[L]ast year, Gina Zupsich of August Uncommon Tea was at a party where she and her husband, Aaron Shinn, were showcasing their blends. Along with August’s hot and huge-flavored teas, partygoers were drinking cocktails (mostly white russsians to complement a viewing of The Big Lebowski). Zupsich was drinking their Painted Desert tea, a chai- and New Mexican–chocolate inspired tea. “I was handed a white russian, and I was drinking them back-to-back, and I thought, ‘This is really delicious, we should do something with this,’” she says. Later on, an attendee brought a scotch over and asked for it to be added to a tea with major smoke, cardamom, and pine notes. “That was the birth of our first toddy,” says Shinn.
“It became another opportunity for us,” Zupsich says. Since then, August has featured tea cocktail recipes when they release their seasonal lineups. “We realized that people don’t want to choose between having tea and having a cocktail,” Shinn says.
In the evening hours, especially as the weather cools and heads toward winter, who would want to choose? The same goes, of course, for coffee. There’s little better than the warmth of a hot drink paired with the warmth of spirits. Tea and coffee cocktails, while great year round, are natural fits for winter months and a great way to draw in customers in the late afternoon and early evening.
The number one gap I see in cafés with executing what they want to do: you need to buy some bar equipment.
The two biggest obstacles to introducing liquor to your menu are licensing and staffing. Liquor license fees vary wildly across the US and some jurisdictions simply won’t allow coffee shops or teahouses to serve booze. Your staff might need to be licensed, and be old enough to serve alcohol. These are not insignificant hurdles, but more and more cafés see serving spirits, beer, and wine as substantial bonuses to their businesses, and across the globe it’s the norm to peddle hard drinks alongside coffee and tea. Tea and coffee cocktails offer a creative and specialized entry into the harder side of drinks, and it’s unlikely customers will be able to find the types of drinks you can produce with your coffee and tea list.
Levi Andersen, the drinks guru for Kerry brands DaVinci, Big Train, and others, says, “The number one gap I see in cafés with executing what they want to do: you need to buy some bar equipment.” A simple set made of a strainer, stirring spoon, a couple decanters, a zester, and shakers will start you right. From there, Andersen suggests working with ingredients and flavor profiles you use already, whether those are particular teas and coffees you’re passionate about or the syrups and milk alternatives you enjoy. Building drinks from a familiar and established base can improve your initial experiments. Finally, treating cocktails like seasonal signature drinks—namely, limited in number and priced to match their exclusivity—is a great way to add them to your menu without going all-in on costly ingredients and spirits.
At Archive Coffee and Bar, a roastery and café in Salem, Oregon, that’s split down the literal middle between coffee and cocktails, the coffee and tea cocktails are collaborative creations. Jesse Hayes, a co-owner of Archive, says a drink will often start as a barista’s idea, go to a bartender, kick back to the kitchen, and then swing back to the coffee bar, having been altered and improved by each team member. Archive has enviable cocktail experience at hand, but even if a coffee shop doesn’t go for a drink as complicated as their Forest Fire (opposite page), it can offer customers the best versions of standard coffee cocktails. An Irish coffee made with expertly source, roasted, and prepared beans will blow away anything that even a good cocktail bar will produce.
Tea cocktails, meanwhile, have the chance to thrill simply because so few people have discovered them. To ensure her tea stands out in a cocktail, Zupsich likes to brew double-strength concentrates (any potential bitterness is cut by the alcohol, she says) or infuse spirits with tea. Going this route also makes a lot of sense for a retailer because it streamlines bar preparation.
Keep in mind, too, that winter drinks don’t have to be hot drinks. Eggnog and stout are winter icons because their characteristics imply warmth, even if they’re cool to the touch. Wintry flavors, the kind that evoke a blanket and slippers and a hearth, can make even a drink on ice feel warm. This is the time for whole-seed spices like cardamom, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg, and for dried fruits. The Clairvoyant Cossack (on the next page) from SerendipTea pairs the smoke of lapsang souchong with the sweet florals of lavender. Pomegranates, a late fall fruit, provide an acidic pop. Even though it’s served with an ice cube, there’s nothing summery about it.
More and more, customers want unique drink experiences. That desire has fueled the expansion of coffee, tea, and cocktail culture. These recipes, then, should be inspirations, jump-off points to create flavor experiences that can only be found at your shop.
Forest Fire, by Archive Coffee and Bar
- 1 ounce Bombay Sapphire dry gin
- 1 ounce espresso
- 1 half-ounce green Chartreuse Half
- A rosemary sprig
- Two dashes douglas fir tincture
This is a varsity-level cocktail. At Archive, a bartender lights the green chartreuse and Douglas fir tincture on fire, to roast the sprig of rosemary. A barista pulls a Rwandan espresso and combines it with the gin. The flames are extinguished and the espresso and gin are added to the glass.
The Morrison, by August Uncommon Tea
- 2 ounces Leatherbound-infused OP Anderson Aquavit
- 1 ounce bourbon
- 1 tablespoon nocino walnut liqueur
Stir spirits together in shaker or pint glass with ice, strain, and serve in a rocks glass with large square ice cubes or one large round cube. Garnish with a candied walnut. Gina Zupsich and Aaron Shinn of August Uncommon Tea blend caraway seeds and cocoa with black tea to create Leatherbound, a savory tea they liken to an old library. The Morrison, named in honor of a reading room at UC Berkeley, resembles an old fashioned, but richer and nutty. The caraway and aquavit combine to provide notes of buttered pumpernickel bread.
Gormly’s Sleeve, by Mountain Cider Company
- 1 ounce Mountain Cider concentrate
- 2 ounces bourbon or rye
- Sprig of rosemary
Will Gormly, of Mountain Cider, likes to take the company’s concentrate and mix it with a dark spirit, preferably a whiskey. Normally, the cider takes a seven-to-one ratio, but by limiting it to two-to-one, the spices in the concentrate hit with even more power. “I don’t really have a name for it,” Gormly wrote, “but it’s pleasant to sip by a roaring fire.
Clairvoyant Cossack, by SerendipiTea
- 1 ounce of Benromach ten year
- 1 half-ounce Pedro Jimenez sherry
- 1 half-ounce brewed SerendipiTea lapsang souchong tea
- Bar spoon of lemon juice
Combine ingredients in mixing glass and stir with ice. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with lavender sprig. If Benromach isn’t around, use another lightly peaty whiskey. The pine-smoke aroma of the lapsang souchong will make its presence known, even if a drinker thinks the scent comes from Speyside, not Fujian.
—Cory Eldridge is Fresh Cup’s editor.