This summer, tea gets an extra kick with infusion cocktails.
The Hanami cocktail at the St. Regis pairs gin with flavors of raspberry and lemon in a fruity concoction that’s perfect for summer.
Who says you can’t have afternoon tea and happy hour at the same time? District bartenders are taking advantage of artisanal teas’ myriad flavors to brighten and liven more summertime cocktails than ever before.
“I don’t think you can get the combination of earthiness and nuttiness from anything but teas,” says Dante Datta, head bartender at Rasika West End (1190 New Hampshire Ave. NW, 202-466-2500). “It’s akin to some whiskies,” he explains. In his Manisha cocktail, Datta combines brewed Darjeeling tea with bitter Averna liqueur, curry spiced syrup, and lemon juice. Served hot in the winter and cold in the summer, the Darjeeling variety’s slight tannins, he says, add a richness that “binds everything together.”
For a totally different flavor, St. Regis (923 16th St. NW, 202-638-2626) bartender Andrew Cassedy garnishes the Hanami, a gin cocktail composed of raspberry simple syrup, lemon juice, and egg white, with homemade lemon verbena powder.
And across the way in Chinatown, Daikaya (705 Sixth St. NW, 202-589-1600) beverage director Jamie MacBain concocted the Tea Myself & I with Kintaro Japanese barley shochu, Thai lemongrass and mint syrup, lemon, and hojicha tea, giving it an effervescent texture with a carbon dioxide charger. “You get the roasted-ness from the barley and the refreshing Thai lemongrass notes. You want to have a second one,” MacBain says. “Tea brings an acidity and astringency that help balance out cocktails.”
Because there are thousands of tea flavor profiles, bartenders can find one that works with everything from vodka to whiskey. The Palisades cocktail at 701 Restaurant (701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202-393-0701) uses hibiscus and Earl Grey tea with rhubarb bitters and Leopold Bros. peach whiskey.
Other barkeeps opt to infuse the base spirits with tea. Ripple’s (3417 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-244-7995) Caroline Blundell combines a house-infused chamomile vodka with grapefruit thyme soda and thyme simple syrup. “The tea flavor is definitely super potent [by infusion],” she says. Steeping a high quality loose leaf tea—such as local favorite Teaism’s (multiple locations; teaism.com) Quiet Evening—in the vodka allows her to simplify her production process, because she would otherwise source and assemble several herbs herself to achieve the flavor she seeks.
Meanwhile at El Centro D.F. (1819 14th St. NW, 202- 328-3131) the homemade lemon verbena tea-infused tequila offers a complex herbal twist in a margarita, which assistant general manager Mike McDonald says is a subtle introduction to tea cocktails and is reminiscent “of sitting on the porch and drinking lemon tea.”
Time to grab a glass and a rocking chair—or rather, a seat at the bar.