Tea Time

At Third Man in New York City, the popular cocktail Myrtle Grey infuses Fords Gin with Earl Grey Tea and myrtleberry Liqueur.
At Third Man in New York City, the popular cocktail Myrtle Grey infuses Fords Gin with Earl Grey Tea and myrtleberry Liqueur. Third Man

As with hot and cold beverages—tea cocktails are as refreshing in summer as they are soothing in winter.

Drinking tea is steeped—pardon the pun—in ritual. Whether it’s a late-afternoon pot of loose-leaf Ceylon and a tiered platter of ginger-studded scones served in an ornate hotel lobby, or a simple sachet of rooibos offering postprandial herbal relief from a multi-course dinner, there is something decidedly ceremonial about savoring a cup. For many bartenders the comforting, kettle-spawned beverage is just another compelling way to amplify cocktails.

Consider the ascent of the Owl’s Brew, a line of fresh-brewed and bottled tea blends designed to meld with cocktails. Along with creations like the English Breakfast-meets-lime Classic, there is the Famous Mint Tea, a lemon-tinged peppermint intended to pair specifically with the Famous Grouse Scotch. At Eat Street Social in Minneapolis, for instance, Marco Zappia makes the Northern Star, uniting the whisky and tea with ginger syrup, fresh lemon juice, and Bittercube Jamaican #1 Bitters.

That barkeeps are experimenting with boozy tea tipples is not surprising. In the doldrums of winter nothing hits the spot quite like a hot toddy, and integrating tea into such cold-weather concoctions adds both warmth and flavor. Andrew Lakin, beverage director at the Gander in New York City, for example, makes the Long Sleeved Tea, in which an orange hibiscus brew brings depth to Calvados, sweet vermouth, all-spice dram, and lemon. Likewise, the Honeysuckle Hottie relished at Borgne—first introduced as a Christmas special—is now a seasonal staple at the restaurant featuring Dammann Frères chamomile tea and Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka.

Maureen Donegan, bar director of Presidio Social Club in San Francisco, was developing a slew of coffee cocktails for the restaurant when she decided to throw in a hot tea drink for the non-java lovers to boot. The result was the Drunken Earl, a rescue for drab weather starring Wild Turkey rye, Drambuie, and Earl Grey. “Earl Grey is floral and works extremely well with cream and spices,” she says. “Tea is much more food-friendly; a caress where coffee is a hit to the palate.”

Although tea cocktails are natural fits for fall and winter, they need not be relegated to cool temperatures. As Donegan points out, tea is versatile and yields myriad flavor profiles when paired with different ingredients. “The combinations are endless. The opportunity to use an herbal tea with, say, an herbal liquor, is a big advantage to a non-caffeine drinker,” she adds.

When sultrier weather arrives, guests at Willa Jean in New Orleans can quench their thirst with the Dirty Water, a cooling mélange of spicy Bulleit bourbon countered with mint, lemon, and green tea. Bulleit is also the bourbon of choice for the Mag Mile at Bar Toma in Chicago, a large-format cocktail with peach liqueur, iced tea, and lemon, served in a punch bowl. “While we think sipping on the Mag Mile during patio season in Chicago is the best time to enjoy it, tea is a great beverage year-round: refreshing in the summer and soothing in the winter,” says Giuseppe Incandela, Bar Toma’s general manager.


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