Tea Cocktails at the DeCordova

On the rooftop of the DeCordova Museum. What a view!

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of leading a seminar at the DeCordova Museum on the evolution of the modern Tea Cocktail.  Before the event began, we had a chance to relax, chat and taste some teas on the beautiful roof-top deck of the museum. What a beautiful place to enjoy a cup of tea!  We sipped on a variety of L’Espalier signature blend teas as well as tasting one of the teas that we would later be enjoying blended into a Colonial style tea punch.  As much as we were all looking forward to tasting tea cocktails, it was hard to leave that beautiful open space to settle into a more traditional lecture space!


However, with the promise of Tea Cocktails, I headed on down into the museum to help the bartender set up for the event.  Arguably, the first tea cocktails could be considered the Hot Toddies of Scotland.  They were originally created to make the taste of Scotch more palatable to women.  Although tea in it’s early days was a medicinal, these early Hot Toddies were not the cold remedies of your grandmother!  Far away in the British East Indies, Punch or Paantsch was being created by the  British East Indies sailors and ‘tea men’.  Now this punch was a far cry from the day-glow overly sweet versions that many of us remember from our college days.  The punch of our forebears was a complex and well-balanced drink.  The name derives from the Hindi word for five, and refers to the five elements of a true Punch.

  • Spirit.  In Colonial New England due to the local rums that were available, this was often rum, but historically, many different spirits were used.  The most revered being Batavia Arrack from the East Indies (now Indonesia)
  • Sour. The preferred sour initially, especially with the sailors at sea was lime.
    n England, lemon and orange were preferred.  In colonial New England, where citrus could be hard to come by, we often used vinegar or verjus as well.
  • Sweet.  Sugar in the colonies was quite different from our modern refined white sugar.  It was a coarse raw sugar in block form which was ideal for using to scrape the
  •  zest off of any citrus that they were fortunate enough to have!
  • Water
  • Spice.  Spice was often interpreted as tea, but the tea could be used instead of the water component as well.  In fact, although these are two of the critical five, more often than not they could be added as one in the form of hot tea.  Another traditional spice that was often added was freshly ground nutmeg.

For those of you who are curious about what a traditional colonial Tea Punch tastes like, or would like to learn more about the teas of the colonies, I want to draw your attention to the December Tea Tasting.  As you probably know, we offer a guided tea tasting on a particular theme each month.  In December our theme does not represent a particular tea growing region, but it is focused on the December 16th Boston Tea Party.  We will be tasting the teas that went into the harbor on that fateful day! 

Join us on Sunday December 16th at 2:00 for our Sunday Tea Tasting focused on the Boston Tea Party.


But, back to the DeCordova.  We went on to taste and talk about Tea Sangrias which are a lighter, more modern version of a Tea Punch, and then modern tea cocktails.  The cocktail that we enjoyed was the Southern Earl Grey, a champagne Tea Cocktail currently on the menu at L’Espalier.


The Southern Earl Grey, a champagne Tea Cocktail. Photo by Julian Landa

Here is the recipe for the Southern Earl Grey:


1/2 ounce Earl Grey infused Bourbon
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
1 teaspoon Green tea and ginger syrup
dash of Orange Bitters

Add first four ingredients to a champagne flute. Fill with Prosecco or your favorite
champagne. Optionally garnish with a curl of orange zest.

Infused Bourbon

1 liter Makers Mark Bourbon
1/4 cup of Earl Grey tea leaves

Place 1 liter of vodka in non-reactive container. Add tea leaves, taste periodically
until desired strength is achieved. Probably around 2 hours. Strain multiple
times through cheesecloth or coffee filters until completely clear. Store at room
temperature or chilled.

Oolong Tea and Ginger Simple Syrup

2 cups white sugar
2 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh ginger
1 wedge lemon or orange
3 tablespoons Oolong tea leaves

Place sugar and water into a saucepan. Stir sugar up from the bottom, squeeze in
citrus and add ginger. Place over medium-high flame and bring to a boil. Turn
down to low and let simmer until a clear thick syrup is formed, about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat, add tea leaves, stir well and let sit until cool. May be left
overnight at this stage. Strain.


Pairing Tea as you would fine wines. A seminar from the World Tea Expo.

I recently was once again traveling away from L’Espalier to attend the World Tea Expo where it was my great pleasure to again teach a seminar on Pairing Food with Tea.  This is one of my favorite topics to speak on.  Pairing tea and food as well as cooking with tea are areas which I believe deserve much more attention and exploration.  Camellia Sinensis is a flexible botanical with diverse culinary potential that is just beginning to be appreciated.
It was an exciting and hectic trip as this class overlapped with the certification level Specialty Tea Institute classes that I was also teaching, meaning that it was a mad dash back and forth!  The concepts in this class discussed tasting teas to deconstruct them into their basic elements in the same way you would look at wines to pair them.  Once you have looked at the teas flavors, aromatics and textures, you can then pair them for compatibility, contrast and/or balance.
Wine is of course an ideal complement to most meals, and L’Espalier is known for it’s exceptional wine list, but for a variety of reasons, you may not always want to be consuming alcohol.  Fine teas give you the opportunity to offer an ideal pairing of food and beverage to elevate the dining experience on the days that wine does not make sense for you. This class was a fun and tasty one where we nibbled on various fruits, cheeses, chocolates and even some tea cured salmon and talked about why certain teas paired well with some of these items and others did not.  Although my goal was for all the students to leave the class able to taste teas with an eye towards proper pairing, and develop ideal pairings on their own, this was still a much more relaxed and casual class than the certification level classes for STI.  There were no exams involved with this pairing class!

I’ve been away from L’Espalier quite a bit lately for various classes and conferences, not to mention a recent trip to Nepal, but I am not planning any more trips in the next couple of months as we have so many exciting tea events coming up here at home!  If you want to find out more about our upcoming tea events, you can look on our website, but for a quick summary of what will be keeping me here in Boston for the next couple of months, and happily steeped in tea:
November 18th, our monthly guided tea tasting focused on Darjeeling.  We’ll be enjoying some classic Darjeelings as well as some very rare and unusual ones.
December 2nd, we’re having ‘A Tea Blending Party’ where we’ll talk about how to blend teas and then get hands-on!  Each of our guests will leave with a pouch of their own signature tea blend.
December 9th, our ‘Princess Tea’ geared towards our younger tea lovers with a variety of special treats and tiara’s and crowns for all of our special young guests!
December 16th, the anniversary of the historic event that led to the American Revolution!  We’ll be tasting the teas that went into the harbor on that fateful day as well as a colonial style tea punch.
December 23rd and 24th our Holiday Tea Celebrations with a lively Holiday theme and special holiday treats.  A great family event.
December 30th, a Tarot Tea.  See what 2013 has in store for you!  Enjoy a classic Afternoon Tea experience, including L’Espalier fortune cookies many of which reveal special prizes, then have your cards read.  What a great way to finish off 2012.
January 6th, A Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.  Come unveil your favorite hats at a very special tea party for children of all ages!
Photos courtesy of Julian Landa.
Posted in Tea

Salon Sessions: Searching for the Perfect Pairing

Although I am perfectly happy to eat a perfectly ripe cheese all by its perfect self, there is that added thrill of perfect contentment when it is combined with a wine or beer that, well, adds to the perfection and creates a proverbial “marriage made in heaven”.

Once a month my curd nerd self joins up with L’Espalier cork dork Erich Schliebe and a few guests in our Salon to explore a few pairings and see if we can come up with a few blissful combinations. This grew out of our Wine Mondays and Cheese Tuesdays, where we have been exploring wine/cheese pairings for ten years. But we wanted to do something a bit more focused and intimate, where we could interact with a few guests (we limit the sessions to 15 people) in a dinner party setting and talk about what we are tasting.

Our first Session was in August and we matched 4 styles of cheese with four styles of beer – sixteen combos and a simple rating system. Conclusion: Cabot Clothbound Cheddar tastes good with just about any beer, and Mystic Brewery’s Old Powderhouse tastes great with practically any cheese.

We skipped September, but in October explored some classic pairings (Port and Stilton, Sauternes and Roquefort, Champagne and Triple Creme, Sancerre and Chevre.)

On November 15 we are set for “Cow, Goat, Sheep; Red, White and YOU“. I’ve selected 3 cheeses that are similar in style and age but are of different milks, allowing the differences, subtle or not, in the three milks to be readily apparent. We will match these up with 3 wines that are notoriously cheese friendly, and see what conclusions we can all come up with.