When building a cocktail at home, you have your staples: Fresh fruit juices, liqueurs, mixers. But did you know that one of the most fun, flavorful ingredients for an amazing cocktail is actually already in your cupboard? From black tea to a more fruity variety, using tea in a cocktail, both hot or cold, makes for a unique tipple without much work.
“I’m a huge fan of tea in cocktails,” says Charles Joly, a World-recognized bartender and cocktail entrepreneur. “It’s been one of my favorite ingredients for as long as I can remember. There are pretty limitless flavor profiles and it’s a great place to look when fresh produce may be out of season.”
Joly explains that tea is versatile, with flavor profiles ranging from grassy green, to deep oolong, smoky lapsang, floral herbal teas, Chai spices. This, he says, makes it easy to create cocktails with a multitude of spirits.
“I love chamomile with gin or pisco. Green tea and scotch whisky are lovely,
as is a very popular combination throughout Asia. Chai with bourbon or aged tequila is an easy pairing. There are so many flavor combinations out there,” says Joly.
However, he notes that any at-home bartender should be familiar with the flavor profiles of the tea they want to use when building a cocktail to ensure the result is optimal.
“For example, [a] hibiscus is quite tart/tangy when dried and not particularly perfumey. Something like Chai has really bold flavors, and those baking spice notes are going to become quite prevalent,” he says.
The type of tea selected should also match the beverage you’re making. A hot or more robustly-flavored sipper in the Fall or Winter, a stronger tea would be perfect. For a delicate adult beverage, using a less potent type of tea would be the best bet.
And, adds Joly, there are plenty of ways to make a tea-infused cocktail, some of which you can even do ahead of time. He explains that he creates a tea-infused simple syrup, which he says allows you to consistently regulate the flavor as you add it to a cocktail. He also suggested replacing water with tea in certain cocktails, so you’re adding flavor. Speaking of water, creating tea-based ice cubes is another way to boost the flavor profile in a cocktail.
“If I’m making a syrup or ice infusion with tea, I’ll do a more concentrated
flavor so it can stand out once mixed with other ingredients,” he says.
Using loose tea? Joly notes that putting it a disposable tea bag or other infuser is the best way to keep the mixture clean. Or, he says, a French press can come to the rescue, too.
“The French press works nicely in situations when you’re looking for a cocktail infusion. If you hit a point where you want the infusion to slow/stop, you can press the screen down in order to separate most of the liquid from whatever you are infusing. At its most basic, it provides you with a fine strainer built right in when you pour,” he says.