Illustrations by Jillian Schiavi
Florid, romantic drink descriptions are now commonplace in today’s craft cocktail culture, and increasingly, you’ll find some that are steeped in tea. Here’s how Oakland’s Plum Bar describes their Valais drink:
5-month aged batiste agricole rhum, tequila, dandelion liqueur, strega, and tea-infused mescal tincture
Tea also infuses its way into the Teatime drink of Earl Grey bourbon, Cynar, Luxardo, and blood orange at Branch Line, an Emeryville drinking den. Hopscotch in Oakland crafts a Black Tea Birdie with pu-erh tea and rooibos–steeped vodka. Tupper & Reed in Berkeley concocts their popular Leggo Brick from El Dorado 12-year rum, pineapple gomme syrup, lemon juice, egg whites, peach bitters, and almond vanilla black tea–infused tincture.
The idea of infusing herbs, spices, fruit, or tea into spirits is nothing new, but now even amateur bartenders are discovering the techniques and developing a taste for the subtle complexity and character tea adds to cocktails. And this is a great time of year to try it yourself, since a tea-infused spirit makes a welcome holiday gift that can be poured after being presented to the host or hostess. Tea infuses quickly into alcohol, so you’ll need only 24 hours for steeping your concoction before wrapping it up and heading off to that holiday gift exchange.
Below are two ideas for getting started with tea-steeped spirits. While a dizzying selection of teas can be procured at local teahouses or stores, simple classic teas are a good choice as you begin experimenting. Tea bags offer convenience, but if you prefer loose tea, go ahead, since it’s easy to strain out the whole leaves from the spirit using a fine-gauge strainer. Depending on how long you infuse, you can achieve a tea-kissed spirit to sip or a sturdy spirit that will stand up to being stirred into a cocktail.
Earl Grey Vodka
Years ago, St. George Spirits collaborated with Numi Organic Tea on a tea-infused vodka. Here’s a way to bring them together again in a spirit the Earl Grey tea drinker can appreciate. Oil derived from bergamot orange skin gives Earl Grey tea its slightly bitter, smoky fruit flavor. Steep the tea for 1½ hours and you’ll have a pleasing sipping vodka with high bergamot notes and less tannin. The longer steeping time called for in this recipe brews a tea-laced spirit ready to mix into a Lemon Drop or Vodka Collins.
2 Earl Grey tea bags (tags removed)
1 (750ml) bottle vodka
Toss the tea bags into a large 32-ounce glass jar and pour the vodka over them in a swirling motion. Seal the jar and place in a cool, dark cupboard for 24 hours. Remove the tea bags, pressing to extract all the liquid before discarding them. Pour the tea-steeped vodka into a glass bottle, then seal and store the bottle in your liquor cabinet.
Fig Chai-Spiced Rum
Warming spices scent the kitchen during the height of holiday baking season, so why not offer them in a spirited way. Golden-hued aged añejo rum provides a smooth foundation for this steeped spirit with its hint of deep, subtle sweetness from dried figs and kick of spice in the finish from masala chai. This spiced rum is a devilishly delicious spirit to sip, but try using it in a holiday take on a White Russian that omits the coffee liqueur. Or stir it up with ginger beer for a unique Dark and Stormy.
There are many masala (spice) chai (tea) blends on the market. Most have a hearty offering of cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon, and are likely to include star anise or black pepper, but spices used and concentration can vary, so look for one with complexity, where a single spice doesn’t dominate the flavor profile and the whole effect develops harmoniously on the palate. Keep in mind that the spices will intensify when infusing.
Note: Don’t toss those boozy figs when you’re done infusing. Chop them up and serve on a scoop of vanilla ice cream or bake them into a loaf of holiday bread.
2 masala chai tea bags (tags removed)
5 dried black mission figs
1 (750ml) bottle añejo rum
(I used Flor de Caña)
Toss the teabags into a large 32-ounce glass jar. De-stem the figs, slice into halves, and toss them into the jar. Pour the rum over the figs and tea bags in a swirling motion. Seal the jar and place in a cool, dark cupboard, allowing the tea to infuse into the rum for 1½ hours. Fish out the tea bags and press them to extract the liquid before discarding the bags. Seal the jar and leave the figs to infuse for 24 hours total before removing them. Pour the steeped rum into a large bowl using a fine mesh strainer to capture any lingering fig seeds, then pour it into a glass bottle, seal, and store in your liquor cabinet.
DIY Downloadable Gift Tags
Look below for a downloadable PDF with hang tags created by our illustrator Jillian Schiavi. You can print them on cardstock and cut out to use as decorations on your gift bottles.
PDF: DIY tags and cards