From vanilla pod and hibiscus, to Earl Grey and oolong, the world of tea delivers rare and complex flavors from around the globe—flavors pro and home bartenders can use to make fascinating cocktails. "When people ask me about home bartending, I always direct them toward experimenting with tea, because it's an easy way to give cocktails depth," says Justin Diaz, bar manager at Jackknife inside the Sentinel Hotel.
Right now at Jackknife, Diaz serves the Villa Slugger, featuring vanilla rooibos tea, Elijah Craig 12-year bourbon, Fernet Branca, raspberry gum, and lemon, with an orange zest, and Jackknife usually features at least two cocktails involving tea. "When I run a bar, everything's built for speed," explains Diaz. "So it's physically easier to infuse a spirit with tea in advance and just use it to make drinks all night than it is to add bitters to every cocktail."
Diaz says that extracting the tea is as easy as placing one or two tea bags into a bottle of spirits for up to ten minutes, and one benefit to tea is that it's more predictable than other types of infusions because it's such a consistent product. This is why it's so easy to use at home. It will require some fun booze experimentation at home, both to find out which teas you like with which spirits and your desired strength. Just like regular tea, you can make a spirit bitter by leaving the tea bag in for too long.
Diaz says that a good general rule of thumb is to use two tablespoons of loose-leaf tea for a 750 ml bottle of spirits and to let it steep for 5-to-7 minutes. You can then use the infusion to make all manner of cocktails, from caffeinated Earl Gray martinis to matcha Mai Tais.