Is there anything tea can’t do? It’s healthy, it relaxes us, it perks us up, it helps us sleep, and it comforts us. Turns out it’s also great in mixed drinks. Yep, tea’s current North American coming-out party — many other cultures have known its greatness for millennia — has connected with the cocktail world and the results are tea-licious!
As fast as tea shops spring up in Victoria, local bartenders are also discovering the amazing flavours available in the tea world. Shawn Soole and Nate Caudle of Little Jumbo are converts, and their recent book for Touchwood Editions, Cocktail Culture, includes numerous drink recipes that use tea. But one person, Silk Road tea shop owner and tea master, Daniela Cubelic, has been on the tea cocktail trip long before they were trendy.
“I developed an expertise in Asian tea, if you will, which is kind of where the home of tea is,” Cubelic says. “… I would say probably about 20 years ago I started, for fun, creating tea cocktails. I knew a lot about tea and I was interested in cocktails and I realized you could combine the two and create really delicious drinks.”
Silk Road’s website has a section dedicated to tea recipes, many of which are tea cocktails. These are Cubelic’s original concoctions and they change seasonally to reflect the weather and availability of fresh ingredients. This time of year, Cubelic leans toward hot tea toddies and tea cocktails made with (a personal favourite of hers) fresh-squeezed Mandarin juice, a perfect option for a Chinese New Year party.
Tea for a Twist
Tea’s versatility and flavour options have been a big draw for mixologists. Anyone who’s spent time in a tea shop such as Silk Road can attest to the wide variety of herbal and black (and green and white) teas available. It’s a wonderland of exotic aromas and tastes that offer incredible options for mixing drinks.
There are multiple ways to use tea in cocktails. One method is to infuse a spirit such as gin, vodka, tequila, or even saké (which I realize isn’t technically a spirit) with a tea. Depending on the ratio of tea to spirit, this can be done in as little as 20 minutes or as long as 24 hours.
A second method is to create a tea-flavoured simple syrup. You basically brew a strong version of tea with a sweetener, such as sugar or agave syrup. Use this tea-infused syrup as you would any other simple syrup to both sweeten and add flavour.
The third method is to simply brew a tea and use it as a mixer. “In many cases when you’re dealing with good quality tea, it doesn’t require a lot of sweetener,” says Cubelic. “Although having the right balance of sugar in a cocktail is important, so often when you’re using juice, for instance, it can get too sweet really quickly and you lose all of the other flavours.”
The last method puts the tea at the forefront. You basically brew tea and “spike it” with a favourite spirit (or spirits). However, with this kind in particular, quality tea is key. “A lot of the teas that are out there are artificially flavoured, which people don’t realize,” Cubelic warns. “When you’re working and creating cocktails at a high calibre level — all the ingredients are authentic, everything’s made from scratch — if you start working with teas that aren’t very good quality, that are artificially flavoured, it’s the equivalent of using artificial vanilla extract instead of vanilla beans. Or cheap liqueur.”
Both herbal teas or traditional (caffeinated) teas offer plenty of options, depending on the flavour profiles you want. Be mindful, however, of over-steeping green and black teas. “They can get quite bitter,” Cubelic notes. “They work well as ingredients in cocktails, but you just have to be a little bit careful as to how to use them. Especially with green tea, you have to be careful not to oversteep it.”
You may want to begin your tea cocktail odyssey with one of Daniela Cubelic’s favourite winter recipes. Here it is for you to try at home. Enjoy!
Silk Road’s Spicy Mandarin Tea Sparkler
Makes 4 to 6 servings
• 2 cups white rum or vodka
• 6 tbsp Silk Road Spicy Mandarin Tea
• 1 tbsp honey
• 1 cup freshly squeezed Mandarin orange juice
• Sparkling water
Place 6 tbsp of dry Silk Road Spicy Mandarin Tea leaves in 2 cups of white rum or vodka. Allow tea to sit in the alcohol for 20 minutes, then strain out the tea leaves. Add 1 tbsp honey to the alcohol infusion and stir until dissolved.
Squeeze 4 to 8 Mandarin oranges to obtain 1 cup of juice. Shake the juice over ice quickly to chill instantly before using.
Place a generous serving of crushed ice in a glass tumbler. Fill the glass 1/4 full with Mandarin juice. Add 2 oz. of the tea-infused alcohol/honey mixture, and top with sparkling water. Stir briefly before serving.
Tip: Mandarins can vary in sweetness so taste immediately before serving to ensure the balance of sweetness is right. If the drink isn’t sweet enough, drizzle a bit of honey over the cocktail as a finishing touch.
By Adem Tepedelen