Think back on Before Times and you may recall a night when you asked a bartender a question about a drink that set her off rhapsodizing on the fine details of a spirit — the raw ingredients, ancient distilling techniques, aging methods. I miss those impromptu moments of scholarship. I need one now. Winter’s approach calls for a home-bar makeover and as I dust off my bottles of bourbon and peaty Scotch, I’m giving serious thought to hot toddies and realizing how sorely lacking I am in the fine details of a winter cocktail essential: tea.
All tea, you see, is made from the leaves and buds of the Camellia Sinensis plant, and black, green, and oolong teas are distinguished by the leaves' oxidation levels and cut sizes, among other process-related qualities. “Tea” is often used erroneously to describe any drink flavored by steeping something, but “peppermint tea” is technically not a thing.
This was just one nugget I learned from Amy Dubin, a New York-based tea curator and importer who owns Janam Indian Tea. I tracked her down for tips on how to up my toddy game. What I thought would be a quick tutorial in brewing tea turned into a meandering conversation through topics of botany, chemistry, the industrial revolution, old-world Asian spice trade routes, commodity trading and the esoteric world of career teatasters. And yes, cocktails.
Aside from their use in obvious hot toddies, the spectrum of flavor and body that black, green, white, and oolong teas offer provide opportunities for endless experimentation. Try green tea with something fresh and botanical, like gin and citrus, or a black tea with a darker fruity flavor, like cherry brandy. Just give it the respect it deserves.
“What you drink is the last stage of very long, complex process,” Amy told me, noting how getting cheap teabags into cups around the world is a stupefying feat of deftly scaling up an artisanal process. “It’s labor-intensive to get tea to taste like something. It takes a lot of dedication from a lot of people. It really is art.”
Makes 1 drink
1 cup brewed Yanki Small Tea Farmers Oolong from Janam Tea (or any loose-leaf, unflavored tea)
¼ ounce Black Strap Rum (or any black strap rum)
¼ ounce Laird’s Applejack (or any applejack)
Simple syrup, to taste (Combine 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and stir until sugar dissolves. Let cool.)
Orange wheel, to garnish
1. Set aside heat-tempered glass cup, mug, or ceramic teacup.
2. Boil 1½ cups of water in a saucepan. Add tea and brew 4 minutes. Strain into teacup or mug.
3. Add rum and applejack. Stir.
4. Add simple syrup to taste. Garnish with orange wheel.
Adapted from Amy Dubin and Jason Stamm
Liza Weisstuch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @livingtheproof.