Steeped

Tea and cocktails are two great trends that go great together. Seattle bartenders, are you listening?

Tea-smoked salmon. Tea-infused crème brûlée. Seattle's food scene, with its pan-Asian tendencies, has long flirted with the Other Caffeinated Beverage. Now, as the phrase "tea-infused" creeps up the Google charts and a trend starts around the country, a few Seattle bars have begun their own experiments with tea. If you live here, you've been exposed to tea. You've probably had green tea with sushi or an oolong while out eating Chinese. Tea is like wine; it can seem complicated at first, but it doesn't have to be if you don't let it. The easiest way to mix tea and cocktails is to infuse a basic spirit, like vodka; unlike other vodka infusions, which take weeks, tea only takes a few hours. Use a loose ratio of one heaping table-spoon of tea, or five tea bags, per 750-millliliter bottle of vodka. Before steeping, though, do a test run by brewing a very strong pot of the tea you're going to use. (Some teas become very bitter and astringent when steeped for too long—not the thing you want in your cocktail.) Check it every hour or so for strength. A nutty, earthy oolong can handle long steeping, and most black teas are very resilient. Scented black teas like the orange in Earl Grey could even be used to infuse brandy. The "garbage in, garbage out" rule applies: The better the tea, the more complex and satisfying the result. Tea is about subtlety of flavor, and so the cocktails you make with your infused spirits should be of a similar nature, favoring fewer, lighter ingredients over the typical lemon- or lime-juice backbone of most cocktails. Be shy with the acid in tea cocktails so the featured ingredient shines through. For instance, tea-infused vodka plus Absolut Citron could make an after-five version of the Arnold Palmer. When I was traveling this fall, I took note of bars accenting their cocktails with tea, opting to use tea syrups or make an Earl Gray martini with infused vermouth instead of gin. After I returned, I bought a cheap bottle of Martini & Rossi Bianco vermouth, which is a little sweet, and threw in some green tea with cherry blossoms for a few days. It became my very own custom aperitif—it smelled sweet and exotically fresh and combated my seasonal affective disorder for at least two hours. If you want a foolproof way to try a tea cocktail (I won't say mar-tea-ni. I just won't.), ask for a Blueberry Tea at your watering hole. It's a cup of strong black tea with a shot of Grand Marnier in it, which mysteriously ends up smelling like blue-berries; any bar should have the means to make one. Or visit the cozy Remedy Teas in Capitol Hill (345 15th Ave. E.; 323-4832). Remedy features a few housemade cocktails such as an uplifting Citra Mate with organic sake. They can also help you choose the perfect tea for your alcoholic- antioxidant endeavors from more than 150 luscious varieties. Maybe Remedy should host a bartenders' tea party—a booze-toatlers' summit of sorts—so we can pick up this trend and run with it. info@seattleweekly.com

 
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