Tea cocktails are quite the rage these days, with good reason!
Tea’s complexity and astringency—along with the dizzying number of teas available—make it a natural when combined with alcohol. (See my earlier post about blending.)
However, there is nothing 21st-century about using tea in boozy drinks.
Granted, the word “cocktail” was coined as recently as the late 1700s—but mixologists had already been using tea as an ingredient in alcoholic drinks for ages.
The Magic of “Five”
Back in the early 1600s, sailors and others employed by the British East India Company discovered that India possessed a greatly desirable beverage: punch! They quickly introduced this drink to England and it soon became a staple aboard ships, which in those days were pretty wretched affairs.
The word “punch” may derive from the Hindustani word panch, meaning “five,” evidently for the five ingredients in the drink:
- tea (or spice)
- sweet (sugar)
- sour (lemon)
But this was itself predated by ancient Persia as well as the ancient Greeks, who also enjoyed a beverage made of five ingredients, although tea wasn’t one of them.
According to the Drinking Cup (2012):
Circa 210, on the third day of the Festival of Skira, Athenians held a race in which young men ran with a grape laden vine-branch called an oschus between temples of worship. The winner received a large cup filled with a mixed drink called pentaplous meaning “five-fold” (πέντε). Therein was held a beverage of five ingredients, wine, honey, cheese, flour and oil.
Yep, wine, honey, cheese, flour, and oil. Not very appealing today!Alternately, the word “punch” was shortened from puncheon, which was a large wine cask (Michalski 1995). And the five ingredients weren’t inviolable. Many recipes called simply for sweet, sour, alcohol, and tea, with tea giving the drink more of a punch than using water.
However it got its name, punch spread across Europe, evolving in its composition of ingredients and eventually serving as the base for “cocktails.”
Although punch itself fell out of fashion by the mid-1800s, cocktails were well on their way to popularity. Bitters, originally used medicinally, were added to balance the alcohol, serving like a “spice” to add complexity and flavor.
Today, mixologists are rediscovering all that tea can bring to an alcoholic drink. But don’t let the professionals scare you off. Lisa of TeaHaus provides some easy recipes to get you started!
Disclaimer: Okay, fruit tea is not technically tea, but it’s fantastic, especially iced, and makes an amazing sangria!
Tea Infusion: Stir together 1 bottle of red wine (e.g., merlot) with 12 grams (about ½ oz) of Summer Romance fruit tea and 1/3 cup sugar. Heat the wine just enough to melt the sugar, and then let the infusion steep for at least 20 minutes (up to all day). Strain and allow to cool completely.
Cocktail: Pour the tea-infused wine over ice and fresh berries. Add a splash of triple sec (approx. 1 oz) per bottle of wine.
Arnold Palmer, TeaHaus Style
Shake, and then pour over ice and macerated strawberres in a high ball glass.
Optional: Top off with sparkling water.
–Cocktails and Punches, by Sue Michalski, Courage Books, Philadelphia, 1995.
–”The definitive guide to tea cocktails,” by Tony Gebely, World of Tea, 2015.
–”A history of punch–part 1: Sailors, sack and the number five,” Drinking Cup, 2012.
–”A vintage cocktail that packs a punch,” by David Wondrich, NPR, December 30, 2010.