Spirits Confidential with Max Solano
“TEA’S THE SEASON”
photos by Joy Solano
When we think of tea, its history, vast varieties and its uses, we could write about it for days….Tea’s origin is a colorful story that is a great blend of fact and fiction combining culture and spirituality. According to Chinese legend, the history is traced all the way back to 2737 B.C. when the Emperor Shen Nong accidentally discovered tea. The story claims that as the Emperor was boiling water a leaf from an overhanging tea tree drifted into the water. The Emperor supposedly enjoyed drinking the infused water so much that he delved into further researching tea and, eventually began discovering its medicinal properties.
Indian history attributes the discovery of tea to Prince Bodhi-Darma, the saint who discovered the Zen school of Buddhism. In 520 B.C. he left India to go preach Buddhism in China. To prove some Zen principles, he vowed to meditate for nine years without any sleep. However, towards the end of his demonstration, he fell asleep. Upon awakening, he was so angered by this that he cut off his own eyelids and threw them to the ground. Legend has it that a tea plant sprung up at that very spot to sanctify his sacrifice.
Despite deciphering the truths behind these stories, we know that tea became popularized and widespread first in the East, and eventually being introduced to the Western World by way of the Portuguese sometime in the 16th century. Since then, there has been a very detailed history of growth, traditions and innovations to create our modern-day tea industry which is practically consumed in every culture throughout the world. It seems that going as far back as the early 2000s there have been many discussions pointing to tea being a next big trend in the cocktail scene. To be frank, I don’t know that this has ever materialized and become widespread. I recall competing in the very first World Tea cocktail competition in 2008. There were competitors from all over, and this was really my first exposure to the world of tea and cocktails. I was honored to have my winning tea cocktail recipe published in Cynthia Gold’s book: Culinary Tea. But, again, to my point, it just seems that there have only been pockets of interest and implementation of teas in cocktails. When using tea, please know that the longer tea steeps, the more bitter and tannic it can become. So, use discretion. Also, when using straight tea in cocktails, keep in mind that what you are adding is straight water, so the drink is being thinned out.
Below, I have included several easy-to-make cocktail recipes using different teas and methods.
1.5 oz. Empress 1908 Gin
.75 oz. Cartron Pamplemousse (Grapefruit) Liqueur
1 oz. Chamomile Tea syrup*
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
3 dashes Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters
*Brew a strong chamomile tea-approximately one tea bag for every four ounces of hot water-and let steep for 15 minutes. While still hot, combine the hot tea with equal parts table sugar and stir well until the sugar is dissolved. Keep refrigerated.
Garnish: Grapefruit peel oils, edible pansy or viola flower
Method: In a mixing glass or tin, combine all the ingredients and shake well over ice. Strain the contents straight up into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish.
1.5 oz. Ceylon Orange Pekoe tea-infused Chase English Vodka*
.5 oz. Chase Elderflower Liqueur
1.5 oz. blood orange puree
1 oz. simple syrup
.5 oz. fresh lemon juice
*In a glass container, place one tea bag or, if using loose leaf (none-bagged), two teaspoons for every 4 oz. of 80 proof vodka and infuse for no more than 12 hours. Less time, if using spirits with higher ABV.
Garnish: dehydrated orange slice, brandied cherry flag
Glassware: double old-fashioned
Method: In a mixing glass or tin, combine all of the ingredients and shake well over ice. Strain the contents into a double old-fashioned glass over a large ice sphere. Garnish.
1.5 oz. Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon
.5 oz. St-Germain Elderflower
3 oz. brewed iced tea
1.5 oz. Nagomi Peach Tea Syrup
.5 oz. fresh lemon juice
Garnish: dehydrated lemon wheel & fresh mint sprig
Method: In a mixing glass or tin, combine all of the ingredients and shake well over ice. Strain the contents into a double old-fashioned glass over fresh ice. Garnish.
We know that there are many applications for tea in cocktails. And, perhaps someday, it will become big enough that we will have a need for tea cocktail authorities. Who knows? It may be you! Until then, know that Tis’ always the season for tea!