As our December monthly tea tasting topic, we couldn’t help but take advantage of the fact that December 16th is the anniversary of the ‘Destruction of the Tea’ which was later renamed to ‘The Boston Tea Party’. For our tasting, we enjoyed the teas that were thrown into the harbor on that fateful day. Our teas were much fresher however and without a hint of sea water! For our welcoming tea cocktail, we embraced a historic Colonial Tea Punch. Punches in that time in history had a much more sophisticated flavor profile from the ‘day-glo’ versions that you may remember from your college party days. They were also typically much stronger than modern styles, but this recipe can be adjusted to your sensibilities. The very act of icing this punch down, something that was not readily available to our colonial forefathers, will of course reduce the alcohol content. One of our guests on leaving the tasting commented that ‘it tasted like history’. So enjoy a taste of history on us.
Fish House Punch
In honor of the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, we’d like to share with you a colonial favorite. ‘Fish House Punch’ was created in 1732 at the gentleman’s club, ‘The Schuylkill Fishing Company’ in Philadelphia. This angling club, which is still in existence, was the first of its kind in the American Colonies, and claims to be the oldest social club in the English-speaking world. George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, as well as of course the Boston patriots, enjoyed Fish House Punch. Who knows? It may have been used to fortify the nerves and warm the bodies of the Tea Party participants on that fateful night. While the original 1732 formula is still secreted away at the ‘Fish House’ as the club is referred to, many recipes and variations have circulated over the last 280 years, through the colonies and beyond.
It is typically shown being diluted with either water or tea. All written records of variations refer to either black or green tea (we used a Bohean black in our photo), which is what was available at that time, but to tease forward the flavors of the Peach Brandy, you may want to consider substituting your favorite Oolong. The recipe shown is adapted from research by David Wondrich for Esquire Magazine.
1.5 cups superfine sugar
2 quarts water
1 quart lemon juice
2 quarts dark rum
1 quart cognac
4 ounces peach brandy
3 tablespoons full-bodied Chinese black tea leaves
Bring 1 quart of water to a boil and steep tea leaves for 5 minutes. Strain and discard leaves. Set tea aside to cool. In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in two cups of the water, and then incorporate the lemon juice. Add the spirits and the remaining water and tea to taste. Place a block of ice into your bowl and let stand in a cool place for the flavors to develop for an hour or so before serving. The ready availability of ice is a modern luxury. Since our forefathers were typically drinking at room temperature, they would balance it with more water and tea than you might, as they did not have to account for dilution from the ice.
Note: To learn more about the history of Punch as well as modern variations, see the fall issue of TEA Magazine, or the excellent book Punch, The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl by David Wondrich.
Photo courtesy of Julian Landa.