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The Tea Totaler “The Great Tea Experiment”

On a balmy summer’s evening last August, some of my fellow tea-geek friends and I hosted what came to be known as “The Great Tea Experiment”. Not to worry, we weren’t trying to cross-pollinate a tea/tulip hybrid or anything crazy like that. We wanted to see what would happen when you started mixing tea with liquor. Lots of liquor.

It started out as just a few people thinking, “Wouldn’t this Lapsang Souchong be great in a Bloody Mary?” And yes, it was great. But so many wonderful cocktails (and a few that were not so wonderful) were created that night, it’s hard to pick just one…so let me run down a chosen few (not to worry my friends, the recipes are provided at the end).

1. The Bloody Souchong: Lapsang Souchong is a Chinese black tea that is fired over pine wood to absorb a distinctly smoky flavor. Now, as a straight cup of tea you either love Lapsang Souchong or you hate it. I tend to fall in the hate-it camp, it really is smoky. However, if you combine it with V-8 juice, vodka and horseradish you get an amazing Bloody Mary with a twist. This one was a winner across the board and can be spiced up based on your taste buds.

2. Sencha & Gin: Now falling into the category of “I thought this was going to taste like lawn, but is surprisingly refreshing” I bring you Sencha & Gin. Sencha is a green tea grown in Japan and has strong, grassy flavors. When chilled and mixed with a little Bombay Sapphire it becomes a wonderfully refreshing cocktail. Try it with a couple of olives and see how the brininess brings out the flavor of the tea. Watch out though, this one will sneak up on you if you’re not careful. Oh, and don’t bother with the tonic, we tried it and it ruined the drink completely.

3. Retired Arnold Palmer: As part of our experiment we infused many spirits with various teas. Some worked (this one, and surprisingly a Darjeeling) some didn’t (Jasmine, Puerh). We took a little dried lemongrass and ginger and infused a bottle of vodka for a few days. It was amazing. It could be used to make a wonderful asian-inspired martini or perk up your glass of (unsweetened) iced tea for a very grown-up (Retired, get it?) Arnold Palmer.

4. Totally Bitchin’ Peach Paradise: Herbal teas are hardly anyone at this party’s favorite. We tried blending several cocktails with them and they just fell flat…until we got to the Peach Paradise. A mix of dehydrated peaches, hibiscus and apple, the sweetness of this tisane is outrageous and under normal circumstances can be a bit overwhelming. But when you mix it with peach nectar, vodka and Chambord you have created something out of this world. No one will ever admit it, but this was the favorite of the night, until we got to this one…..

5. The Mail Order Bride: It started out innocently enough ... "Hey, we have a cup of chai over here, let’s do something with it.” We added vodka and Kahlua and discovered the greatest tea cocktail ever created by man or woman, as it were. It was sweet, spicy and very comforting. So I said, “It’s a Hot Russian”, and my friend's husband says, “What, you mean like a Mail Order Bride?” Inappropriate or not, the name stuck and became the group’s crowning achievement.

6. The Rhubarb Oolong Margarita: Maybe it’s because I grew up in Minnesota where rhubarb grows with wild abandon, but I have always loved the light fruity, slightly tart flavor. Rip off the leaves (I hear they’re poisonous after all) and dip the stalk into some white sugar…ahh, summer. And since I am well beyond my 21 years, naturally it occurred to me to translate that flavor into a cocktail. I wish I could tell you that it was fantastic. I wish I could tell you that bars around the world would be clamoring for the recipe. Sadly, I have to tell you it did not taste good. I guess you win some, you lose some….don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the recipe for this catastrophe, but know this: Mix your favorite fruity tea with a little tequila and pour it into a sugar-rimmed glass over ice and you’re be doing better than we were.

The Great Tea Experiment was made possible with the complete support of Tea Source and all of their products were used in creating these cocktails. However, experiment is the name of the game and everyone should feel free to substitute their favorites or whatever might already be lurking in your cupboard. In the recipes you’ll see teas marked double or triple strength. This just means that instead of the standard 1 teaspoon tea to one cup water ratio, the amount of the tea was increased to 2 or 3 teaspoons, depending on the recipe. All teas (except the chai) were chilled before mixing the cocktail.

And remember friends: all things in moderation, even tea.

1. The Bloody Souchong: Combine in a glass with ice: ½ cup V-8 juice, ½ cup triple strength Lapsang Souchong, ¼ tsp. celery salt, ¼ tsp. pepper, 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco (to taste), Horseradish (to taste) and a squeeze of lemon.

2. Sencha & Gin: In a glass over ice mix equal parts triple strength Sencha and Gin. FYI: The better the gin, the better the cocktail.

3. Retired Arnold Palmer: To make the Lemongrass/Ginger Vodka: Place 1 tsp. Ginger Root and 1 tsp. Lemongrass into a t-sac and submerge in 3 cups of vodka. For best results, let stand 7 days to allow the flavors to blend. For the cocktail: In a glass over ice mix 3 parts Classic Iced Tea (brew this to double strength to prevent a watering down effect) with one part of the Lemongrass/Ginger Vodka. Don’t feel like waiting 7 days for the vodka? Use a citrus infused vodka from your local liquor store, it won’t be as good, but it will work just fine.

4. Totally Bitchin’ Peach Paradise: I would serve this from a pitcher because you won’t want to stop at just one. Mix together: 3 cups double strength Peach Paradise, 1 cup peach nectar, ½ cup Chambord and ½ cup vodka. Stir well and serve over ice. If you’re feeling ambitious, throw it in a blender for a little slushy action.

5. The Mail Order Bride: I have no problem saying that the TeaSource Chai is the best I’ve ever tried, and I highly recommend its use in this recipe. However, as always, I won’t get on your case if you use something else. To one cup of hot chai tea add a shot of vodka and a shot of Kahlua. If you’re feeling extra indulgent, a little whipped cream might be tasty floating on top, but it’s not necessary.

--Jess Jellings