Tea Cocktails Steep Their Way Into the Mainstream

By Carlynn Woolsey, Foodable Contributor

What ingredient can you add to a mixed drink that will give it greater depth of flavor, a healthful boost, zero additional alcohol content and stretch low-end liquor in the mix? The answer: tea. With tea-centric locales appearing across the nation and bartenders eager to mix up herbal infusions, tea is no longer reserved solely for the afternoon hours.    

Steeping into the Mainstream  

Late in 2012, Starbucks acquired Teavana, branded as part Tea Bar, part Tea Emporium, a place where people can go to sip, purchase and ideally learn about tea. Less than a year later, the coffee giant opened its first Teavana Fine Teas + Tea Bar in Manhattan with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz proclaiming, “We’ll do for tea what we did for coffee.” This came on the heels of Canadian conglomerate DAVIDsTEA opening stores in major US cities, such as Boston, Chicago, New York and San Francisco. DAVIDsTEA specializes in creative brews that incorporate candy, chocolate and nuts into their blends. The company even launched a boxed cocktail collection complete with recipes after learning that many of their customers were using their loose-leaf teas as mixers in alcoholic beverages at home.  

Being that consumers are so keen to experiment with tea, it should come as no surprise that bartenders and chefs are doing the same. Celebrity chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson serves his signature Ambessa tea at his Red Rooster outpost in Harlem (which made its NYC Foodable Top 25 debut at No. 3). There, you can order the tea in a pot as part of a dessert sauce or stirred into a martini. 

Trendy Tea

Tea in and of itself is trending big for 2014, but it also integrates seamlessly into larger trends happening on the cocktail front. The last year has shown a movement toward more health-conscious cocktails with lower alcohol content. Tea contains no sugar (unless of course, you’re sipping on one of the candy-laden varieties referenced above) and is loaded with antioxidants, which can aid in losing weight and lowering cholesterol. Certain varieties of tea have even proven beneficial in reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease. As tea is available in countless varieties, the options for flavor profiles are endless, too. Adding tea to a cocktail is an excellent way to enhance the taste of it without upping the booze factor.

Another thing we can expect to see a lot of behind the bar this year are pre-made batch drinks. These drinks can be served on tap and allow for a faster pour – an aspect that pleases both busy bartenders and eager customers alike. Tea works well here, especially in traditional fruit-based punches, which only get better as they stand.

Home-Brewed

One of the main things to consider when using tea as a mixer is that its high water content can easily dilute liquor. For this reason, some mixologists are infusing their spirits directly with tea leaves. If you want to make your own infusion at home, be sure to strain your liquor after no more than 45 minutes. Leaving the tea leaves in for a long period of time will release tannins that can turn the alcohol bitter.  

If you would prefer to ease into a tea cocktail, consider making a Cinnamon Tea Toddy, which takes only a couple of minutes to make – and requires no infusing – but will keep you warm for hours to come.

Cinnamon Tea Toddy

Ingredients (Serves 1)  

1 Teaspoon Maple Syrup

1 ½ Ounces Bourbon

½ Cup (or more depending on how strong you want your toddy to be) Hot Brewed Cinnamon Tea

1 Slice of Lemon

1 Cinnamon Stick

Directions

  1. Add the maple syrup and bourbon to a heat-proof snifter or mug.  
  2. Top with the cinnamon tea, squeeze the lemon, and drop it in too.  
  3. Add the cinnamon stick and stir until the maple syrup is melted.