Tea Cocktails in San Diego

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the San Diego Spirits Festival to do some Tea Cocktail demos.  Throughout the industry, bartenders are beginning to consider the use of tea, Camellia Sinensis, within their creations.  I’m hoping for it to become a comfortable part of all mixologists arsenal, and not a ‘special’ ingredient to use.  To this end, I demonstrated the concepts of infusing tea and other botanicals into your base alcohol, using tea in your simple syrups and using tea in various garnishes such as tea smoked salt drink rims.  It was great fun and a wonderful opportunity to see what else is hot and new in the field.  This festival was for  both cocktail professionals and enthusiasts, so the audience was varied and appreciative.

One of many highlights of the multi-day gathering is the bartender competition.  Twelve passionate and talented bartenders competed in a series of 4 elimination rounds.   Seen below is a group of those bartenders, early in the heat.

The judges put the bartenders through their paces.   Featured judges included Henry Preiss, Johnny Schuler, Kyle Hall, Jeff Josenhans, Scotty Wagner and Adam Stemmler. The final round was close, with only one point between runner up Nate Howell and the winner, Oscar Takahashi.  Congratulations to Oscar, the 2012 champion.

In between the various parties, demos and competitions, I also had the pleasure of doing a number of book signings.  San Diego is a beautiful city with wonderful cocktail and culinary options, hopefully soon to have a touch more tea added to their options.

Distillery 209 Gin supplied product for my demos, so a couple of drinks were planned to be served during the class using this gin.  As soon as I tasted this beautiful citrus forward gin, I knew that one of the drinks that I featured needed to be a vehicle to play up on these clean, fresh citrus tones.  Hence, the birth of the Gimlet 209.

Gimlet 209

This is a variation on the classic Gimlet which would normally be gin, lime juice and simple syrup.


  • 2 ounces Infused 209 Gin
  • 1 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 ounce green tea lemongrass syrup
  • 4 leaves fresh basil

Muddle 3 leaves fresh basil with a small amount of ice and the lime juice in a cocktail shaker.  Add additional ice, infused gin and syrup.  Shake well for 10 to 15 seconds.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Add remaining basil leaf as a garnish.

Infused 209 Gin

  • 1 liter 209 Gin
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh lemongrass
  • 1/4 cup of green tea leaves, Dragonwell or Sencha are good choices

Place 1 liter of gin in non-reactive container.  Add tea leaves and lemongrass.  Taste periodically until desired strength is achieved.  Probably around 2 hours.  Strain multiple times through cheesecloth or coffee filters until no visible tea or lemongrass remains.  Store at room temperature or chilled.

Green Tea and Lemongrass Simple Syrup

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh lemongrass
  • 1 wedge lemon or lime
  • 2 tablespoons green tea leaves

Place sugar and water into a saucepan.  Stir sugar up from the bottom, squeeze in citrus and add lemongrass.  Place over medium-high flame and bring to a boil.  Turn down to low and let simmer until a clear thick syrup is formed, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat, add tea leaves, stir and let sit until cool. May be left overnight at this stage.  Strain.