Episode 079 - Tea Cocktails
What’s shakin, cocktail fans?
Welcome back to another episode of the Modern Bar Cart Podcast!
This time around, we talk with Brittany and Joe from Wight Tea Co. This brother-sister duo give us a delicious crash course on in the world of all things steeped and steamy.
In this conversation with Brittany and Joe Wight, we cover a broad range of tea-related topics, including:
How a sibling joke in the midst of a recession kicked off a decade-long collaboration to create delicious tea blends for home consumers
The agricultural origins of tea, which share many things in common with the way we think about wines and spirits as agricultural and human-processed products.
The difference between a tea, a tisane, and a chai
Quality indicators to look for when selecting your next tea or matcha at the store
How to use teas in cocktails, toddies, and punches with an eye toward pairing a blended herbal product with a distilled spirit
And much, much more
Featured Cocktail: Punch
This week’s featured cocktail is...PUNCH. I know, it’s more of a category than a cocktail, but I want to take just a minute here to review exactly how easy it is to make a great, tea-based punch in the classic style.
Instead of a recipe, we’re going to offer a ratio, and this is the golden rule we follow with very minimal divergence when we’re putting together a punch for friends and family. The ratio is 4:2:1:1 Water (or tea, in this case) to Spirits, to Sugar, to Citrus. We’ll unpack that ratio in a second, but first, here’s the most important thing to keep in mind.
Selecting Your Constant
When you’re dealing with a ratio instead of a set measurement, you need to pick your anchor point. What’s going to be the one ingredient that you want to set as the standard that everything else must react to?
In this case, we find it easy to use a standard, 750ml (or 25 oz) bottle of spirits as your anchor. That way, you go to the store, pick up your spirit, and you know all you gotta do is dump that sucker without measuring.
So, if the “2” in the 4:2:1:1 ratio is 25 oz, then you know you’ll need 50 oz of tea...which is literally just 50 oz of water with the tea of your choice steeped in it. And then 12-13 oz of both citrus juice and a simple syrup. If you’re worried it won’t be sweet enough, go with a richer simple syrup...but most of the time, regular strength simple syrup is just fine.
Don’t Forget the Spice!
The last element in the punch equation is always spice. Traditionally, grated nutmeg is what’s called for, and that’s always a good call. But we’ve often found great applications for our cocktail bitters in these situations, since they’re essentially a highly curated profile of various herbs and spices.
For more information on batching cocktails like this, check out Episode 16 on Batched Cocktails, which has a whole bunch of great thoughts on punch and other large format drinks.
In this episode, we cover a lot of tea-based tips and tricks - everything from how to select a high quality to brewing and steeping best-practices. Here are some of the highlights:
There is some debate as to what qualifies as a “Tea".” Some people think it’s only those beverages brewed from black, green, or white tea leaves. But others are more open-minded to incorporating other herbs and spices into the mix. Either way, the world of tea is a vast one, but here are some of the larger categories:
Teas - Usually, black, green, or white tea leaves, sometimes combined with other herbs and spices
Tisanes - These are (typically) non-caffeinated herbal teas. However, some varieties (like Yerba Mate) do contain caffeine.
Chais - Teas with emphasis on the spices used in the blend. In many places around the world, “chai” simply means “tea.”
Matchas - Traditional, shade-grown Japanese green tea that is powdered and used to make a creamy, thick, bright green drink.
Most tea you get at the supermarket is just the dry, stale dust of whole tea leaves that has been degraded by prolonged exposure to air and/or light. To select a high-quality loose leaf tea, be sure to:
Find a tea merchant that takes pride in quality and takes time to speak with you about your preferences.
Look for whole tea leaves that unfurl when steeped.
For matcha, look for something “ceremonial grade,” but be careful - a lot of brands are using this as a buzz-word, so the quality indicator has been somewhat degraded.
Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees celcius). However, you don’t want to put boiling water on your tea leaves unless it’s an herbal tisane. Instead, you want the water to be somewhere around 170-180 degrees Fahrenheit, which is just when the bubbles are starting to form and rise to the surface in your kettle or pot.
Be sure to use good quality water when brewing your tea, and pay attention to steep time. The longer you steep, the stronger (and possibly more astringent) the tea will become.
Toddies & Tea Cocktails
We talk about a bunch of excellent tea cocktails during this episode, but perhaps the most iconic one is the hot toddy. Here’s how to make one:
Brew a beautiful cup of tea
Select a spirit you think will pair well with that tea (brown with brown, clear with green or white)
Add some sweetness - honey, agave, or maple syrup all work nicely.
What about citrus? Could a squeeze of lemon enhance this drink?
Spice it up - if you’ve got bitters or some nutmeg on-hand, consider adding a dash or sprinkle.