Sujeo's 'Yup in My White Tea'
Nothing's more tame than a soothing cup of tea, but add the world's most popular beverage to a cocktail and its simplicity gets an exciting makeover. From summer's sweet spiked iced tea to fall's hot toddies, tea is an unsung hero of mixology that enlivens and structures an amazing variety of drinks.
The options are vast. Tea can be herbal, smoky, savory, fruity, spicy, floral or minty depending on the style, and its tannin provides a hearty spine for drinks needing balance. And with tea vendors like Monroe Street's Macha Teahouse bringing special teas from around the world to Madison, our bartenders have a world of variety with which to experiment.
"The most fun part of tea is that it adds a lot of subtlety, which I have a lot of respect for," says Jeff Spear, bar manager at Sujeo. The Asian fusion restaurant's opening-week cocktail list included "Yup in My White Tea," an instantly popular white-tea-based cocktail made with ginger peach sangria, Canton ginger liqueur, soju and lemon.
Spear describes his current interest in tea-infused spirits and tea drinks as the "experimental sponge stage." He sees tea-based drinks, for which he works with Macha, as essential to Sujeo's menu and philosophy. "Working with this cuisine, where tea culture is so prominent, it's important to us and chef Tory [Miller] that we all learn the history, processes and rituals around it," says Spear.
From mint-tea-infused soju (a Korean spirit) as a digestif to orange blossom tea with vodka or rum, Spear finds the flavor profiles of tea inspiring. Tea and bourbon, the keys to a great hot toddy, are a match made in heaven, and can soothe a hoarse cold-weather throat -- especially with a little lemon and honey.
Tea can also be paired with spiced rum for a fall warmer or even a Christmasy drink. For these, black tea's smoky notes are an effective backbone.
A fascinating tea for adventurous drinkers is the Chinese pu-erh, an earthy and rich fermented variety that lends itself beautifully to dark spirit bases. Try the Pu-erh Old Fashioned recipe from Serious Eats (at bit.ly/pu-erhcocktail), localizing it with Jamaican #2 or Cherry Bark Vanilla bitters from Milwaukee's Bittercube and Yahara Bay bourbon.