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Tea: Your new favorite cocktail ingredient

Written on May 06, 2021

Did you know some of the earliest cocktails were made with tea? Back in the 1700s, British sailors on merchant ships mixed heaping bowls of high-octane arrack punches flavored with spices, raw sugar, and cups of brewed tea. When American drinkers started making single-serving cocktails, the tea-powered punch mostly died out, but in the past couple decades, bartenders from Kyoto to New York have rediscovered tea’s potential to transform a drink. Try these recipes next time you’re feeling thirsty.

Brew it: Hojicha Old Fashioned

If you have leftover hot or iced tea, you’re just one ingredient away from making a potent simple syrup that will easily swap into recipes and keep for weeks in the refrigerator. Green teas like sencha and gyokuro play well with clear spirits like gin and vodka. For a nice aged whisky, like something you’d use to make an Old Fashioned, try dark, roasty hojicha.

Hojicha Old Fashioned

  • ½ cup hot brewed hojicha
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 oz Japanese whisky, such as Hibiki
  • 2-3 dashes bitters, such as Angostura or Copper & Kings Old Fashioned Bitters

Stir sugar into tea until completely dissolved, then chill. Syrup will keep several weeks. For the cocktail, place a large ice cube in a rocks glass and pour the whisky, bitters, and ½ ounce of hojicha syrup over the top. Stir for 30 seconds to chill and dilute the drink, then serve.

Infuse it: Ikebana

“Unlike some simple infusions, sencha vodka has layers,” says cocktail writer Carey Jones, co-author of the book Be Your Own Bartender with the bartender John McCarthy. “It’s robust and earthy, but still lively and nuanced. Its light grassy character plays beautifully with fruity or floral elements.” Several of their cocktail recipes make use of a bottle of vodka steeped with 3 tablespoons of sencha, such as a basic Collins with simple syrup, lemon juice, and club soda, as well as this nuanced, floral drink.


  • One 750ml bottle of vodka
  • 3 tablespoons of sencha
  • ¾ oz bianco vermouth
  • ¼ oz Cointreau
  • 2 drops orange blossom water (pour from a bar spoon or use a dropper bottle)
  • One 1-inch round lemon peel, for garnish
  • Slice of plum or pluot, for garnish

Add tea to a large tea filter or a loose tea filter bag. Place it in a large (1 quart or larger) container with a lid, and pour vodka over the top. Let it steep for 1 hour, then remove the tea filter or filter bag and funnel the vodka back into the bottle.

Combine 2 ounces of the green tea vodka with other ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until very well chilled, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Take a 1-inch round of lemon peel and squeeze over the surface of the drink, skin side down, then discard. Garnish with a slice of plum or, ideally, pluot.

Shake it: Matcha Milk Punch

Finely ground matcha adds a potent umami and creaminess to any mixed drink without the need for advanced prep. This milk punch from Bar Goto’s award-winning bartender Kenta Goto uses sencha-infused vodka and a touch of matcha to cut the richness of cream while replicating the frothy feel of a freshly whisked bowl of hot matcha.

Matcha Milk Punch

  • ⅛ teaspoon matcha
  • 2 oz sencha-infused vodka
  • ¾ oz simple or cane syrup
  • ½ oz light cream

Sift matcha through a fine mesh strainer to remove clumps. Combine with remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously without ice to froth the drink, at least 30 seconds. Then add a large scoop of ice, cover, and shake vigorously for an additional 30 seconds. Strain and serve in a tea cup.

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