“I’m a tea guy,” said Chris Cason at the Coffee and Tea Festival in New York City. But for this demonstration, the Tavalon 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:
— Sydney Beveridge, The Spir.it