I decided to give infusing gin with tea a try. I started by making the Earl Grey Martini as written up by Gary Regan in the San Francisco Chronicle. Earl Grey is possibly my least favorite tea. I don’t hate the stuff exactly. Oil of bergamont is an interesting flavor. Unfortunately, that taste just doesn’t work for me in tea. To me, black tea must have milk added to it, and tea with milk should be a pedestrian affair, free of surprises. Oil of bergamont just does not fit into the picture.
So where does a guy like me get his Oil of Bergamont fix? The answer according to Gary Regan is to infuse your Earl Grey tea in gin and drink the gin. What an amazing idea! Where do I sign up?
OK, in reality I exercised a little caution. Rather than following Gary Regan’s instructions exactly and infusing ¼ cup of tea leaves in a liter of gin, I infused a heaped teaspoon of tea leaves in a mere 100 mls of gin (infusion time 2 hours). I didn’t want to risk ending up with a bottle of weird and disgusting Bergamont flavored gin that would be good only for plying old ladies with.
I then made the drink as described by Mr. Regan, 1 ½ oz infused gin, ¾ oz lemon juice, ¾ oz simple syrup (Gary Regan suggests an ounce but that seemed too much to me) and an egg white, shaken over ice. Bloody delicious! The sugar could possibly be taken down another notch, but no faulting the concept. This tea infused gin is great.
On a roll, I began rummaging through the house for things to infuse. There was some method to the madness. I figured I’d try some Chinese style tea infusions. My favorite tea is Oolong so I did an infusion of 1 heaped teaspoon of Oolong in 100 mls of Plymouth Gin (infusion time two hours). Then I did the same using Bokma Genever (infusion time three hours because of the lower alcohol – only 35% for the Bokma versus 42% for Plymouth). I figured rich Oolong tea might really work well with heavy bodied Dutch Genever as opposed to English gin.
I used good tea for this, namely a very good quality autumn harvest Iron Goddess of Mercy (???). Iron Goddess of Mercy is a popular Oolong tea from Southern Fujian and basically my favorite tea. With good quality Iron Goddess of Mercy you cannot go wrong. Good stuff should be in the form of rolled green leaves, will smell fruity and aromatic, and reusing the same leaves will yield three or more brews with evolving rather than diminishing flavor. Iron Goddess of Mercy is the most aromatic of Oolong teas, and the autumn harvest is the most aromatic of the variety (though the more delicate spring tea fetches the highest prices). The generic blackish Oolong you get in most Asian grocery stores is not even close to being a substitute. Search around for good stuff. A specialist Chinese tea shop will sell it.
I took my Plymouth gin Oolong infusion and threw together a gin sour as follows:
1 ½ oz Oolong infused Plymouth Gin
¾ oz lemon juice
¾ oz Kuei Fei Lychee Liqueur
Shake over ice and strain into a glass.
This experiment turned out strangely delicious. The gin ended up quite bitter but with fantastic tea fragrance. Some people dislike bitterness and may find it too much, but for me it was more or less what I was looking for. It may be possible to reduce the bitterness by refining the infusion process. I was not sure how well the lychee liqueur would fit. It seems such a cliche to whip out the ‘Chinese’ liqueur to match the Chinese tea. I was getting sick of always reaching for the St. Germain though and wanted to give something else a try. The lychee works well. Some people describe the fruity tastes in Oolongs as resembling lychee. Drinking the two together in a cocktail like this really does produce an effect like drinking a fruity, alcoholic, Oolong tea. Although the lychee is very much a one note liqueur, there is enough complexity in the rest of the drink that this is not an issue.
On reflecting, the odd thing is that the original tea brewed in water may have a more intense flavor than the cocktail. Iron Goddess of Mercy is traditionally brewed extremely strong. Instead of adding a few teaspoons of tea to a large pot you take a tiny pot and pack it so full of leaves that the leaves swell to fill the pot once water is added. A single pot of leaves will yield multiple brews, which drinkers enjoy from from tiny liqueur glass sized cups. Just maybe I should increase the quantity of tea in the infusion. However, it may then become too much to handle. Oolong is also high caffeine and even drinking it at the above strength I almost thought I was getting some caffeine effect before the alcohol.
I will do something with the genever infusion soon, most likely the same recipe.
The next day I tried exactly the above drink using the genever infusion, again with very pleasant results. This version somehow seems less bitter and more fruity. I wasn’t exactly scientific with my tea measurements so I may have unintentionally put slightly less tea in the genever compared to the Plymouth. Or maybe the lower alcohol of the genever meant it extracted less of the bitter components despite my infusing it for an extra hour. Possibly the sweetness in the genever also offset the bitterness. Finally, the bitter tastes might have been reduced by the strained infusion spending 24 hours in the fridge.
The genever version of this drink has been quite well received and I think it deserves its own name. I am going to go for The Fort Zeelandia Cocktail. Fort Zeelandia was the Dutch capital during their colonization of Taiwan. The rationale for the name is that the drink combines Dutch-style gin with Taiwanese-style tea.