We're Seeing Them Everywhere: Tea Cocktails

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Photo credit: Charlie Richards/StockFood

Tea time has gotten a lot less stuffy lately, thanks in large part to a slew of boozy tea-infused concoctions that might even get Lady Grantham to loosen up.

In Chicago, Illinois, modern American eatery Fulton Market Kitchen serves a cocktail swirled with smoked tea, bourbon, the bitter-sweet liqueur Amaro averna, honey, grapefruit, and lemon. In Austin, Texas, the Asian-inflected restaurant Qui once served a spin on the classic Manhattan cocktail made using a sweet peach-and-black-tea base. And in New York City, we easily located three restaurant pros who know their way around a teapot.

"Tea is such a delicate flavor," said Erika Chou, owner of contemporary Chinese spot Yunnan Kitchen, which serves a nuanced chrysanthemum tea–infused rum daiquiri. It’s ”very lightly floral at the end [of the taste], and the flavor is really adaptable and can complement a lot of liquors.” Chrysanthemum has a distinctly herbaceous quality, which Chou said is an excellent balance for China’s at-times-fiery cuisine.

"We think about how everything would complement our food and our concept," Chou said. "So nothing we have is too sweet or two overpowering, but more on the subtle side."

At whimsical dumpling emporium RedFarm, head bartender Shawn Chen utilizes a similarly subtle tea in his oolong-steeped vodka martini. “It’s very aromatic, like honey, and a little bit woody,” Chen said.

But tea cocktails don’t belong to the realm of Asian cuisine exclusively. Noah Small, the beverage director of chef Alex Stupak’s Empellón mini-empire, finds that black tea pairs wonderfully with tequila.

"I think that with cocktails, tea is useful," Small told us. "It brings tannins to a drink, which is that drying effect [on the] palate. Sometimes you’re working with something that has sweetness, and tea is a nice way to let a cocktail dry out."

At Empellón Taqueria, Small infuses tequila with a strong black tea—”We use a regular black tea, but you can take Lipton’s and it could probably give the desired effect, to be honest”—and shakes it with apricot liqueur and fresh lime juice.

The tea-infused tequila “has that rich, earthy, almost tobacco-like note to it,” Small said, which counterbalances the sweetness of the stone fruit liqueur. “The tea itself actually accentuates the way apricots actually are, because apricots can be drying on the palate.”

Up for a tea-infused tequila cocktail, Lady Grantham? Just tip a bit of booze into your tea cup. We won’t tell.