Tea is turning up in cocktails around town, but don’t call the trend a gimmick. Tea has been lending complexity to mixed drinks for centuries.
“Tea-based cocktails have a long history in America, going back to planters’ punches — rum and tea drinks — in the 1600s,” says Eric Spratley, who oversees the drinks program at Virgin Hotels Dallas. The hotel’s Commons Club restaurant and lounge features five boozy tea drinks at its monthly Upside Down Tea Party.
Among the tea party libations is a hibiscus tea and rum drink called The Queen of Hearts. “My inspiration for this is the traditional punches from the Caribbean and Colonial America,” Sprately says. Colonial-era punches were so popular that pubs would post a rhyme of the components in a sign at the bar, he says.
“It was, One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, and four of weak. The ‘weak’ was always a tea, and the strong was always rum,” Sprately says. Customers would have a choice of sweet and sour components — flavored syrups and a variety of citrus.
Sprately’s use of hibiscus “tea” in his punch harkens back to the Caribbean as well. The herbal tea is made of a dried flower grown in Jamaica (appropriately, the Spanish name for it is Jamaica). It lends floral, herbaceous and tart flavors to the drink.
The Commons Club isn’t the first to offer tea cocktails in Dallas.
“We’ve done two over the past 4 1/2 years,” says Brent Rogers, who heads up the bar program at Gemma. The restaurant currently offers only food and wine to go, so Rogers occupies himself by offering private virtual cocktail classes for individuals or groups via Zoom.
One of Rogers’ favorite Gemma cocktails is the Buddha’s Tonic, a citrusy vodka cocktail made with an Earl Grey tea-simple syrup. “It’s good for summer. It’s light but complex, and gets an herbaceous-ness from Suze liqueur,” he says. Although the restaurant infuses its vodka with a seasonal citrus called Buddha’s hand, Rogers says you can use Hangar 1 Buddha’s Hand Citron Vodka to make the drink year-round.
At Jeng Chi restaurant in Richardson, bartender Andrew Johnson has been experimenting with tea cocktails since the restaurant began offering bar service in 2017. Among his rotating tea drinks is the Jasmine Tea-Ni, made with vodka and Chur She jasmine tea — a high-end, jasmine-scented green tea.
“The tea adds dimension, gives it a subtle elegant flavor, and helps smooth out the drink,” Johnson says. “It’s not as strong as a martini, so it’s a very enjoyable and easier to drink cocktail.”
Kyle Stewart, co-owner of The Cultured Cup, makes a riff on the Old Fashioned cocktail using Black Magnolia tea from The Great Mississippi Tea Company. Calling it a “Tea-Fashioned,” he prepares the drink with rye whiskey and a tea- and spice-infused simple syrup.
“The tea counteracts the sweetness of the simple syrup and adds another layer of complexity,” Stewart says. His goal was to make a drink that’s enjoyable with or without alcohol. That meant finding a substitute for the bitters.
“We got the bitters flavor by adding black peppercorn, cloves and crushed cardamom to the syrup. And we simmered the tea in the syrup to get the body and flavor that we wanted for an Old Fashioned,” he says. “The recipe gives party hosts the flexibility to meet the needs of both alcohol drinkers and non-drinkers. You can have it with the bourbon, or without,” Stewart says.
He will be demonstrating the Tea Fashioned cocktail and mocktail during an upcoming virtual class.
Tea cocktail events
Upside Down Tea Party at The Commons Club at the Virgin Hotel, Dallas: On the second Sunday of each month at 3 p.m., this seated tea party offers a menu of three cold and two hot tea cocktails, accompanied by innovative, sweet and savory finger food. Price is $50 per person. For reservations, visit https://bit.ly/UPSIDEDOWNTEA .
Spilling the Tea With Black Magnolia: On August 8, from 12 to 2 p.m., Kyle Stewart of The Cultured Cup joins the US Tea Experience team for a virtual class exploring The Great Mississippi Tea Company’s Black Magnolia Tea. It’s one of seven Zoom classes planned for appreciating the different domestic farm-to-table teas; each class will include cocktail and mocktail recipe demonstrations, as well as culinary recipes and insights from tea authorities. Ticket prices are $35 to $43, and includes a .5 ounce packet of the featured tea. To register, visit eventbrite.com and search for the class by name. For information about upcoming classes contact [email protected]
Cocktails Anywhere, private Zoom cocktail-making classes: Brent Rogers, bartender for Gemma Restaurant, offers private Zoom cocktail classes tailored to customers drink requests. His drink repertoire includes tea cocktails. To schedule a lesson, email [email protected]
4 to 5 fresh mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
3/4 ounce Earl Grey Simple Syrup (recipe follows)
2 ounces Hangar 1 Buddha’s Hand Citron Vodka
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce Suze liqueur
Lemon wheel, for garnish
Muddle 4 to 5 fresh mint leaves with the Earl Grey simple syrup in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Add vodka, lemon juice and Suze, followed by a generous cup of ice. Shake to combine and double strain (by straining over a fine mesh sieve) into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon wheel and a sprig of mint.
Makes 1 drink.
Earl Grey Simple Syrup: Bring 1 cup water to a boil. Remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons loose leaf Earl Grey tea (Gemma buys it from The Cultured Cup). Steep for about 10 minutes. Add 1 cup sugar and stir to dissolve. Strain syrup through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on tea leaves with a spoon to extract all of the syrup. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
Source: Adapted from Gemma restaurant
1 tablespoon chilled Black Magnolia Tea Simple Syrup (recipe follows)
2 ounces cold, filtered water
1 ounce Bulleit 95 Rye Frontier Whiskey (or your favorite rye whiskey)
One orange zest strip
Large ice cubes
Luxardo or Maraschino cherry (or a fresh Bing cherry with stem), for garnish
Measure simple syrup, water and whiskey into an Old Fashioned glass. With the inside of the orange zest facing down, twist the zest (to release its oils) and drop it into the glass. Stir with a spoon. Add large ice cubes and garnish with cherry.
Makes 1 drink.
Source: The Cultured Cup
Black Magnolia Tea Simple Syrup
1 cup filtered water
1 cup unrefined organic cane sugar (such as “Just Panela” brand, sold at Whole Foods Market)
20 grams Black Magnolia Tea, crushed (sold at the Cultured Cup)
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
6 cardamom pods, crushed
Bring water to a boil. Reduce heat to lowest temperature and add unrefined sugar. Stir until completely dissolved. Add crushed tea leaves, cloves, peppercorns and crushed cardamom pods. Simmer, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
Pour the mixture through a fine sieve into a jar with a lid, using a spoon to press on the solids to extract all of the flavorful syrup. Cover container and freeze for 20 minutes if making cocktails soon; or refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups syrup.
Notes: Black Magnolia is a farm-to-table oolong tea, grown and produced in Brookhaven, Mississippi by The Great Mississippi Tea Company. Unrefined (raw) sugar contributes a caramel-molasses-raisin note and is more complexly flavored than turbinado or brown sugar.
Source: The Cultured Cup
Queen of Hearts
1 cup water
1 tablespoons loose leaf hibiscus tea (we use Jenwey brand) or 1 tea bag
3 ounces Appleton Jamaican Rum
2 ounces demerara syrup (recipe follows; or buy the syrup at Whole Foods Market)
1 ounce fresh lime juice
Heat water to 200 F. Steep tea in water for 3 to 5 minutes. Strain tea into an ice-filled mixing glass or small pitcher. Add rum, simple syrup and lime juice. Stir well. Strain into glasses.
Demerara Syrup: Bring equal parts demerara sugar and hot water to a boil until sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool.
Makes 2 drinks.
Source: The Commons Club restaurant at Virgin Hotels Dallas
1 teaspoon Simple Syrup, plus additional for adhering sugar to the glass rim (recipe follows)
Sugar, for rimming glass
2 ounces Belvedere vodka or your favorite premium vodka
1 ounce double-strength, chilled Chur She jasmine tea (sold loose-leaf at The Cultured Cup; brewing method follows)
Dip a fingertip lightly in simple syrup, and rub halfway around the rim of a chilled martini glass; dip the syrup-rimmed half in sugar to lightly coat.
Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with ice. Rinse the ice and strain. Add vodka, chilled tea, and 1 teaspoon simple syrup to the glass of ice. Stir briefly (five or six times). Strain into a prepared martini glass.
Make double-strength jasmine tea: Heat 7 ounces of water to 175 F and steep 2 teaspoons Chur She jasmine tea in it for 4 minutes. Strain into a glass and set in the freezer until chilled (or immerse the glass in an ice bath). May be prepared and refrigerated up to 8 hours ahead of using in a cocktail.
Make Simple Syrup: Combine 4 ounces sugar and 3 ounces boiling water. Stir until dissolved. Keep tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Alternatively, make a tiny amount for immediate use.
Makes 1 drink.
Source: Jeng Chi restaurant
Tina Danze is a Dallas freelance writer.