Tea cocktails have been popping up on bar menus for the past few years now, with good reason.
When you boil right down to it, teas and herbals offer an unparalleled range of flavours, scents, and colours that – with a little effort – create delicious and sophisticated results.
Recently I spent a few hours at Toronto’s Soho House, experimenting with their very talented bar and barista staff to push the envelope on what our loose teas could do. The mission: to create a new signature tea cocktail.
There are really three basic methods for infusing cocktails with tea:
1. Make a tea concentrate, or syrup. This is the most widely used method, and is very simple to execute. It offers consistency and is the least expensive to produce, while also offering an option for non-alcoholic options.
Method: Steep 2 rounded tablespoons of loose tea in 1L freshly boiled water for 10-15 minutes. You want this tea to be very strong, so over-steeping is not a worry. Strain the liquid. Add 1/4 – 1/2 cup sugar, (or agave, to taste) and stir to dissolve. Allow to cool, and it’s ready to be added to whatever cocktail you are making.
2. Make a tea spirit. This method takes advantage of the flavour extracting power of high proof alcohol.
Method: Steep 1 rounded tablespoon loose tea in 500ml vodka. Allow to steep for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours. Strain. The infused vodka will have a very prominent tea flavour, and will make a brilliantly boozy Arnold Palmer when shaken with lemonade. Try experimenting with bourbon, rum, tequila, or gin as options.
3. Tea bitters. (Extra points for barrel aging) Bitters harken back to the days of traditional medicine. Today, many restaurants and cocktail destinations make their very own in-house bitters.
Method: To make this yourself you will need a high proof alcohol (vodka works well with a neutral flavour) and traditionally, something bitter to add to that. Black walnut, gentian root, and wild cherry bark are some examples of bitter elements that aren’t too hard to find. Add to this infusion tea leaves, dried fruit, cinnamon bark, fresh or dried herbs… the combinations are endless. Age in a large mason jar for a week to a month, and strain. You can then transfer the bitters into a barrel to age – which can add a delicious oak element to your cocktails. Remember, a little of this goes a long way so it is worth the effort in the beginning to source high quality ingredients. Bitters will naturally evolve in flavour over time – so taste often!
Photo credit: Gabriel Navarro