You know you’re in the right place when you find yourself psychically in sync with the people around you. Shortly after we both started working at Imbibe, our editorial assistant, Tracy Howard, brought up the idea of creating an iced tea with lavender syrup. (The result is included in our most recent e-newsletter. You don’t subscribe? Now’s your chance.)
Meanwhile, I had been thinking along similar lines—namely, trying to find a way to incorporate my beloved Lavender Earl Grey tea into a cocktail. (Several tea companies make an Earl Grey with lavender—mine is from Metropolitan Tea Company, but you can find other versions on the Internet or at well-stocked tea stores.) I’d first encountered this delicate beverage at an English-style tea shop in my former hometown of Baltimore, but Imbibe's July/August 2007 issue (see "Elements," page 18) inspired me to try infusing it into a spirit. For the infusion, I added 3 ½ tablespoons of tea to 2 cups of vodka. If you’ve never tried this, it’s almost magical to see how quickly the spirit absorbs the tea. Within seconds, the liquid had turned a deep amber. Our article suggests starting with a two-hour steep, tasting frequently to make sure all is well. Worrying about bitterness, I strained the infusion after an hour and a half, but when I began working on cocktail recipes, I realized the flavor was too weak to stand up to any mixer. A three-hour steep yielded a richly expressive, mahogany-colored infusion with a potent floral nose.
Knowing that the proper English way to drink Earl Grey is with lemon—and not, as I’ve always drunk it, with cream and sugar—I experimented with citrus. I tried lemon juice and simple syrup; lemon juice with no simple syrup (in a word: no); Meyer lemon-flavored simple syrup, with or without orange juice; and blood-orange-flavored simple syrup. A concoction involving orange and lemon juices with a small amount of plain simple syrup seemed to be getting close, but it wasn’t quite right. The fruit’s acidity and the tea’s tannins combined for a harshness on the palate, and the juice drowned out those lovely bergamot and lavender scents. I glared at my jar of vodka, which had dwindled to less than a cup—and still not a drinkable recipe in the bunch! How could a drink I had loved from the very first sip make me so indescribably frustrated?
Thinking back to that first sip, I had my epiphany. Forget this, I thought. I’m an American, after all. A quick duck into the fridge for some cream, a little simple syrup, and I had my favorite tea back—in a cocktail-hour form.
The Earl's Pearl
1 ½ oz. Lavender Earl Grey-infused vodka*1 oz. half-and-half½ oz. simple syrup (or to taste)IceTools: shaker, strainerGlass: cocktailShake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled glass. Serve with English “biscuit” cookies for a simple dessert.
*Infusion: Add 2 tablespoons of Lavender Earl Grey tea to 1 cup of vodka. Steep for 3 hours. Strain, making sure no bits of tea leaves make it into the spirit.
This is only the beginning of my adventures with this tea. I’m on a mission now, and the new July/August issue’s feature story exploring tea origins and iced tea recipes has me fired up to try even more concoctions. Something light and summery, or that infuses the tea into a darker spirit. Expect more recipes soon. Or, better yet, post your own here—we love hearing from you!
Meanwhile, Tracy and I are going to see if we can’t find a way to use our newfound psychic powers for good. —Hannah Feldman