“Who would think of mixing cocktails using tea?” I heard that a lot starting out on this story.
Turns out, quite a few. Some might even call it, trendy.
The seemingly inconsistent idea of blending therapeutic teas with spirits that stir (more than just cocktails) is taking off!
Of course, mixologists in Brooklyn have been combining various spirits with ancient leafy blends for years, now. But they set the hipness for the rest of the nation. Hadn’t realized the rest of the country had caught on, too.
If you think about it, blending the two makes perfect sense. Both cocktail hour and high tea are afternoon pleasures enjoyed by those who know the art of taking time out. Why not try the grand idea of mixing them together?
After all, coffee liqueur has been a regular thing for coffee lovers over the years. There are now quite a few tea-infused products on the market to choose from, such as Zen Green Tea Liqueur, and Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, which is a sweet tea flavored vodka distilled in South Carolina, (they grow the tea there, as well).
And if you ask people in downtown Boulder, Colorado, about this latest “tea-ni” notion, they’ll likely tell you to “get with the program.”
Apparently infusing or mixing alcoholic beverages with teas plucked directly from the garden is a definite happening, especially here in the epicenter of the natural and organic foods movement.
To “get closer to the program,” I moseyed down to the “Tonic Herban Lounge,” which from the outside is hard to distinguish between a place to belly up to a bar, and a place to get a haircut. The salon-like herban lounge located in the heart of Boulder on 11th Street offers visitors a place to get “oxygen, aphrodisiacs, raw foods, potions...you name it,” boasts comments on its web page.
With a huge menu of healthy eats and drinks, locals go to unwind and have “deep conversations” according to a local lounge fan.
“It’s the unofficial place for people 25 – 35 to meet up because it offers this group specifically what appeals to them about an organic experience,” says Tony, who works in the neighborhood just around the corner from Tonic.
There does seem to be a popular market emerging for people who desire an alternative to beer and pretzels. Aside from elixirs, "smartinis," and the essential oil-flavored oxygen, Tonic also carries a variety of teas, and raw food items such as kale chips. In other words, it’s yummy, seems healthy, and could be habit forming!
So I moseyed further down the block to the T-Zero bar at the St. Julien Hotel to ask a bartender if she agrees with my assessment that the tea and cocktails trend is about to hit the tipping point. Sure enough, bartender Barbara Jean confirmed my suspicions.
“Liquors are made with a lot of grains and botanicals, just like teas are,” she says. “It’s similar to cooking in that you can match up flavor profiles like lemon verbena and citrus vodka. You can get a new twist on classic cocktails like a lemon drop martini.”
For those wishing to infuse alcohol with tea at home, we suggest choosing high-quality liquor. Unlike infusing alcohol with fruit, which acquires a sweet taste very easily, tea-infused cocktails pick up on a tea’s scent. For mixing libations, we suggest choosing a tea flavor like 2 leaves and a bud’s Organic Orange Sencha. Its big green tea leaves blended delicately with Italian red oranges make for a memorable yet not overpowering addition to your cocktail recipes.
Soak three or four tea bags in the alcohol for about four hours. You’ll notice the color will begin to change and the aroma will intensify. Try not to leave the tea in the alcohol longer than eight hours otherwise it may start to get bitter.
It’s easy to see why this could become habit forming… and consider this fair warning! While tea is said to promote relaxation, is high in antioxidants, and helps with digestion, when I asked the bartender if she thinks alcohol adds or subtracts tea's "curing" effects, here’s what she said: “I think alcohol cancels out any positive health benefits of tea.”
And now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for afternoon tea.