“I’m a tea guy,” says Chris Cason at the recent Coffee and Tea Festival in New York City. But for this demonstration, the Tavalon’s Tea Sommelier and co-founder puts down his teacup and picks up a cocktail shaker. Over the years, he has experimented with different concoctions and sought out advice from bartenders to come up with a variety of tea cocktail recipes, which he shares on the Tavalon blog.
Not surprisingly, his tea cocktail demonstrations continue to grow in popularity. Tea cocktails can excite the lay tea drinker (as well as cocktail drinkers of all levels) about the depth of possibilities hidden in the leaves. Cason emphasizes using tea as a core component of a cocktail, not just a novelty ingredient.
Tea cocktails are enjoying renewed popularity, but they likely first originated in 18th century Scotland with the Hot Toddy. Full of the sharpening powers of caffeine, calming properties of L-theanine and cleansing antioxidants, tea offers a “slightly less guilty pleasure” for your next drink.
As with any cocktail, balancing ingredients in a tea drink matters. Cason advises knowing your teas and spirits to enhance pairings. For instance, the bergamot oil in a good Earl Grey tea helps it play well with other citrus, such as Plymouth Gin (made with lemon peel), to create a winning cocktail. (He especially enjoys the combination in his Earl Grey MarTEAni.) Similarly, a spicy rum would complement a chai tea. As a general rule, the stronger the tea, the bolder the spirit it can balance.
Cason works with loose tea, adding it to simple syrups and bottles of spirits, and then straining it out. You can leave tea in simple syrups for a day or so to maximize flavor, but leaving tea in a spirit for more than 30-45 minutes releases tea’s tannins and bitter flavors, ruining the alcohol. Also, you don’t need expensive liquors for infusions, since the tea will overshadow delicate flavors.
The same rules of brewing time, temperature and amount for a good cup of tea apply to making tea as a mixer. Also, be sure not to let tea leaves sit around long between multiple steepings as they can grow bacteria quickly.
Brew up some of Cason’s favorite tea cocktails from these recipes.
Cason’s Earl Grey MarTEAni
Earl Grey-Infused Vodka (or Gin)
750ml bottle vodka (recommended: TRU Vodka) (or Gin)
2 heaping tablespoons Earl Grey (recommended: Tavalon’s Earl Grey Reserve)
For the MarTEAni
1.5 oz Earl Grey-infused Vodka
1.5 oz lemon juice (freshly squeezed), recommended: Meyer
1.5 oz simple syrup
splash ginger ale
lemon wheel, to garnish
Add tea leaves directly into vodka bottle, cover and shake vigorously to distribute evenly. Allow to “steep” for 30 minutes (no longer, or else the tannins - the bitter stuff - will start to come out), then strain.
Combine Earl Grey-infused vodka, lemon juice and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake for 15 seconds to fully incorporate. Strain into a chilled martini glass and add a splash of ginger ale and garnish with lemon wheel.
Cason’s Homemade Sweet Tea Vodka
1 quart vodka (recommended: TRU)
1 1/2 cups simple syrup
1/4 cup black tea, loose (recommended: Tavalon’s NYC Breakfast)
Combine all ingredients in a sealed container and shake well to thoroughly mix. Allow to “steep” for 45 minutes, shaking occasionally. Strain. Best served chilled.
This is good by itself, but also mixes well. For example, a 1:1 ratio of tea-vodka to fresh-squeezed lemonade makes a mean Spiked Arnold (named after the golfer Arnold Palmer who created the non-alcoholic version).
Dark, Sweet and Stormy
2 oz Homemade Sweet Tea Vodka
1 oz dark rum (look for "aged rum" or "red rum")
3 oz ginger ale
Pour all of the ingredients into a highball glass filled with ice. Squeeze in juice from the lime and stir.
4 oz boiling water
1 teaspoon Crimson Punch tea
2 oz bourbon (recommended: Bulleit)
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 orange slice
10 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
Stud the orange slice with 10 cloves. Steep tea in boiling water for 5 minutes, then strain into insulated measuring cup or bowl (covering to keep hot). Run a brandy snifter under hot water until it is fairly warm. Place clove-studded orange slice into snifter, then pour in bourbon, and finally hot tea. Stir in 1 tablespoon agave nectar with cinnamon stick. Serve in a teacup.
Sydney Beveridge is the media and content editor for SocialExplorer.com and assists with radio documentaries and dramas for the BBC. Based in New York, she has contributed to The Brian Lehrer Show, Mental Floss and now, befitting her name, TheSpir.it. Read more at sydneybeveridge.com.