PARK PLAZA HOTEL

Green tea, lemon grass and grapefruit juice are mixed with champagne for a Citrus Teaser at The Boston Park Plaza Hotel.

BEVERAGE TRENDS

TEA TIME for Cocktails
Black, green, herbal and otherwise, tea makes a return engagement in both hot and cold bar drinks
BY JACK ROBERTIELLO

hen Rye House opened in Manhattan late last fall, a quick glance at the drink menu gave many indications that this was a bar where cocktails were taken seriously. The list of bourbons and ryes is appropriately long, befitting the establishment’s name, and the cocktail menu is filled with the contemporary bartender’s favorite ingredients: bitters, house infusions, amaros, egg whites. Taking prime position is the Rye House Punch, featuring chai-infused rye along with lemon, grapefruit, bitters and absinthe. It’s just another sign that tea, in all its guises — chai, black, green, white, herbal tisanes, fruitflavored, smoked — is increasingly moving onto the cocktail-ingredient list.

W

HISTORICAL TEA It’s not a revolutionary change; Colonial-era American punch recipes, now returning to the bar scene, were traditionally built on a base of freshly brewed tea that knit together the tang of citrus, a bit of sugar and the zap of brandy and rum. Since punches started appearing on menus in the speakeasy and pre-prohibition-themed bars

now springing up across the country, tea has been beckoning other bartenders as well. Hot tea spiked with a little whiskey is as old as, well, whiskey, but until recently, hot-tea cocktails were overshadowed by winter drink menus favoring fancy, dessert-like coffee and cocoa mixers. At 508 Restaurant & Bar in Manhattan, however, Bar Manager Nick Freeman last winter offered such tea drinks as Blueberry Fields, with black tea, amaretto and Grand Marnier. The Norwegian Wood combines orange pekoe, dark rum and vanilla vodka, and Freeman’s Jalice features chai, bourbon and lemon juice. With 508 located on the windy Hudson River side of Manhattan, chilly guests welcome the handcrafted hot drinks. “I enjoy the idea of working with natural flavors,” says Freeman. “I also enjoy the time spent on a drink’s construction; there’s a distinct pleasure in the steeping process and in making a proper cocktail. The enjoyment of working in a restaurant setting is [that you have] a generally more captive and appreciative audience. Experimentation with anything, including recipes, requires one to play with proportion and order.”

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BEVERAGE TRENDS

Mixologists appreciate tea’s flavors, textures and aromas in mixed drinks, and its health benefits help sales.

TEA’S ATTRACTION Some bartenders are taking advantage of the explosion of bottled-tea products to tweak their cocktail programs, while others, hewing to a do-it-yourself culinary approach, are crafting their own teas, tea infusions, syrups or tinctures for use in drinks. Since the Clock Bar’s opening at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco two years ago, one of the most-popular drinks is the English Breakfast, made with Earl Grey-infused gin, Grand Marnier, orange marmalade, fresh lemon juice and egg white, topped with a spray of black-tea liqueur. At Buddakan in New York City, bartender Joe Thompson serves the Tranquility, made with citrus vodka and lemon-grass-infused oolong tea. Tea as a bar ingredient has become popular enough to sustain an annual cocktail competition at the World Tea Expo, held in Las Vegas every June. The three-day businessto-business show and conference hosted the competition finals last year, which turned out to be a big hit, says George Jage, president of the World Tea Expo. The winner, Beverage Manager Max Solano of Emeril Lagasse’s Table 10 in Las Vegas, whipped up Genevrier Verte, a mix of blackberry-jasmine iced green tea, lemonade, gin, coca-leaf liqueur, vanilla/clove syrup and fresh lime juice. Tea’s attraction is on many levels. “Tea can add a wide variety of things to a beverage or dish,” says Cynthia Gold, tea sommelier at The Boston Park Plaza Hotel. “What catches the

guest’s interest is usually the documented health benefits of tea, but what interests me are the flavor profiles, textures and aromatics. They are tremendously fun to play with. You can use tea to add brightness, add depth or complexity, balance or highlight different flavors or textures. The possibilities are endless.” Gold notes that balance is key when introducing any ingredient; the resulting drink should not taste too strongly of tea. “It just needs to be altered for the better in some way that you could not have achieved without the tea,” she says. Tea’s entry into bar programs has bemused some in the tea world. “It’s sort of a paradox to use tea as a mixer in a bar environment, with tea having such a healthful reputation, but as the bar has opened up to a range of mixers, tea with alcohol creates a sort of yin and yang,” says Jage. The Boston Park Plaza, where Gold works with an exceptional tea menu, is well known for offering “tea cuisine” dishes, such as jasmine-tea-cured salmon, tea-rubbed pork tenderloin and tea-infused port. She’s created a full line of tea cocktails and signature tea blends served at the hotel’s Afternoon Tea, in addition to her signature white port, infused with black tea, lavender and rose petals. Her Tea Nog, a traditional egg nog enhanced with tea and spiced rum, is an annual winter favorite at the hotel. Other beverage folk, newer to the culinary and mixology potential of tea, are just as interested in its properties.

DRAGON PEARL

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The

FLAVOR PAYOFF
Tea tips from an industry leader
Cynthia Gold, tea sommelier at The Boston Park Plaza Hotel, is well known for incorporating her love of tea into food and beverages. Her work provides pointers for getting started with tea:

> Start with familiar and popular drinks, like martini variations > Blend tea with fruit, always a refreshing mix > Infuse clear spirits with tea for subtle flavoring > Use spiced chai blends and warm spirits (like cognac or
spiced rum) for dessert-like drinks For more inspiration, here is a brief list of Gold’s greatest hits: Ginger Mar-Tea-ni — Vodka slowly infused with Japanese green tea, ginger and citrus zest, finished with additional ginger and pineapple and lime juices Keemun Cream — Baileys Irish Cream and vodka infused with Keemun Hao Ya (black tea and spices); finished with whipped cream Green-Tea Mar-Tea-ni — Vodka infused with Chinese green tea, dried peach, dried quince, mallow blossom and vanilla bean, finished with a splash of peach schnapps Yin and Tonic — Gin slowly infused with Chinese Ti-Kuan Yin Oolong and spice, finished with tonic water Strawberry-Basil Mar-Tea-ni — Vodka infused with green tea, orange peel and lemon grass, muddled with fresh strawberries and basil Spiced-Apple Mar-Tea-ni — Apple Martini made with vodka that has been slowly infused with black tea, dried pear, ginger and black pepper Champagne Tea Cocktails — Variations on a Bellini with a tea and fruit syrup added Plaza Citrus Teaser — Coconut rum infused with green tea and lemon grass and finished with fresh basil, grapefruit juice and champagne Tea Nog — A December-only version of egg nog made with milk that has been simmered with tea and spices for around six hours, then chilled and made into egg nog; available with or without the addition of tea-and-spice-infused cognac
BOSTON PARK PLAZA HOTEL

HOT AND COLD “I’m a big proponent of pushing the envelope, and having grown up in the Southwest, I’m big for tea in drinks,” says John Rothstein, beverage director of BLT Restaurants, with 18 restaurants under the banner BLT Steak, BLT Fish, BLT Burger and other concepts. “I think of tea as adding a cooling sensation, and it provides a nice balancing act to citrus and sweeteners in most cocktails,” says Rothstein. “I also like to think of it as a glue; it adds coloration, softens and relaxes the complexity that’s already in the cocktail, giving a soothing, colorful effect.” Iced tea’s cooling and soothing effects come in handy at BLT Steak Camelback, in Scottsdale, Ariz., where the menu includes the Elderflower Pimm’s Cup, made with Pimm’s No. 1, elderflower liqueur, fresh lemon juice and sparkling jasmine tea, garnished with cucumber and mint leaves. While opening the company’s 17th restaurant in Waikiki recently, Rothstein discovered a local favorite called the Plantation, a mix of iced tea and pineapple juice. It made sense to develop an adult version, so he tinkered with the proportions and added peach vodka. He now serves it as the BLT Plantation and notes that peach is a flavor that melds well with drinks using black tea. Nick Liberato, bar manager of 18a (named for the 18th Amendment), the bar at restaurant Comme Ça in Los Angeles, has been experimenting with things like chilled chamomile tea in shaken cocktails. “I love chamomile; it has such nice aromatics, it mixes nicely with a number of spirits and has this beautiful flavor that works well with rum and bourbon.”

Spicy teas and chais complement creamy drinks and warm spirits.

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A “Teani” of Zen green tea liqueur, Laird’s AppleJack and apple juice is one of many “classics, retooled” at Hearty Boys in Chicago.

Last winter, Liberato was drawn to tea’s warming properties and served hot tea drinks, including an Earl Grey Buttered Rum and a Whiskey-Tea Toddy. BALANCED TO A TEA Like many other bartenders, Liberato uses herbal mixes, including lavender and kaffirlime leaf, when making syrups for cocktails. He’s also worked with green tea in a drink with Japanese whiskey, muddled shiso leaf and egg white.

TAKE-AWAY TIPS
GO EASY: Use tea as a supporting flavor rather than letting it

overwhelm the cocktail
TIP THE BOTTLE: Use a splash of bottled tea for an easy foray into

tea mixers
PLAY FAVORITES: Create tea-infused versions of best-selling drinks GET FAMILIAR: Use recognizable tea flavors (honey-lemon or

The key to including tea in any drink, hot or cold, is the supporting ingredients. Sometimes tea is there to offer depth and be a bridge between the other ingredients or to balance those ingredients while adding another layer of complexity. “The issue is how easy or difficult it is to come up with the right flavor combinations,” says Gold, who has been creating tea cocktails for about 12 years, five of them for The Park Plaza. Vodka, of course, is considered easiest to mix with teas; Jage points out some bartenders are infusing vodka with teas and using finely powdered green tea as an ingredient to create an instant tea-infused vodka. Other spirits, especially those with strong tannins, need more care. Smokier Scotches can be tough, as are the moreintense single-batch or barrel whiskeys, due to their increased astringency. “[Mixing] can be more complex than simply the type of alcohol,” says Gold. “For instance, with gin, the particular proprietary formula of juniper and other spices will react with the teas in a different way. One gin will give a different result from another, so you need to do your taste tests with the exact same gin you plan to serve.” She likes using Earl Grey with gin and bourbon and green teas with sake and gin. Ceylon tea goes with bourbon, gin with oolongs and Scotch with Assam and highoxidation oolongs. Rum goes with most teas, she says. Her best sellers include a Green-Tea Mar-Tea-ni, vodka infused with green tea, dried peach, quince, mallow blossom and vanilla bean. Gold notes that her SpicedApple Mar-Tea-ni is a safe transition into tea cocktails due to the popularity of the apple martini in the earlier part of the decade. Liberato says a lot depends on the palate of the mixologist and customers, how balanced drinks are and how they pair with a restaurant’s cuisine. As with other potentially powerful ingredients, Rothstein says, “The key to any cocktail is balance; if you put something in that’s going to overpower, be aware of its strengths.” & JACK ROBERTIELLO writes about spirits, cocktails, wine, beer and food from Brooklyn, N.Y.; he can be e-mailed at applejak@earthlink.net.

HEARTY BOYS

ginger) to begin with

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