Tea is showing up on cocktail menus across the country in a variety of forms: balancing drinks, infused in spirits, flavoring syrups and bittering tinctures. And with a world of tea from which to choose, the possibilities are endless.
Matt Tocco, the Beverage Director for Strategic Hospitality, uses a spectrum of steeped leaves in the cocktails he creates at both Pinewood Social and The Patterson House in Nashville. “Tea is a fun way of providing another layer to cocktails that’s very simple, be it infusing a spirit with tea or making a syrup out of it,” he says. “You can also control how tannic and how much of the flavor you want to come through by the amount of tea you use and how much you steep it.”
Tocco is a fan of of lapsang souchong and assam. He says black teas such as these and fermented teas (like pu-erh) tend to work best in cocktails because their dominant flavors shine through even when mixed with spirits. However, in the summer, he also likes to utilize jasmine and chamomile teas for more floral, warm weather cocktails.
No matter what the season, his menu always features a creation using Gordon’s gin infused with Luzianne tea. Currently, that drink is the Daisy Bae. “It’s an ode to the South and sweet tea,” he says. “This particular drink was designed as a kind of bitter, alcoholic fruit tea.” Just add mason jar, folded fan and a lazy summer day of porch-sittin’.
2 oz Gordon’s tea-infused gin (steeped for about 10-20 minutes depending on size of batch and temperature of room)
.75 oz lime
.25 oz Campari
.75 house raspberry syrup
.25 oz simple syrup
13 drops of grapefruit bitters
Method: Shaken/stirred. Served up in a coupe with an orange pigtail garnish.
Bar magician Jason Kosmas consulted on the beverage menu at Malai Kitchen, where he wanted to create a cocktail inspired by what he calls “the most iconic and addictive beverage in Thai cuisine”— Thai iced tea. “The sweetness and richness of the drink lends itself naturally to mixing with alcohol,” explains Kosmas. “The Thai tea base in this drink is the most prominent flavor, giving it a familiarity and structure which is only complimented by the spirits mixed with it— not the other way around.” Here, Amarula takes the place of cream, and orange blossom water adds a bit of complexity.
1 ½ oz Aylesbury Duck vodka
2 oz Thai tea (Malai uses Pantai Norasingh, and adds ¾ cups sugar per 1 quart tea when brewing)
2 drops orange blossom water
1 oz Amarula liqueur
Method: Fill a glass with crushed ice. Pour vodka, tea, and orange blossom water over ice. Stir. Top with Amarula liqueur.
At recently opened 492 in Charleston, bar manager Megan Deschaine uses South American yerba maté, one of her favorite varieties of tea, in this take on an Arnold Palmer. “I have always wanted to be able to incorporate its earthy flavors into a cocktail,” she says. “Despite the characteristic dominant flavors of the tea, the delicate sweet characteristics of the T1 Selecto are still able to shine. And in combination with the Italian rhubarb based amaro, the overall cocktail achieves both a sophisticated complexity and easy sipping.”
1.5 ounces of T1 Selecto tequila
0.5 ounces Zucca Amaro liqueur
2 ounces Yerba mate (South American herbal tea)
.75 ounces Agave syrup
.75 ounces lime juice
1 strawberry (chopped)
Method: Hard shake all the ingredients, then strain over crushed ice in a Collins glass. Garnish with a lemon wheel and strawberry flag.
“A lot of guests ask us about matcha but are often turned off by its bitterness and intense earthy flavor,” says Amarit Dulyapaibul, general manager at Chicago’s Ramen-san. “We wanted to present matcha in a way that was refreshing and approachable— and a cocktail seemed like a natural fit.” They infuse bourbon with matcha before shaking it with honey syrup and yuzu juice for an Asian spin on a classic Bees Knees. “This drink is perfect for spring and puts a healthy twist on our favorite vice— great booze!”
1.5 oz matcha-infused Four Roses Yellow Label bourbon
1 oz. honey syrup
.5 oz yuzu juice
Method: Shake and strain with mint and a lemon peel. Strain into a Collins glass over Cold-draft ice, then garnish with mint.
At Austin’s newly opened VOX Table, bar manager Travis Tober created a cocktail inspired by a trip to Ireland where he witnessed a bartender mix sweet tea, Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey and lemon. His spiffed up version (which is occasionally on tap in the restaurant) incorporates Cheery Heering and an earl grey simple syrup he makes using local Zhi tea before it’s topped with Topo Chico, the uber bubbly mineral water from Mexico.
1.5 Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey
.5 oz Cherry Heering
.75 oz earl grey tea syrup
.5 lemon juice
Method: Stir together all ingredients in a tall glass, then top with Topo Chico (or other sparkling water).