The Boston Tea Party tasting Event

As our December monthly tea tasting topic, we couldn’t help but take advantage of the fact that December 16th is the anniversary of the ‘Destruction of the Tea’ which was later renamed to ‘The Boston Tea Party’.  For our tasting, we enjoyed the teas that were thrown into the harbor on that fateful day.  Our teas were much fresher however and without a hint of sea water!  For our welcoming tea cocktail, we embraced a historic Colonial Tea Punch.  Punches in that time in history had a much more sophisticated flavor profile from the ‘day-glo’ versions that you may remember from your college party days.  They were also typically much stronger than modern styles, but this recipe can be adjusted to your sensibilities.  The very act of icing this punch down, something that was not readily available to our colonial forefathers, will of course reduce the alcohol content.  One of our guests on leaving the tasting commented that ‘it tasted like history’.  So enjoy a taste of history on us.

Fish House Punch shown with a Colonial Era Tea Caddie

Fish House Punch

In honor of the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, we’d like to share with you a colonial favorite.  ‘Fish House Punch’ was created in 1732 at the gentleman’s club, ‘The Schuylkill Fishing Company’ in Philadelphia.  This angling club, which is still in existence, was the first of its kind in the American Colonies, and claims to be the oldest social club in the English-speaking world.  George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, as well as of course the Boston patriots, enjoyed Fish House Punch.  Who knows?  It may have been used to fortify the nerves and warm the bodies of the Tea Party participants on that fateful night. While the original 1732 formula is still secreted away at the ‘Fish House’ as the club is referred to, many recipes and variations have circulated over the last 280 years, through the colonies and beyond.

It is typically shown being diluted with either water or tea.  All written records of variations refer to either black or green tea (we used a Bohean black in our photo), which is what was available at that time, but to tease forward the flavors of the Peach Brandy, you may want to consider substituting your favorite Oolong.  The recipe shown is adapted from research by David Wondrich for Esquire Magazine.


1.5 cups superfine sugar

2 quarts water

1 quart lemon juice

2 quarts dark rum

1 quart cognac

4 ounces peach brandy

3 tablespoons full-bodied Chinese black tea leaves

Bring 1 quart of water to a boil and steep tea leaves for 5 minutes.  Strain and discard leaves. Set tea aside to cool.  In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in two cups of the water, and then incorporate the lemon juice. Add the spirits and the remaining water and tea to taste.  Place a block of ice into your bowl and let stand in a cool place for the flavors to develop for an hour or so before serving.  The ready availability of ice is a modern luxury.  Since our forefathers were typically drinking at room temperature, they would balance it with more water and tea than you might, as they did not have to account for dilution from the ice.

Note: To learn more about the history of Punch as well as modern variations, see the fall issue of TEA Magazine, or the excellent book Punch, The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl by David Wondrich.

Photo courtesy of Julian Landa.

Tea Cocktails at the DeCordova

On the rooftop of the DeCordova Museum. What a view!

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of leading a seminar at the DeCordova Museum on the evolution of the modern Tea Cocktail.  Before the event began, we had a chance to relax, chat and taste some teas on the beautiful roof-top deck of the museum. What a beautiful place to enjoy a cup of tea!  We sipped on a variety of L’Espalier signature blend teas as well as tasting one of the teas that we would later be enjoying blended into a Colonial style tea punch.  As much as we were all looking forward to tasting tea cocktails, it was hard to leave that beautiful open space to settle into a more traditional lecture space!


However, with the promise of Tea Cocktails, I headed on down into the museum to help the bartender set up for the event.  Arguably, the first tea cocktails could be considered the Hot Toddies of Scotland.  They were originally created to make the taste of Scotch more palatable to women.  Although tea in it’s early days was a medicinal, these early Hot Toddies were not the cold remedies of your grandmother!  Far away in the British East Indies, Punch or Paantsch was being created by the  British East Indies sailors and ‘tea men’.  Now this punch was a far cry from the day-glow overly sweet versions that many of us remember from our college days.  The punch of our forebears was a complex and well-balanced drink.  The name derives from the Hindi word for five, and refers to the five elements of a true Punch.

  • Spirit.  In Colonial New England due to the local rums that were available, this was often rum, but historically, many different spirits were used.  The most revered being Batavia Arrack from the East Indies (now Indonesia)
  • Sour. The preferred sour initially, especially with the sailors at sea was lime.
    n England, lemon and orange were preferred.  In colonial New England, where citrus could be hard to come by, we often used vinegar or verjus as well.
  • Sweet.  Sugar in the colonies was quite different from our modern refined white sugar.  It was a coarse raw sugar in block form which was ideal for using to scrape the
  •  zest off of any citrus that they were fortunate enough to have!
  • Water
  • Spice.  Spice was often interpreted as tea, but the tea could be used instead of the water component as well.  In fact, although these are two of the critical five, more often than not they could be added as one in the form of hot tea.  Another traditional spice that was often added was freshly ground nutmeg.

For those of you who are curious about what a traditional colonial Tea Punch tastes like, or would like to learn more about the teas of the colonies, I want to draw your attention to the December Tea Tasting.  As you probably know, we offer a guided tea tasting on a particular theme each month.  In December our theme does not represent a particular tea growing region, but it is focused on the December 16th Boston Tea Party.  We will be tasting the teas that went into the harbor on that fateful day! 

Join us on Sunday December 16th at 2:00 for our Sunday Tea Tasting focused on the Boston Tea Party.


But, back to the DeCordova.  We went on to taste and talk about Tea Sangrias which are a lighter, more modern version of a Tea Punch, and then modern tea cocktails.  The cocktail that we enjoyed was the Southern Earl Grey, a champagne Tea Cocktail currently on the menu at L’Espalier.


The Southern Earl Grey, a champagne Tea Cocktail. Photo by Julian Landa

Here is the recipe for the Southern Earl Grey:


1/2 ounce Earl Grey infused Bourbon
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
1 teaspoon Green tea and ginger syrup
dash of Orange Bitters

Add first four ingredients to a champagne flute. Fill with Prosecco or your favorite
champagne. Optionally garnish with a curl of orange zest.

Infused Bourbon

1 liter Makers Mark Bourbon
1/4 cup of Earl Grey tea leaves

Place 1 liter of vodka in non-reactive container. Add tea leaves, taste periodically
until desired strength is achieved. Probably around 2 hours. Strain multiple
times through cheesecloth or coffee filters until completely clear. Store at room
temperature or chilled.

Oolong Tea and Ginger Simple Syrup

2 cups white sugar
2 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh ginger
1 wedge lemon or orange
3 tablespoons Oolong tea leaves

Place sugar and water into a saucepan. Stir sugar up from the bottom, squeeze in
citrus and add ginger. 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 well and let sit until cool. May be left
overnight at this stage. Strain.


The Launching of the Sunday Tea Tastings

Last month we launched our new Sunday Tea Tasting series.  This afternoon tea experience is structured like our Wine Mondays, with all guests arriving at the same time.  One Sunday a month we will gather at 3:00 to enjoy a themed afternoon tea with some special surprises, as well as taste our way through five different teas.  The menu, teas and discussion on our first session on Nepal was lively and varied!

Along with discussing and tasting the various teas, we had the opportunity to chat about some of the local customs and cuisine of Nepal.  We shared a welcoming drink made with Alliya, a Nepalese liquor distilled traditionally from either millet or rice.  This is often made at home to serve to special guests (which of course our L’Espalier guests are!) or at festival time.

The last tea that we tasted was a Himalayan salted butter tea.  When enjoyed in Tibet and Nepal it is traditionally made from Yak butter, but Yak butter is curiously hard to come by in Boston, so we enjoyed a version made from a recipe shared with me on my recent trip to the Illam tea district in Nepal utilizing cows milk.  Rather than the clear glass teapots that we used for our other tasting teas, to best enjoy the color, clarity and hue of the teas, we enjoyed our salted butter tea from authentic Nepalese teapots.

As we finished up our meal, our guests had a chance to taste some lapsi, a popular Nepalese snack.  The brown-orange squares shown are lapsi, a sugared dried fruit that tastes like a wonderful combination of mango and passion fruit perhaps with a touch of tamarind thrown in.  The darker pieces are a variation that consists of pureed lapsi combined with salt, chilies and spices, then dried and fermented.  Quite popular in Nepal, but the general opinion at our tasting is that it is an acquired taste!


At L’Espalier we are looking forward to Sunday, October 21st when we will take a focused look at the teas of Fujian province, China, the birthplace of both white and oolong teas.  There are so many exquisite teas from that region, that my biggest challenge was deciding which teas for us to feature.  But you’ll need to join us next week to find out.

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.

A visit to Bully Boy Distillery

Members of the L’Espalier team recently enjoyed a visit to Bully Boy Distillery, owned and operated by brothers Will and Dave Willis.

Photos by Julian Landa

New England has a long history of artisan rum distilleries stemming back to colonial times and the triangular trade routes. By 1770, New Englanders were exporting 5 million gallons of rum, the most profitable and prolific export item. It has been estimated that there were over 150 rum distilleries in colonial New England. During prohibition, the last of these distilleries closed down, but the Willis family farmhouse basement was home to a significant collection of local artisan spirits.


Some 70 years later, this hidden vault was rediscovered on the farm, inspiring in the brothers the idea for a new distillery to carry on Boston’s tradition of small-batch distilling. Their childhood home and fourth-generation working family farm now also supplies much of the grain used in their products. A small batch distillery which produces noteworthy (and award winning) spirits and also grows its own organic grain speaks strongly to L’Espalier’s core beliefs in artisanal and New England ingredients, so a visit was destined to occur.


Bully Boy white rum, which exhibits wonderful caramel and butterscotch notes, is made from Blackstrap molasses from New Orleans rather than the Caribbean molasses used by its colonial predecessors. It is a smoother and more complex product than the rums of our forefathers, but the artisan and entrepreneurial spirit is the same.

For their upcoming aged rum, they are aging in 80% old bourbon barrels and 20% old wine barrels, and they are currently slow-aging their first batches of aged whiskey (a bourbon and rye blend) in new American oak barrels. Among many aspects of this small batch distillery, it was fascinating for us to experience firsthand the talent, care and passion of the Willis brothers. An informative, enjoyable as well as delicious trip.


Autumn in the Park
This drink is perfect as summer comes to a close or as you head into the fall and the days begin to cool off. Darjeeling Tea plays beautifully with the natural caramel and vanilla tones of the Bully Boy white rum. If you have it available, a second Flush Darjeeling is ideal, but you will find that any good quality Darjeeling will give you memorable results.

1 1/2 ounces Darjeeling infused Rum
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 ounce Falernum (I use Trader Tiki’s brand)
1 1/2 ounces apple cider
1/2 ounce ginger oolong simple syrup

Shake all ingredients with ice for 10 to 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Optionally garnish with a floated dried apple ring or a slice of candied ginger on the rim.

Darjeeling Infused Rum

1 liter Rum
3 tablespoons Darjeeling tea leaves, preferably a second flush

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

Oolong Tea and Ginger Simple Syrup

2 cups white sugar
2 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup chopped fresh sliced ginger
1 wedge lime
1 tablespoon Oolong tea leaves, preferably a smoky high oxidation Oolong

Place sugar and water into a saucepan. Stir sugar up from the bottom, squeeze in lime and add ginger. Place over medium-high flame and bring to a boil. Turn down to low and let simmer until a clear 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 well. Will keep for weeks if stored covered and refrigerated.