Tea Mocktails & Cocktails: Concepts to Get Your Juices Flowing
Sometimes, your usual cup of tea just doesn’t fit the occasion. Perhaps you’re looking for some new and exciting drinks to make for friends. If you’re like me though, and the idea of having to choose between a cup of tea and another drink is unacceptable, here are some great new drinks to try—and for every one, tea is in the forefront without drowning out the rest of your ingredients.
Mocktails and Cocktails
A great place to start when spicing up your tea is to use bar syrups instead of sugar or honey as a sweetener. A bit of orgeat (an almond and orange flower syrup, and a key ingredient in Mai Tais, Fog Cutters, and Trinidad Sours) could give your drink a distinct tropical tiki flavor. If your Earl Grey isn’t bitter enough but you still want to sweeten it, try a touch of tonic syrup. Better yet, if you’re feeling ambitious you can make your own tonic syrup, or adding some carbonated water and grapefruit or lemon juice to your earl grey for a well rounded grey mocktail.
Making your own syrups is actually shockingly easy: the whole recipe for simple syrup is dissolving sugar in an equal amount of warm water. For a less "simple" tasting syrup, try adding some other ingredients—like tea! All you need to do for tea syrup is brew any amount of your favorite tea, and add an equal amount of sugar by volume (eg. for 8 ounces of tea, add one cup of sugar). As for all recipes here, brewing your tea about twice as strong (using twice the amount of tea leaves as usual) will give you a better flavor in the final product. Stir until all sugar is dissolved, and then add to your mocktails or cocktails.
Speaking of mocktails, here are two tried and true recipes to get your started: Blood Orange Mocktail and Summer Hibiscus Cooler. Mocktails—or ‘no abv cocktails’ as some mixologists have taken to calling them—can get a bit of a bad rep. Rather than strictly lacking something (alcohol) however, these drinks are great for a number of reasons: you can drink them at any hour of the day, you can include the whole family, there's no concern about hangovers, and if nothing else you can make them alongside cocktails to keep yourself hydrated or to just add more options when someone doesn’t want another drink. One of the great things about adding tea to your mocktails is that be it herbal tea or a black or green tea, you’re sure to add an extra little something that’ll set your drink apart.
Black Tea Old Fashioned
For something closer to a traditional cocktail, but with tea instead of liquor, black tea old fashioneds are a perfect choice. For this one, a strong black tea works well: think Lapsang Souchong, Pu’erh, Assam, or Russian Caravan which has all three. Brew your tea strong, let cool, and the rest is about the same as a typical old fashioned: add sugar, bitters, your base (tea here), stir with ice, and then add any garnishes you like (like a twist of orange peel or a cocktail cherry). You probably won’t need as much sugar for this one, as even strong tea isn’t quite as strong as whiskey. Because of the bitters, this one does have a little bit of alcohol, though even if you go heavy on the bitters you’ll struggle to get above 1/10 of a standard drink’s worth. Bitters tend to come in at the same alcohol percentage as vanilla, and tend to be used similarly sparingly.
On the topic of cocktails, however, tea is right at home in a bar. In The Joy of Mixology, Gaz Regan lists tea in his chapter “Foundations of the Bar,” stating “tea is becoming more and more popular these days as a cocktail ingredient, and when it’s called for, there is simply no substitute.” As with most culinary exploits, the sky's the limit when mixing drinks with tea.
Nancy, I’d Drink It
While tea can overpower a drink with too many other ingredients, it’s a great ingredient to build a cocktail around. For an easy introduction, there’s nothing better than this. The (possibly apocryphal) story goes, Nancy Astor said to Winston Churchill “if I was your wife, I’d poison your tea,” to which Winston Churchill replied “if I was your husband I’d drink it;” and as the story goes, the man was quite a fan of putting scotch in his Lapsang Souchong. Hot (alcoholic) drinks have never been my favorite, as ethanol has a lower boiling point than water and while the taste isn’t affected as much, this can lead to an overpoweringly alcoholic smell. Spiked iced tea can be fantastic, but vodka is the usual cheat code for giving an otherwise good drink a bit of an edge. Similarly, while scotch can be great it’s not always the most friendly of spirits in terms of broad appeal.
So for this drink, the simplest and most approachable recipe I found was a 1:1 ratio of strong Lapsang and honey whiskey over ice—I used two ounces of each. If you like this one, you can try experimenting with other black teas and whiskeys, add other ingredients, or you can try other tea/spirit pairings. I’ve found Rum and green tea tend to go well together.
Possibly the most intuitive way of adding tea to your drinks (besides actually pouring tea in your drinks) is infused spirits. Since gin is effectively infused vodka anyway, an Earl Grey French 75 seems like the perfect drink for this spot, but any spirit can be infused with any tea you dare try. I’m not convinced champagne cocktails ever go out of season, but I can say for sure that during the summer they’re in season.
The only prep you’ll need to do is take some gin and leave some Earl Grey (roughly 1 teaspoon per four ounces) to steep in it at room temperature for an hour or two. Just like some people like their tea stronger than others, some people like their earl grey gin stronger than others so don’t be afraid to taste it at intervals and check if it’s the right strength for you. Then, shake two ounces of gin, half an ounce of lemon juice, and half an ounce of simple syrup, before straining into a glass and topping with champagne (or your other favorite sparkling wine).
V.S.M.B—Very Superior Matcha Buck
Another easy way to add some tea to your drink is matcha. Matcha can go in just about everything and cocktails are no exception. Matcha Highballs aren't uncommon, but they're usually made with whiskey or shochu (a Japanese liquor) and seltzer. A personal favorite of mine is a 3:2 ratio of brandy or cognac and lemon juice shaken with a third of a bar spoon of matcha, and topped off with ginger beer. The carbonation has the added benefit of keeping your matcha from settling. While highballs are a great candidate for adding matcha to, it can go just as well in other drinks too. Bucks are just ginger beer highballs with citrus, and since its base spirit is brandy this felt like a fitting name. Give it a try and let me know what you think in the comments.
Green Tea Daiquiris
Next, Green Tea Daiquiris are a perfect drink for the summer heat. I’ll be honest, when I came up with this I thought most of the fun would be in the novelty, but after trying it it easily became one of my new favorites. At first I struggled to think of how to do this without diluting it too much. Daiquiris are usually 3.5 ounces before shaking, which doesn’t give a lot of wiggle room. Then it hit me—the dilution comes from ice, so why not sub in tea for the ice cubes?
For this one, start by making a cup of green tea—I recommend Moroccan Mint, as the mint adds a mojito touch—and add 1 heaping teaspoon of sugar per 4 ounces of tea or to your taste. Then, pour the tea into ice cube molds and freeze. When your ice cubes are ready, add a few (roughly 4 ounces worth) to a shaker tin or mason jar with 2 ounces of rum and an ounce of lime juice and shake until frosty (15 seconds or so). Pour it all into your cup of choice and enjoy. Rather than watering it down, when the ice melts it makes the drink sweeter and gives it more tea flavor. In the beginning you’ll get more sour rum and in the end you’ll get more sweet tea. The best part? You can freeze any tea and add it to any cocktail for a similar effect.
Spiked Tea Punch
Finally, I’ll end with a fun rhyme that doubles up as a basic punch recipe: 1 of sour, 2 of sweet, 3 of strong, 4 of weak. Usually, that means 1 part lime juice, 2 parts simple syrup, 3 parts rum, and 4 parts water, but so long as you choose carefully these can all be substituted. Instead of lime juice you could use lemon, or a strong hibiscus tea which can be similarly acidic. Simple syrup is never a bad choice, but it’s not always the best; if you’ve already made tea syrup, why not give that a shot? Rum is a great punch base, but anything can be used here, and if you’ve got a bit of tea infused spirit laying around a punch isn’t a bad use for it. Finally, feel free to sub out tea for water to add a fun twist. Feel free to switch out as many ingredients as you like with a tea equivalent—I tried all four and was pleasantly surprised by how much it tasted like sweet tea.
Happy mixing, tea friends! And as always, please drink responsibly. Or just stick to the mocktails, and go wild!