If there’s one thing fathers enjoy above all else, it’s the pleasure that comes from tinkering with their favorite toys, hobbies, or passions. This Father’s Day, give your dad the gift of experiencing the satisfaction and pride of creating something utterly delicious and unique. From single malt Scotches and artisanal Mezcals to aged Pu’ers and Assams, the fascinating world of pairing tea with alcohol will surely capture his imagination. Finally, a hobby the whole family can appreciate. Let’s toast to that!
A Time-Honored Tradition
Pairing tea with alcohol is a time-honored tradition dating back to the intrepid sailors of the East India Company. Once it was discovered that citrus fruit could help fight off scurvy and ample portions of Indonesian arrack might reduce the desire to mutiny, the two were combined to make a sailor’s grog. Eventually, the captains thought it wise to water down the potent mix by adding brewed tea and some sugar or molasses. Thus the first tea punches were born.
Both green tea and black tea were originally used to make punches, and as ships headed to the new world, the arrack was swapped out for rum or fortified wine. Tea punches eventually went from merchant ships to the ballrooms of Europe and colonial America.
In 1862 Jerry Thomas, the founding father of American mixology wrote his seminal book The Bar-Tender’s Guide. His compendium of cocktails and punches featured several recipes that call for tea. Many of them are still popular today.
The Flavors of Father’s Day
While the idea that women prefer one flavor and men prefer another is not true, there is some scientific basis for the concept of feminine and masculine flavors that may help you decide which spirits or teas to select for your dad.
Scientists who’ve studied the differences between the male and female palate have found that women do have more taste buds than men. This sensitivity allows them to distinguish more easily between subtle differences in flavor. Regarding aroma, women often outperform men on tests identifying various scents as well.
Flavors and scents that are lighter and more delicate tend to be considered feminine, while men are thought to prefer robust flavors and scents that have primal elements to them, such as
This could be because women have more sensitive palates, and men are more attracted to stronger flavors that are easily recognizable. But that doesn’t mean men don’t enjoy Jasmine tea and women don’t enjoy Scotch.
Tasting your dad’s favorite tea or spirit is the best way to begin. Once you understand those flavor profiles, you can start thinking about what would go well with them, such as pairing the woody taste of barrel-aged whisky with the robust earthiness of an aged pu’er.
Popular Father’s Day Teas and Spirits
Any tea can be used to make cocktails, punches, or hot alcoholic drinks. However, the most popular teas sold during Father’s Day are
- Lapsang Souchong — a famous Chinese black tea that is smoked over pine wood, which gives it a slightly sweet pine resiny and smoky flavor with hints of fruit and paprika.
- Gunpowder Green Tea — this solid Chinese green tea balances toasted nut flavors with a hint of smoke and a green vegetal finish.
- Keemun — is a lighter black tea from China with a complex flavor profile that contains floral elements, sweet malty notes, and a subtle smoky finish. The flavor is reminiscent of high-quality cocoa.
- Pu’er — an aged, fermented tea from China with intense earthy flavors such as forest floor and mushroom. This deeply rich, layered tea has a beautifully heavy, almost oily mouthfeel.
- Assam — a classic black tea from the Assam region of India, known for its robust, full-bodied flavor with notes of sweet caramel, toasted nuts, and malt.
- Smoked Earl Grey — a twist on the classic tea blend, this version usually contains a mix of Gunpowder Green tea and Lapsang Souchong that envelops the traditional citrus and bergamot flavors in a subtle layer of smoke.
The types of spirits usually associated with dads are often brown and aged in wood barrels like Scotch and Bourbon. However, gin and Mezcal also allow fathers to explore unique flavors and interesting combinations—all of these pair well with the different teas listed above.
Like a good oolong tea, whisky varies greatly depending on where and how it’s made. Scotch, Irish Whiskey, Bourbon, and Rye share a common denominator. They’re all distilled from a fermented grain mash mixture containing wheat, corn, rye, or barely. After distillation, the spirit is aged in white oak barrels. Old sherry and brandy casks are sometimes used as well depending on the combination of grains in the mash, whether the oak barrels are charred or recycled from other spirits, the flavor and color of whisky range from golden yellow with a smooth finish to dark amber with spicy or smoky notes.
Spelled with an ‘e,’ Irish whiskey is one of the most popular spirits in the world. A unique double distillation process gives it a smooth, easy finish with hints of barley and caramel. Irish whiskey pairs well with bold black teas like Keemun and Assam, which heightens the sweet malty flavor of the two.
A popular drink in China is whiskey mixed with iced green tea, such as Gunpowder, which balances the tea’s slightly bitter green vegetal notes. Adding your dad’s favorite Irish Whiskey to his favorite iced green tea is an easy way to serve him a refreshing and revitalizing libation.
Scotch can come only from Scotland and is made with malted barley. The flavor of Scotch depends on where it’s distilled and is similar to wine in that it reflects the terroir of the land it comes from. Everything from the mineral content in the local spring water to the proximity of the barley fields to the sea affects the outcome. The most prominent flavors of Scotch are smoky, peaty, or earthy. Like Lapsang Souchong tea, people either love Scotch or hate it.
Winston Churchill was famously a lover of Scotch and Lapsang Souchong and often drank his tea with a splash of Scotch mixed in. It should be paired with bold teas that stand up to its unique smoky, minerally, or mossy flavors. Lapsang Souchong, Gunpowder, Smoked Earl Grey, and even aged pu’er blend well with it. Noah Abbott from Floating Leaves Tea Shop in Seattle, WA, enjoys drinking aged pu’er after consuming Scotch.
“I LOVE a strong pot of aged shou pu’er after a long night of Scotch and cigars. 2006 Da Xue Shan would fit the bill. It has a way of cleansing the palate (and slightly detoxifying the body) while being able to stand up to the weathered taste buds because, well, it’s shou pu’er” – Noah Abbott, Floating Leaves.
Bourbon is an American whiskey that must be made in Bourbon County, Kentucky, and be distilled from a mash of at least 51% corn, which gives it a sweeter flavor than Scotch whisky or Irish whiskey. Anything distilled outside Bourbon County or using a different percentage of corn in the mash has to be labeled whiskey instead.
American whiskies tend to be aged in charred oak barrels that impart a gorgeous dark amber color and layers of toasted hazelnut and vanilla flavors. The sweetness of Bourbon lends itself well to astringent teas like Assam or Gunpowder but also creates magic when combined with the rich earthiness of pu’er.
Popular in Canada and America, rye whisky is made from 51% rye and then aged in charred oak barrels. The unique flavor of the rye grain creates a spicier and fruitier finish that isn’t as sweet as Bourbon. Rye’s spicy kick and fruity notes go well with Smoked Earl Grey and highlight the malty flavor of a good Keemun or Assam.
Once considered the national drink of England, gin is a neutral alcohol that can be distilled from grain, corn, sugar beets, or tubers. After the initial base spirit is ready, it undergoes a second distillation with juniper berries and various herbs and botanicals. This allows for multiple layers of complex flavors and aromas that pair exquisitely with different types of tea.
A few gin makers are even using tea leaves in their distillation process. Jaisalmer Indian Craft Gin is made with Darjeeling green tea, while Drumshambo Gunpowder Irish Gin uses Gunpowder Green tea in its blend. Both of these make excellent tea-based cocktails. Earl Grey and gin create a refreshing combination that brightens the palate and balances the slightly piney taste of the juniper berries.
Mezcal is quickly gaining popularity with dads who enjoy Scotch and other small-batch artisanal spirits. Tequila is technically a type of Mezcal. The difference between the two is that Mezcal can be made in several different regions of Mexico using any agave and many other production methods. In contrast, Tequila must be made only from Blue Agave grown in specific states, following a highly controlled process.
Typically the piñas or hearts of the agave cactus are roasted in pits dug into the ground, which imparts a smoky flavor. As with wine, the taste of Mezcal depends heavily on the type of agave used and where it was grown. Mezcal’s smoky finish and spicy heat match the robust flavors of Lapsang Souchong or Gunpowder tea. Not all Mezcals are smoky, though, and those with a fruity or floral finish will also pick up the floral notes in a Keemun.
The combination of two such terroir-driven products has even inspired the owners of General Lee’s, a popular cocktail bar located in LA’s Chinatown, to serve a tasting flight of three small batch Mezcals paired with three different teas sourced from Steep LA. Lee’s lead bartender Philip Ly believes the tea helps restore the palate and balances out the intense heat of the Mezcal.
How To Use Tea To Make Cocktails
Finding the perfect balance between a drink’s strength and flavor is the key to a successful cocktail. A little burn is good. Too much burn singes the nose hairs. There are four different ways to use tea in a cocktail; each method affects the texture, strength, sweetness, or flavor of the drink differently. Using loose-leaf tea rather than bagged when making drinks is best because you want to control the exact amount of flavor extracted. See Cynthia Gold’s in-depth article on Tea Mixology to learn more.
Tea is steeped in hot water when making drinks that require more liquid, like iced tea cocktails or punches. Brew the tea slightly stronger than you normally would so that it doesn’t get overpowered by the other ingredients in the drink. Allow the tea to cool before mixing with iced cocktails.
Simple syrups are easy to make and can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a month. They’re a great way to add flavor and texture to a drink without watering it down. Feel free to experiment with your favorite spices and herbs as well. Simple tea syrups are also delicious on desserts and ice cream. To make,
- Put equal parts sugar or the sweetener of your choice and water in a pan.
- Heat the mixture.
- Stir until the sweetener dissolves.
- Add a tablespoon of whichever tea you’re using and steep to your liking.
- Strain out the tea leaves.
- Set aside to cool.
- Store in an air-tight container.
Infusing tea leaves directly in alcohol is one of the most effective and easiest ways to transfer the essence of the tea’s flavor into the spirit. This method is best when making martinis or drinks that only have a few ingredients. Each tea infuses differently, so it’s a good idea to start by pouring a small amount of alcohol into a separate glass container or bottle and testing different amounts of tea. Taste the mixture every hour or so. Some teas only need thirty minutes, while others need several hours to impart their flavor.
Once you have the desired results, strain the alcohol through several layers of cheesecloth, a fine mesh strainer, or even coffee filters. Make sure to remove all of the tea particles. Otherwise, they’ll continue to infuse and eventually turn the mixture bitter.
Cynthia Gold, the Tea Sommelier at L’Espalier at the Mandarin Oriental, Boston, enjoys infusing her own tea bitters to flavor cocktails. Bitters are small bottles of concentrated infusions that contain a neutral spirit like vodka and various botanicals and spices. To make Cynthia’s tea bitters, infuse a neutral spirit with Keemun tea, allspice, and cacao, or get creative and use whichever combination of tea and spices you enjoy. When the infusion tastes good to you, strain out the ingredients and pour the infusion into a glass bottle with an eye dropper or controlled pour spout. A dash or two is all it takes to alter and enhance the flavor of a drink.
Tea ice cubes make a great addition to cocktails and punches. As the ice slowly melts, the flavor of the drink will start to change and take on more complexity. To make tea ice
- Brew a strong pot of tea.
- Let it cool.
- Portion the tea into ice cube trays or any other fun ice molds you have on hand.
Tasty Tea Cocktails
The best part about pairing tea with alcohol is that the possibilities are endless. Here’s a selection of classic cocktails with tasty tea twists to get your creative juices flowing. Once you understand the basics, you can let your imagination run wild.
Pu’er Infused Old Fashioned– Old Fashioneds are still popular because they’re simple, elegant, and absolutely delicious. This version by Autumn Giles infuses Bourbon with Pu’er tea’s rich, foresty earthiness. This cocktail with only a few ingredients allows the Pu’er-infused Bourbon to shine.
Montelobos Mezcal Smoked Tea Sour– This recipe uses a Lapsang Souchong simple syrup to enhance the smoky notes of the Montelobos Mezcal. You get a bright citrus cocktail with an ethereal texture and lingering smoky finish when combined with lemon juice and egg whites.
Gin and Tea Cocktail– A quintessentially English cocktail that combines gin and marmalade with steeped black tea to give you all the flavors of Afternoon Tea at the Savoy. The recipe calls for a bagged breakfast blend, but a good Assam adds an element of caramel that plays beautifully with the orange from the marmalade.
Drumshanbo Gunpowder Martini– Dangerously delicious! With hints of Kafir lime, grapefruit, and Gunpowder tea, this martini celebrates the perfect marriage of green tea and gin.
Johnnie and Green Tea– What better way to honor Winston Churchill than combining his favorite things, Johnnie Walker Scotch and tea? While the recipe calls for a sweetened green tea, I actually prefer to go the full Winston and use Lapsang Souchong instead. One sip and you’ll feel like you’re relaxing in a warm bath, smoking a cigar.
If your dad is a history buff, then be sure to order him some Lapsang Souchong from Mariage Freres. The purveyors who sold Churchill his tea are still selling high-quality teas today.
Can’t get enough tea cocktails? Visit our collection of tea cocktail recipes to get even more ideas.
Let The Fun Begin
Once you’ve decided on the tea and alcohol pairings that are perfect for your dad, show up on Father’s Day with a tea cocktail starter kit and let the fun begin. Nothing will delight him more than spending the day with you, experimenting with different recipes and flavor combinations. Debating which methods work best and savoring the delicious results is the ultimate way to honor your dad on his special day. Cheers to that!