Festive Tea Cocktails for the Winter, Featuring Tea Sparrow

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While I am not typically a big drinker, I do love the occasional cocktail. I often have them out at one of the wonderful bars or distilleries in DC, but once in a while I like to make my own. Now, I like classic cocktails, so when I found out that Daly’s Bartenders’ Encyclopedia from 1903 was available in its entirety on Google Books, I had to take a look. It’s commonly believed that cocktails were popularized in the 1920s when Prohibition led bartenders to mix lower-quality, homemade booze with other ingredients to disguise the flavor, but this book, released more than 15 years before the beginning of Prohibition, contains a multitude of recipes, including some familiar favorites.

In exploring the recipes, I learned that tea was actually part of some traditional cocktail recipes, and it was a common ingredient in punches, so I reached out to Tea Sparrow again to see if they were interested in providing me some teas to work into my Edwardian-era cocktails. Rather than just sticking straight to the recipe, here I’ve decided to take three recipes and play with them a little. One is a tea-based cocktail on its own, but I’ve given it my own twist, and the other two did not originally include tea, but they work with it well.

The teas for these cocktails are from Tea Sparrow, who previously sent me their subscription box and who make some of the only flavored teas that I’ve actually liked recently. They’ve generously offered my readers a discount, which is at the bottom of this post.

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Tea Cobbler with Ruby Oolong

This was the original recipe that started the idea. Originally, a tea cobbler likely would have been made with black tea, but I decided to make a version with Ruby Oolong, since the flavor is interesting and refreshing, with a depth that suits colder weather. Despite being a cold cocktail, the combination of fruit, tea, and rum would make a nice pick-me-up at a holiday brunch.

I cold brewed my oolong for this cocktail to bring out the complex flavors and avoid melting the ice. I also decided to use the juice of half an orange instead of the juice of a lemon, which meant I didn’t need the sugar. So I put six ice cubes in a glass, added the juice of half an orange, filled it halfway with cold-brewed tea, and then topped with an ounce of rum and an orange peel twist. I used a rum from Maryland instead of Jamaica rum.

The whole effect is absolutely perfect, the sweetness of the oolong marrying with the sweetness of the rum and orange juice, with just a little fragrance to offset the bitterness of the orange peel and the smoky oakiness of the rum.

Hot Whiskey Cocktail with Cardamom Cream Tea

This one came to mind when Dan got a nasty cold and we were talking about a hot toddy, and Daly’s Hot Whiskey Cocktail is like a fancy hot toddy. I realized that any of the hot water cocktails from Daly’s guide could be made with tea in place of the hot water for a lovely hot tea cocktail. When I saw the Cardamom Cream tea on Tea Sparrow’s website, I knew it was perfect for this classic cocktail. The Cardamom Cream is based on Earl Grey tea, with rose, vanilla, and cardamom, making this a delightful twist on an Earl Grey cocktail.

And, oh boy, was I right! Daly suggests serving this in a hot whiskey glass (which is similar to an Irish coffee glass), but as I lack one of those, I served it in a Turkish tea cup because the combination of rose and cardamom in the tea made it seem appropriate. I put one teaspoon of sugar in the bottom of the cup, topped it with tea to about halfway full, added a dash of Angostura bitters, and then 1.5 oz. of bourbon whiskey. I garnished it with an orange twist rather than a lemon twist because I love orange and cardamom. This was probably my favorite of the three — it was the perfect blend of flavors, sweetness, and warmth.

Daly suggests that it is perfect to warm up after driving or automobiling in chilly weather, but I think it’s perfect for after shoveling show or taking a winter morning walk. Or just for relaxing inside with your nutcracker.

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Hot Egg Nog with Cacao Tea

The Hot Egg Nog was an interesting recipe because I had just been playing with adding store-bought egg nog to my tea. I blended the recipe for hot egg nog and brandy egg nog, and added cacao shell tea to give it a chocolate-y kick. The original recipe called for two ounces of liquor, but I cut it down to an ounce and a half, which was the perfect amount.

First I heated a cup of whole milk with a rounded tablespoon of cacao shell tea on the stove over medium-high heat until it reached about 180F (when tiny bubbles appear around the edges). I turned off the heat and let it steep for five more minutes, and then returned it to 180F. In a small bowl, I whisked together two teaspoons of sugar with an egg yolk and an ounce and a half of brandy until well-mixed and slightly lighter in color. Then, I slowly strained in the hot milk while whisking constantly (it helps to have a friend to hold the strainer). This was poured into a mug and garnished with a grating of nutmeg.

This packs a kick, probably from the hot milk vaporizing the alcohol above the surface of the drink, but I love the combination of milk, brandy, and the light chocolate flavor of the cacao tea. It reminds me a little of the Swiss chocolate ice cream at a local ice cream parlor we went to when I was a child, which was a very light chocolate ice cream. And having it warm makes it feel cozy and comforting. It’s perfect for an evening in, especially since the cacao shell tea has no caffeine to speak of.

NB: Tea Sparrow sent these teas for free in exchange for being featured in this post. You can use the code “TeaLeavesandTweed” for 20% off your first order, or 20% off your first month if you purchase a subscription. If you are interested in collaboration or sponsorship, please contact me.

Autumn Tea Blend for Samhain

Blessed Samhain to my friends who celebrate! In this season of pumpkin spice, I sometimes find myself craving something a bit deeper, so I thought I’d share a little tea I blended up for myself today.

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I’ve long had a complicated relationship with traditional “pumpkin spice” blends, as I’m not often fond of cinnamon, except in very specific contexts. More often than not, I prefer to focus on other spices, such as the cardamom and allspice in my Regency-inspired drinking chocolate recipe. And allspice, to me, is that certain je ne sais quoi that defines autumn spice. So my blend keeps allspice, but eschews the rest.

But what it lacks in spice, it makes up for in a deep, rich roasted quality that brings to mind cool forests and evening fires. Dark roast hojicha from Hojicha.Co gives that deep, smoky campfire note, while wild rooibos from The Rare Tea Company marries with the hojicha in a beautiful and inseparable way. I spoke yesterday about my previous dislike of rooibos, but this wild rooibos tastes of earth and wood and reminds me more of a good whisky than the insipid and artificial caffeine-free flavored blends I’d had previously. Combined with hojicha and allspice, this blend tastes like autumn in a cup.

I’ve left this recipe relatively unadorned, but I imagine it might be delicious with some additions. Add a splash of apple cider or maple syrup if you prefer something sweeter. A cinnamon stick wouldn’t go amiss, if you’re into that kind of thing. The most important thing is to experiment and have fun.

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Dark Samhain Night Tea Blend

2.5g dark roast hojicha
2.5g wild rooibos
0.5g allspice berries

Add the ingredients to a teapot or infuser mug and pour 250ml of boiling water over them. Allow to steep for five minutes. Sweeten to taste, if desired, and enjoy. May be resteeped at least once with delightful results.

NB: All ingredients were purchased by me with no incentive to feature.

Tea Leaves and Tweed Tea Primer, Bonus Level: Cold-Brewed Tea

Update: I’ve decided to add this post to my Tea Leaves and Tweed Tea Primer, even though it predates the primer, so the style is a bit different. But it’s definitely a thorough treatment of cold-brewing tea and I don’t think it’s worth reinventing the wheel.

I’ve posted some images recently on my Instagram of my experiments in cold-brewing tea, and I’ve even teased on my YouTube channel that I would do a cold tea video sometime. But I’ve decided that to really do justice to my cold-brew adventures, I needed to devote a blog post to it. And stay tuned to the end, when I share a little recipe for one of my favorite summer iced tea drinks!

At its heart, cold-brewing tea is incredibly simple. You just put some tea leaves into some cold water, stick it in the fridge, and wait. I used this article from Serious Eats as my guide, specifically the author’s recommendation of about 10-12g of tea per quart of water. I tend to brew a pint of tea at a time, so that’s about 5-6g of tea per brewing.

Then I decided to go a little nuts and try brewing in sparkling water. I got some good-quality 500-ml bottles of sparkling mineral water from the store and experimented with green, black, and oolong teas. I haven’t tried white tea yet, but I imagine it would be pretty nice. Here’s what I’ve found so far.

Green Tea:

I started out with Rishi Sencha as my first experiment. I’d heard a lot about brewing Japanese green teas cold, and I thought it would be a good place to start. The Rishi sencha is a decent sencha, with a nicely balanced flavor profile of grassy and umami, but it’s also available in my local grocery store and not so expensive or difficult to get that I would worry about “wasting” it on an experiment. So I started there.

Cold-brewed, this sencha retains a lot of it’s interesting umami flavor, with a nice green undertone. It doesn’t have any bitterness or even really astringency, apart from a mild tartness that is quite pleasant. It’s very refreshing. It also shines in sparkling mineral water, as the minerality of the water offsets the umami. I could also see using this as the base in a gin-based tea cocktail, if I liked gin (or were indulging in hard liquor at the moment).

Black Tea:

I will admit, I only tried cold-brewing black tea because my husband made a nostalgic comment about Wawa peach iced tea and I wanted to see if I could make something better using cold-brew and homemade peach syrup (spoiler: I did; read on for the recipe at the end of this post). So I grabbed an old tin of Harney & Sons Darjeeling that my mother brought over for a tea party at my house. I chose the Darjeeling for two reasons. The first was the aforementioned rationale about not using teas I would miss if the experiment failed, and the other was that the Serious Eats article doesn’t seem to recommend cold-brewing black teas because their flavor profile is muted, so I thought if I went for a lighter black tea, rather than a big, punchy Assam, it might work better with the cold-brew method.

I was right about the tea. Despite the fact that I only brewed this to be sweetened, I tried a taste of it before adding sweetener and it’s fantastic. The infusion is a deceptively light color, but it has a lot of black tea flavor, without any dry-your-mouth-out tannins or unpleasant bitterness. It tastes like perfectly-steeped black tea. And it stands up quite well to the peach syrup, too. I also enjoyed it in sparkling water.

Oolong Tea:

Oolong is my favorite tea and one that seems well-suited to cold-brew, as it has a lot of complex flavors that seem like they would work well in a refreshing cold beverage. I only tried oolongs steeped in sparkling mineral water, though their charms would almost certainly translate to still water. The first one I tried was a Golden Lily oolong that is a “milk oolong” variety. I idly thought to make a sort of oolong cream soda. It worked well enough, but the green-ness of the tea made for a rather light cold-brew infusion.

But, wow, my next experiment did not disappoint. I found some old heavy-roast Tieguanyin in the back of my tea cabinet and thought, hey, why not chuck it in some fizzy water? I had thought to try it with my peach syrup. Well, the resulting brew was so lovely and complex — with notes of peaches, honey, flowers, and cream already — that I didn’t dare touch it with sweetener. This is my favorite yet and will likely become a new regular in my daily tea rotation. The absolute only thing I would ever add to it would be a shot of bourbon.

Cold-Brewed Peach Darjeeling Tea:

As promised, I’ve also come up with a recipe for peach iced tea using cold-brew. The first step is to steep 5g of Darjeeling tea in 16 oz. of water. Then, you’ll need to make the peach syrup by roughly chopping one fresh peach and putting it in a small saucepan with 1/2 cup of water. Let this simmer until the peach is soft enough to be mashed with a fork, about 15-20 minutes. Then, stir in 1/2 cup of granulated sugar and simmer until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. Strain the syrup into a jar and let cool.

To put together the drink, strain the tea leaves out of the tea, and add about 2 Tbsp. of peach syrup (or to taste) to the tea. Stir well and serve over ice with a slice of lemon and a couple slices of fresh peach. Makes two glasses of iced tea.

My husband’s review was that “it’s pretty good.” So there’s that. Happy steeping!

Outing: Republic Restoratives Distillery Tour and Tasting

I’m back from my whirlwind wedding weekend, and I thought I’d share my fun, post-wedding outing with you. The day after the wedding, Mr. Tweed and I started out the day at our favorite coffee shop to have a little breakfast and see a few of our guests who stuck around town overnight. Then, we ran some errands, including a trip downtown to gather last-minute necessities for our upcoming honeymoon. While we were downtown, my sister (in from Australia for the wedding!) mentioned that she was going to tour a local distillery later that afternoon. So we stayed downtown and met her.

The first thing to understand is that my sister is a bit of a whiz when it comes to whiskeys of all kinds. She runs a sort of educational and networking group that introduces different kinds of whiskeys to a wide audience. As a lover of brown spirits myself, I heartily approve. So when she mentioned a drinks-related outing, I leapt at the opportunity.

Republic Restoratives is a distillery and tasting room in the heart of Northeast D. C., where, because of the peculiarities of D. C. law, they can ferment, distill, age, bottle, sell, and taste their own small-batch spirits. Currently, the only entirely-in-house spirit is their Civic vodka, because they are only about a year old. But give it a year or so, and there will be in-house bourbon and rye. Currently, they offer a bourbon and a rye that they blend and finish themselves, as well. The tour and tasting gives you a glimpse into the process, from fermentation to barrel-aging, as well as a taste of each of the three spirits they currently offer. And off to one side is the tasting room, where bartenders whip up cocktails based on each of their spirits. The only rule is that each cocktail must have at least one of their in-house spirits. But apart from that, the bartenders are perfectly willing to get creative.

The tour itself was not only entertaining, as our guide had the personality to make the chemistry involved in brewing interesting to a wide audience, but educational. I had no idea the stringent requirements needed to call something “bourbon” versus other kinds of American whiskey. And I found their Rodham Rye to be particularly enjoyable, both in the Sazerac that I brought with me on the tour, and alone as part of the tasting.

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After the tour and tasting, we reconvened to the tasting room, where we partook of another round of cocktails. This time, I went for a Boulevardier, which is perfect for a warm spring day. Their bourbon was the perfect match against the vermouth and Campari, but I would be curious to try it again with their rye. It was a perfect way to decompress after the hectic wedding days, and enjoy the company of family I don’t get to see often. Plus, a tour and a tasting for the price of a D. C. cocktail isn’t bad.

Vintage Food: Homebrewing Mead

Last fall, Boyfriend and I experimented with brewing. We made several gallons of hard cider and a couple smaller batches of mead. While we’d finished off the cider over the winter, mead is supposed to age a bit longer before consuming, so we just this week opened up our first bottle of homebrewed mead.

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Well, apparently we bottled it before it had totally depleted its sugar because there was a little pop when we pushed off the stopper and tiny bubbles when we poured it. It was just a basic recipe of honey, water, white wine yeast, and a few raisins for extra nutrients. We used a yeast that a friend of ours recommended that yields a sweeter wine, so the finished mead is quite sweet and retains a lot of the honey character. We had used pasteurized local wildflower honey, so there’s a bit of floral character under all the sweetness. It has a strong yeasty smell, but not as much of that translates into the taste. And the bubbles are adorable.

I really enjoyed it with the two somewhat greasy meals we had Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. The first was leftover fried chicken, and the second were local lamb sausages. The sweetness of the mead went rather nicely with the greasy saltiness of the meats. I know it doesn’t sound very appetizing, but it was.

And I could definitely see this as a “sitting and sipping” drink on the porch if it were properly chilled. We also have a batch of cherry melomel (mead with fruit) aging in the cellar, so I’ll have to try that soon. I’m thinking in June when the cherries come out. That one is a bit more special because the pulp from the cherries meant we got less beverage from that batch. I think next time I’ll use cherry juice, or else strain the cherry puree before adding it to the honey mixture. And I’m considering experimenting with some drier yeasts to see if we can keep the honey flavor without quite so much sugar.

But all in all, mead-making was a success!

Drink Your Valentine’s Flowers

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, which means roses, lots of roses. While I love the look and scent of roses, I’ve never been one to insist on a bouquet for any occasion. In fact, the impact on the Earth from the conventional growing of flowers has always mildly horrified me, so I’m content to have rose-scented beauty and rose-printed fabrics, and even rose-shaped earrings, but I don’t generally get a Valentine’s bouquet. We shall see if Boyfriend makes me a liar tomorrow.

But because I love roses, I thought it would be appropriate to offer a rose-themed post today. At the store last weekend, I eyed a bottle of elderflower-rose sparkling lemonade. It was lightly pink, with an elegant handmade label, and a decadent price tag, for a non-alcoholic beverage. It was just so lovely and tempting and I almost bought it. Until I thought better and decided there was no reason to buy rose soda when I had sugar and rosewater and lemon juice at home. I needed only a bottle of sparkling water, which was much more reasonably priced.

I chilled my bottle of sparkling water and then set about making my soda syrup. I decided on lime and rosewater. I mixed sugar and water to make a rich simple syrup, and then added rosewater and lime juice to taste. Be cautious, however, as tasting hot sugar syrup is a tricky and dangerous business! When I was finished, I had just over a half a cup of delicately scented syrup that I drizzled into a tall glass of iced sparkling water. While it lacked the rose hue, it was fragrant, sweet, and the perfect end to my day. And it would be a perfect accompaniment to a romantic brunch or picnic, should your weather be nicer than mine promises to be.

I can forsee this syrup having future iterations. I would like to make it again without the lime juice in order to sweeten lemonade, perhaps made with syrup, lemon juice, and sparkling water. And a sprig of lavender or thyme would go nicely with all the other flavors.

Rose-Lime Syrup

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
2-4 Tbsp. rose water (food-grade, please!)
2 Tbsp. lime juice

Mix the sugar and water and heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the rosewater, starting with 2 tablespoons and continuing to your taste, and add the lime juice. Stir. Add by the tablespoon to a tall glass of sparkling water to your desired sweetness. Makes 4-6 fluid ounces of syrup. Store in a jar or bottle in the refrigerator for a couple weeks.