If given a particular flavor, how many different ways could you use it in a cocktail? What about herbs and spices pre-collected in a particular flavor profile? Could you make your own "Benedictine" with herbal tea?
As I began speculating in my Vanilla Lace Bitters recipe, there are tons of ways to add flavors to a cocktail. The question is: if you like a particular flavor, what are the challenges to using it in certain ways? That's what I'm hoping to explore over the next half year or so, in a series of nine (maybe more) posts beginning with this one. My featured common denominator, or Maguffin if you will: Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer herbal tea (or that is to say, tisane).
One of the things I'm struggling with right now in my cocktailing is how to combat flatness from single-note ingredients, all the better to keep recipes simple and elegant but still intriguing for the palate. You have your liquors, which by nature tend to have a certain complexity, a certain weight and depth of flavor, due to aging and/or their distillate base. You have fortified/aromatized wines or herbal/amaro liqueurs, all of which are intentionally quite complex. Some bitters also are good for complexity, but only in an accenting capacity. What can be done to broaden the range of complex flavors available for use?
So I'm sitting, or pacing in thought, around my kitchen, noodling and angsting over these questions, wondering if even vermouths could be broadened with new flavors, when my eyes alight on my stack of tea boxes: there's green tea and black, peppermint and chamomile. Even a couple different varieties of chai (but those tend to be particular in their flavor uses..). And then I spy my box of Tension Tamer tea.
It's helped me stop clenching my teeth at night after "those kinds of days" and it has this delicate vanilla-like flavor with lemon undertones: kind of remarkable given its lack of vanilla. If you taste a little deeper you can pick up the cinnamon, peppermint and licorice notes, but faintly. I also find the combination of peppermint, cinnamon, ginger, and lemon remarkable: you generally don't see peppermint and cinnamon, or cinnamon and lemon pairings in culinary usage, for instance.
And then the Wonder Spark happens.
For the month of February we're going to start gently and not add anything to the tea or the tea to anything: we're going to take it as it is, but play around with temperatures.
First up, tea au naturel, in its intended form: hot. A Hot Tea Toddy to be precise.
2 oz grappa
4 oz hot Tension Tamer tea
1 tsp orgeat
In a mug or Irish coffee glass, pour 1/2 cup boiling water over a tea bag. Wait a few minutes until desired strength is reached: since it's a more delicate tea, an intensity approaching double-brew strength would be desirable.
Once the tea is deemed ready, remove/wring out/discard the tea bag. Add the orgeat and stir to dissolve, then add the grappa and stir lightly. Grate a little fresh nutmeg on top and enjoy!
I used Alexander Grappa di Cabernet and I would highly recommend tracking down a bottle for this recipe. I'm no grappa expert, but I do know grappa can run the gamut from delicate and refined to pure firewater. The grape-berry rose-floral notes of this particular grappa balance perfectly with the vanilla-honey-spice of the tea, with the orgeat (homemade, with rose and orange blossom waters) supporting the former and the nutmeg the latter. If not this particular bottle, any silky and refined grappa with floral notes would work well here.
Most proper toddy recipes use the above formula of 2 oz spirit, 3-5 oz hot water or tea, and 1 tsp sweetener (per Rhett from And One More For The Road, pulling from Jerry Thomas in his 1862 tome, "How to Mix Drinks or the Bon Vivant's Companion", and also per Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology). Your mileage and taste may vary, but I have to say, as concerned as I was that the grappa would pack a wallop, it balances perfectly using the recipe above. There's a little heat from the grappa remaining, but it comes off anise-like, another welcome flavor in the cup.
As for the orgeat, its exotic flavor folds right in and probably stands out less than would simple syrup or honey. It's a much different spin than a brown spirit/honey/lemon toddy combination, much more, well, ethereal. This would be good for a chilly day in late February or March when the rain or even snow is coming down, but you can still feel Spring presaging in the air.