Tea is hot, so it only makes sense that tea-infused cocktails should be as well.
According to Packaged Facts, tea sales will reach $25 billion this year, nearly $19 billion of that in foodservice. Being Americans, we aren’t willing to settle for the traditional cuppa; in fact, the lion’s share of that volume is obviously the iced variety, and a growing portion is sold at the bar as part of an adult beverage.
“Tea adds a smoky bitterness to balance out a drink, and can also be used as a subtle flavoured way of lengthening a tall drink. Some bartenders infuse it into the base spirit, or brew and chill the tea and add it to the shaker, it works well each and every way,” says BarChick, a website that covers the bar scene.
“I love working with tea,” mixologist Jesse Held told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Tea has such a complexity where you don’t need a lot of different ingredients to achieve a pretty cool cocktail.” He also likes the fact that tea-infused alcohol, especially gin and vodka, is ready in less than an hour, not days. At Parlour, Coup d’etat and Marche, he serves an Old Fashioned that incorporates Earl Grey tequila as well as gin and vodka sours with rooibos and green tea, respectively.
Berkeley, CA’s Asha Tea House recently started serving selected tea cocktails: a raspberry green tea mojito, made with Asha’s house Japanese green tea, a raspberry puree, soju and fresh muddled mint; and an oolong highball, combining soju and unsweetened oolong. Owner David Lau explained in an East Bay Express story that he was inspired during a visit to Taiwan, where he discovered whiskey green tea. The drink is a combination of bottled green tea and Johnnie Walker, mixed over plenty of ice.
Props for the best tea cocktail name go to Soul Gastrolounge In Charlotte, NC, which recently added the We’ve Got Chai Hopes to its fall cocktail menu. “We didn’t want to use the chai mix from the store,” mixologist Andy Maurer told the Charlotte Observer. Instead, he mixes chai spices, coconut milk, oolong tea and sweetener to make a syrup, then mixes it with Carolina Coast Spiced Rum and Lemon Hart 151 Rum. It’s served over ice and topped with freshly grated nutmeg.
In New Orleans, the Vietnamese spot MoPho created a boba (also known as bubble) tea cocktail menu. The signature spiked boba, the Old Fashioned, incorporates Asian white tea with bourbon, house-made bourbon simple syrup, Peychaud’s bitters, cherry liqueur and frozen citrus juice along with a choice of tapioca pearls, popping pearls or flavored jellies. Other options, according to nola.com, include Guns and Roses (strawberry and orange syrups, rosewater syrup and house-infused orange vodka or mezcal) and the Sazerac.
Even Londoners, who take their tea seriously, are diluting it with alcohol. The Zacapa White Orchid at the Asian-themed Aqua Spirit combines rum and jasmine tea. And here’s how BarChick describes our personal favorite, the breakfast martini, served at Mark's Bar: “It’s Compass Box Whisky, Hix Breakfast blend (a black leaf tea from Rare Tea Co), and marmalade, served straight up with a side of buttered marmalade toast. The smoky tannins in the tea are softened by the buttery toast.”