Growing tea, like ageing whisky or wine, is a function of skill and craftsmanship. So, it’s not surprising that these drinks mix well. And as the beverage and cocktail universe expands on a scale not seen before, bartenders are experimenting increasingly with tea cocktails. “It’s a wild world out there,” says Caitlin Hill, brand ambassador for the artisanal Botanist Gin.
Tea growers are testing production techniques, retailers are drumming up an array of tea blends, and gin makers are sampling botanicals to take the spirit to the next level. In July, in the first such partnership between a bar and tea estate in India, Delhi bar Sidecar launched a tea cocktail menu in collaboration with Darjeeling’s Makaibari tea estate—both pioneers in their fields.
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“Tea is seen as a traditional beverage and is popular as a breakfast drink, or one that brings families and friends together over conversations. We wanted to stretch people’s imaginations to show how else tea could be enjoyed,” says Rudra Chatterjee, managing director, Luxmi Group, the parent company of Makaibari.
Yangdup Lama, mixologist and co-founder of Sidecar, was invited for a recce. He spent four months researching and concocting recipes for martinis, tiki and highball-style cocktails infused with Makaibari’s vibrant summer solstice muscatel. The tea was mixed, shaken and stirred in with spirits like gin, rum and Bourbon, and finished off with vermouth, eucalyptus honey and liqueurs such as falernum for a novel cocktail experience. Lama says, “The menu was very well received by most of our patrons due to two reasons—many were experiencing tea cocktails for the first time, and secondly, they were curious to know a little more about tea and these drinks.”
In August, the tea brand CELES TÉ formally launched Brew Pockets, small cotton pouches that replace non-biodegradable tea bags, at—most unusually—a workshop on making cocktails with tea that the brand organised with Hill. A few months earlier, Anubha Jhawar, founder of CELES TÉ, had blogged about tea cocktail recipes infused with Brew Pockets on their website. Jhawar echoes Chatterjee’s keenness to amplify the many ways in which tea can be enjoyed. To begin your cocktail-making journey with tea, Jhawar recommends white spirits like vodka, gin and white rum. Mix in a splash of tonic water, a smidgen of honey and top up with a fresh ingredient like basil leaves, mint leaves or lemon wedge—and your home-made cocktail is ready. Or, think adrak chai (ginger tea) and swap tonic water with ginger ale.
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Hill believes the flavour profile of floral tea blends, such as chamomile, is symbiotic with the botanicals in gin. Craft gin is certainly at the heart of the cocktail scene in Melbourne, Australia, second home for Boroon Mahanta, associate director of Assam’s Rujani tea. Their Assamica Premium black tea was used by a craft gin distillery named Four Pillars in Healesville to create one cocktail during the Melbourne tea festival in 2019. Mahanta, who believes subtle green and white teas lend themselves well to gin cocktails, says: “Melbourne has a thriving coffee culture but there is an undercurrent of interest in tea. Meanwhile, the craft gin industry is already established. There is a convergence between tea and gin because they are both artisanal in nature.” It is a recipe made for perfect pairings.
SHOP: Makaibari’s summer solstice muscatel is available on MakaibariShop.com; for tea cocktail recipes and Brew Pockets, visit celes-te.com; to buy Assamica Premium, go to RujaniTea.com.
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