and infuse the flavors. Garnishes add a lot of color, flavor and texture,” says Hershman.
Eric Ho and his partners are totaling tea’s potential at LBM, a contemporary cocktail bar in Lakewood, Ohio. Drink creators from there roam tea aisles at local organic markets for inspiration.
“We make a punch-style cocktail with tea in it,” says Ho. “It’s a super-traditional punch that follows the 1800s rhyme — one sour, two sweet, three strong, and four weak.” The numbers refer to parts or fractions of the total punch. The “weak” component in the punch recipe is hot brewed tea.
Yet another drink, the Mask of Sanity, mixes tea with rum, brandy, citrus, passionfruit and bitters. And, the creative minds from LBM continue to pioneer new drinks. They often start with a seasonal ingredient, then consult The Flavor Bible by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen A. Page to identify complimentary flavors. One flavor ties to another and soon a web of flavor comes together, says Ho.
Test one of Storehouse Tea’s recipes at home.
Mint Mojito Tea Cocktail
- 1 shot white rum
- 3 to 4 ounces Storehouse Amazon Mint Yerba Mate / Guayusa Tea or other mint tea
- dash of simple syrup
- splash of soda
- 2 peppermint leaves
- 2 lime wedges
Fill a 6 to 8-ounce glass with ice cubes. Add rum, tea and simple syrup. Stir. Splash in soda. Garnish with mint leaves and lime wedges.