Are you there Vodka? It's me, Tea

By Robert Schmelter


Firefly


Canada Dry green tea


Los Angeles lounge H.Wood

In the post post-modern 21st Century, as more and more art forms and genres undergo mash ups, mixes, and various other blends and permutations - and the culinary world sees its own shake up, as various ethnic traditions collide, deconstruct, and reform in new and exciting ways - so, too, has the tradition of tea been ushered into the new millennium.

In short, tea is no longer just for drinking straight anymore.

Over the past decade, tea has seen a rebirth in the form of infusions into beverages not normally associated with tea. From beverage companies, to mixologists and even party throwers, infusing tea into mixable drinks, alcohol, and soft drinks is a growing trend.

Scour the internet long enough and you will find scores and scores of recipes for infusing various types of liquor with unorthodox items, ranging from bacon to Skittles. Tea, also, is gaining in popularity as an infusion ingredient for different types of alcohol (usually vodka or bourbon).

With the economy in a precarious position, home infusion recipes have become a hot trend, as more and more people create their own recipes and concoctions - or use found recipes - to craft homemade gifts for birthdays and holidays.

Associated Content offers a simple to make sweet tea vodka recipe that is perfect for parties or gift giving. This recipe suggests using Earl Grey tea, although green or mint tea may be used as well.

Bottled sweet tea vodka has seen a rise in popularity over the past couple of years, with the arrival of Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka. The Firefly brand had been around since 2004, and is the brainchild of Scott Newitt and Jim Irvin. According to a New York Times article from Feb. 10, 2009, Firefly initially distilled vodka flavored with muscadine wine, until they learned of another distillery based in California that began to manufacture green tea vodka. This inspired Newitt and Irvin to take it to the next level, by way of a Southern tradition.

"We wanted to be the Jack Daniels of vodka," Newitt told the Times. "I couldn't think of anything more Southern than Sweet Tea Vodka."

Beer, also, is a popular beverage to use tea as an ingredient. Over at the Serious Eats food blog, there is an article on American fruit beers. One of the beers profiled, Avery Dépuceleuse, features black tea as one of its ingredients.

Popular nightclubs also have taken notice of the tea infusion trend. The Tea Room at the popular Los Angeles lounge H.Wood is offering new cocktails which feature tea-infused alcohol. The Los Angeles Times profiled the Tea Room earlier this year, describing it as, "an exclusive one-room club within an already exclusive nightclub. Like a glammed-out Russian nesting doll, it is tucked inside the stolid concrete frame of h.wood, which is located at the far end of the Hollywood & Highland complex in the tawdry heart of Hollywood."

The article goes on to explain the history of the Tea Room, and how the owners took the former storage room and turned it into one of L.A.'s premiere nighttime hotspots. One of the Tea Room's investors, Sameer Gupta, is a tea plantation owner, and is the Tea Room's the resident "tea chef," whose tea-infused concoctions include the Prohibition Bourbon, a mixture of bourbon, cassis, soda, and Chinese vanilla tea.

It's not just distilleries and nightclubs that are getting in on the tea infusion act, however. Canada Dry last month unveiled its newest product: a White Tea Ginger Ale, to stand alongside its Green Tea Ginger Ale cousin, which hit the store shelves in 2008. Both the White Tea Ginger Ale and the Green Tea Ginger Ale are available in regular and diet; only the White Tea is flavored with Raspberry.

According to a press release on the Canada Dry website, the Green Tea Ginger Ale was awarded the Grand Prix New Product Award, the longest running award program in the food industry. "We listen to what consumers tell us. They want products that have additional benefits, like green tea, but they don't want to sacrifice taste. Canada Dry Green Tea Ginger Ale provides the benefits of added green tea and the crisp, clear taste of Canada Dry."

As we move forward through this new millennium, chefs, bartenders, distillers, and home cooks are continually discovering the versatility inherent in tea. Beyond being just a sipping beverage, tea's uses extend into the culinary arts - as an ingredient in sauces and rubs; into mixology, and bottled beverage production, making it a versatile (and delicious) addition to meals and drinks.