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Gin and Tea: A Case Study

Gin is a distilled spirit that derives its predominant flavor from juniper berries. As the etymology of the word gin suggests, it came from the older English word genever or the French genièvre or the Dutch word jenever, which all ultimately derived from juniperus, the Latin for Juniper.

Gin began its life as a medicinal liquor from Italian monks. Their techniques of gin-making were swiftly followed by other monks and alchemists across Europe. Gin emerged in England after the introduction of the jenever, a Dutch and Belgian liquor distilled with juniper berries and a few other botanical. They were sold to pharmacies a medicine since the early-mid 17th century.*

Sounds familiar?

If you browse through the history of tea, you will likely find similar origin stories dotted with monks and its use as medicine. 

The brief history of gin gives you a clue why it is one of our favorite spirits. Both tea and gin are botanically derived beverages that are deliciously herbaceous, floral, and piney.

two cups of oolong gin

We have been steeping our teas in gins for as long as we were steeping them in water (for evening socials), though we’ve never committed to experimenting steeping different types of tea in different types of gin to learn the difference.

During quarantine, we decided to conduct a very scientific study of that exact question at hand: just which gin steeps better for oolongs? (Yey quarantine activity!)

Here are our notes from the workshop. Please enjoy and we hope you make your own and share your results with us!

***

Selecting Gin and Tea

Gin

Our gin selection was advised by our trusted guide Eben from Chamber Street Wine. He suggested two different styles of gin. One, Mahón, has a solid juniper foundation and good for taking in infusions. The other, Hayman’s London Dry, has a much fuller botanical spectrum. We took the liberty of adding a third gin from a local distiller, Forthave Blue Gin, because it’s the gin we’ve been enjoying for martinis, which has a wonderful aroma of warm spices.

  • Mahón Gin
    Character: clean, grappa like
    41% proof, grape-derived alcohol
    Botanicals: two-year ocean aired aged juniper berries.
  • Hayman’s London Dry
    Character: full spectrum floral bouquet
    41.2% proof, wheat grain alcohol
    Botanicals: juniper berries, coriander, lemon peel, orange peel, angelica root, cinnamon, cassia bark, orris root, licorice, nutmeg.
  • Forthave Blue Gin
    Character: an array of warm spices
    43% proof, sugarcane derived neutral grain spirit
    Botanicals: 18 botanicals including juniper, grapefruit, and mint. Unfiltered.

Tea

We decided to use classic Taiwanese oolongs since those are more popular and accessible.  

Second, we picked teas that share similar characters and aroma to gins. The goal is to find pairings that complement, and not overpower one over the other.

We chose Baozhong & Oriental Beauty, for they sit on the opposite spectrum in the world of oolongs but both have gin-like quality, floral and botanical forward. 

  • Baozhong Expert’s Pick
    Type of tea: oolong, low oxidation (more like green tea)
    Flavor notes: Lily flower, juniper berries, grass, light bodied
  • Oriental Beauty
    Type of tea: oolong, high oxidation (more like black tea)
    Flavor notes: Rose, muscat grapes, honeyed figs, medium bodied

How to infuse gin with tea

Tea-infused Gin Recipe

14 grams (1/2 oz) dry tea leaves
750ml (typically a bottle) of gin

Notes: Feel free to scale up or down the ratio based on the amount of tea-gin you would like to make.

tea steeped gin

This is such a simple process! There are only five steps: 

    1. Measure out loose leaf tea into a glass container.
    2. Pour the appropriate amount of gin to the container and stir.
    3. Brew for 24 hours in the refrigerator or 12 hours at room temperature.
    4. Strain with a fine mesh into a bottle or a jar for storage.
    5. Chew on the gin-soaked tea leaves because you can and it’s delicious (optional).

 

Tasting tea-steeped gin

Total of 6 tea-gin samples

We tasted a total of six samples, neat in small teacups (sorry, old habits), with a tiny spoonful of filtered water.

To do a true comparison, we also tasted the corresponding un-steeped gin side-by-side to see if we could taste the difference.

Oolong tea infused gin tasting

Baozhong x Mahón:

Steeped version is silkier and lighter in texture vs. Mahón alone. You get softer herbs, green flower, and is less piney. It brings a 3-dimensional quality.

Baozhong x Hayman:

The aroma of lily flower and vegetal grassiness from Baozhong come through the most in this version compared to the other two. There is a grassy element that compliments the floral bouquet of the Hayman gin. 

Baozhong x Forthave:

Baozhong steeped version brings a gentle vegetal flavor on top of the warm spices, though you lose the warm spice finish compared to drinking the Forthave gin alone.

Oriental Beauty x Mahón:

Tea steeped version is softer and gently sweet. You taste the honey and rose from the Oriental Beauty. It brings on a more three-dimensional quality by adding a layer of warmth.

Oriental Beauty x Hayman:

The gin becomes tea-like in the steeped version. Fuller profile of Oriental Beauty comes through, even retains the tea aroma in the finish. Delicious!

Oriental Beauty x Forthave:

Similar to the Baozhong steeped Forthave, the Oriental Beauty version brings a layered maltiness but took away the beautiful warm spices from the un-steeped gin.

Side tasting notes:

  • Have a snack before the tasting...doing it on an empty stomach is a poor choice.
  • The temperature of the tea-infused gin matters. We tasted more (tea) flavor nuances when the tea-infused gin is at room temperature. 
  • Hayman and Forthave seem to be easier gins to drink neat vs. Mahón, even though they both have higher proof. Hayman is full of floral notes (could be a tad overpowering and soapy) and Forthave full of warm spices.
  • We were thinking about making tea ice cubes to use as a drink extender; it could bring out more tea flavors and great for the summer. Maybe a sequel for this workshop!

 

Tasting tea-infused gin & tonic

Total of 6 G&T samples made with Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water.

We had to make gin and tonic! Even though the last time we ordered one at a bar was over a decade ago, we were intrigued.

Not all tonic water is made equal. We prefer the ones from Fever-Tree.

Tea-infused Gin & Tonic Recipe

Makes a 7 oz cocktail

1 part tea-gin (2 oz)
2.5 parts tonic water (5 oz)
Glass of ice
Wedges of lime

Again, this is a super easy recipe:

  1. Add ice to the glass
  2. Add 1 part (2 oz) tea-gin
  3. Top with 2.5 parts (5 oz) tonic water
  4. Garnish with limes

There are a few different gin vs tonic ratios out there, feel free to change the ratio to taste.

Overall G&T Tasting Notes

They are all delicious is the short answer. And after tasting 6 full-size gin and tonics, our notes didn't seem as detailed. 

The tasting notes on each sample aren't too far from tasting the tea-infused gin neat. The addition of tonic water and lime made it much harder to decipher flavor nuances. This is where the tea ice cube may come in handy for drawing the tea element out. 

A tip! If your goal is to make gin and tonic with your tea-infused gin, we would suggest brewing the tea at room temperature instead of the fridge, which will get you a stronger tea flavor. Tonic water, which has quinine (tree bark from the cinchona tree) and bitter orange, brings additional botanical elements into the cocktail. Therefore the stronger the tea-gin the better the balance.  

oriental beauty gin tonic

Conclusion

We think Hayman's London Dry is the winner as the best gin to make tea-infused gin. The tea flavor comes through the most and it brought down the floral intensity of Hayman’s gin, making it even more pleasant compared to its original version.

It is possible that Hayman gin yields the best results because both Baozhong and Oriental Beauty are flower forward, similar to the Hayman gin. We've had parallel findings in our previous tea pairing experience where the similar quality of tea and food go well together. 

Notes on tea application in cocktails: Don't be shy and experiment steeping different teas in different spirits. We did a deeper dive into gin, but if you prefer vodka, by all means, give it a try! Once you find your favorite pairing, make a whole bottle, and drink it all summer.

Here are some suggested teas to steep with other spirits:

 

Browse our Cocktail Collection Here }

 

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gin

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