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.


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