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Tea and cocktails – a tasty combination!

“What are you waiting for?” tea expert Shabnam Weber calls out. “There’s booze over here!”

By Joanne Sasvari

As the crowd surges toward the stage at the Coffee & Tea Show, it’s clear this is not your grandma’s tea party.

Weber, owner of Toronto’s The Tea Emporium and chair of the Tea Association of Canada’s education committee, is shaking up a round of tea-based cocktails at a seminar called “You Can’t Spell Cocktail Without a Tea.” The audience is eager to drink in what she’s teaching – and pouring.

Weber’s seminar is just one part of a whole new spirit when it comes to tea. “We are seeing people focusing more on tea in all kinds of ways in the hospitality industry,” says Louise Roberge, president of the Tea Association of Canada, which organized the seminar with sponsorship by Spirits Canada. Increasingly, we’re seeing tea-paired meals, tea used in cooking and, of course, tea-based cocktails.

No wonder sales of tea are booming across Canada. In fact, tea consumption is expected to jump 40 per cent by 2020. In part that’s because so many new Canadians hail from tea-drinking cultures, but it’s also because antioxidant-rich tea is considered an important aspect of health and wellness. As a result, baby boomers are increasingly looking at tea as a refreshing afternoon pick-me-up. Meanwhile, Roberge says, “The younger generation, they’re drinking tea because it’s cool to drink tea.”

And it’s especially cool to drink tea in a cocktail.

In fact, tea cocktails are one of the top mixology trends, thanks to “the perfect marriage” of creativity and flavour. “Tea is so varied,” Weber says. “You can have delicate floral flavours, and you can have full-bodied jammy flavours.”

Although it’s certainly possible to create new cocktails with tea, Weber prefers to make cocktails based on the classics. “You can totally create new things, but what’s amazing about tea is taking recipes we know and love and tweaking them a little bit,” she says. For the seminar, she takes three traditional favourites – the Mint Julep, Old Fashioned and Martini – and refreshes them with tea.

“There are so many ways of incorporating the flavour of tea (in cocktails) in a very natural way,” she says. For instance, you can create an infusion by steeping tea leaves in a bottle of spirits for 24 hours. Or you can make a tea-flavoured syrup by combining equal amounts of sugar and steeped tea. Weber, however, prefers to add steeped tea to the drink itself.

For the Jasmine Mint Julep, she adds jasmine green tea to muddled lemons, mint, simple syrup and Canadian Club whisky. Next, she shakes up an Oolong Martini – fruity oolong tea, simple syrup and Polar Ice vodka – and explains, “You can do all kinds of tea with this. I’ve done jasmine martinis and fruit tea martinis, and I’ve done them with black teas as well.”

Finally, she adds keemun, a smoky black Chinese tea, to the sugar, bitters and Crown Royal of an Old Fashioned. “It’s a very simple process,” she says, “but I guarantee your guests will never forget an Old Fashioned made with tea.”

We’ll drink to that!

Get ready for this year’s Coffee & Tea Show: