Two recent conversations reminded me once again that we are limited only by our imagination. Both had something to do with tea and alcohol. As a pairing, these are not complete strangers; they have made occasional contact—the hot toddy recipe replacing water with tea is now an old favourite, isn’t it? Someone, however, pointed me to sparkling tea when we were talking about innovations in tea. At first, most of what I saw was not terribly exciting—flavoured teas carbonated in cans—but then I stumbled upon the work of Jacob Kocemba.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, this sommelier makes sparkling tea. Not just carbonated. And certainly not sold in cans. Kocemba’s story is all about the tea. He currently offers five sparkling teas, two of them non-alcoholic. Each uses anywhere from 6-13 different kinds of teas. Over a call, I pick Kocemba’s brain to try and understand how he looks at tea. “I may use a white tea to soften the water, and to get a velvety texture. I use green tea for depth and umami flavours. Black tea for the backbone it offers the drink, and the tannins….”
The BLÅ is one of the non-alcoholic teas from Kocemba’s Sparkling Tea Co., founded in 2017. It’s made with 14 teas, including an Earl Grey and an Indian jasmine tea. Each of these are extracted at different temperatures, mixed with wine, carbonated and served chilled in a champagne glass.
Is this for the wine drinker or the tea lover? “Both. You will find a lot of links to the tea, you will recognise it as a tea drinker. Others will recognise the balance and sweetness and acidity, depending on what they are familiar with,” says Kocemba.
It’s exciting to hear him speak of teas in ways I have never heard before. Around 2008-09, Kocemba was working as head sommelier when his chef asked him for a wine to pair with a new dessert. There were 1,700 wines in his cellar, he says, but none of them matched the dessert. Inspiration, however, came from his tea shelf. That day, he made a drink that used tea, and everyone loved it. Later, he says, he was introduced to carbon dioxide, and that set him on the path of experimenting with carbonation. He and Bo Sten Hansen came together to found Sparkling Tea Co.. Their products are not available in India, so it has to stay on the bucket list for now.
My disappointment at not being able to taste the sparkling tea was compensated by another conversation, another—well, not tea. I caught the words Nilgiris staring off the label on a bottle of gin. Curious, I called Nikhil Varma of Amrut Distilleries, who has made the gin. The Nilgiris, he says, are home to spices and herbs and these offered the inspiration for the gin. But Nilgiris would be incomplete without tea, so that too went into the gin. Tea is macerated and distilled in alcohol.
There’s something familiar, I say to myself, as I sip on the Nilgiris gin...maybe it’s the smell of the hills, or juniper berries…or maybe, there’s the tea I was looking for all along.
Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.