Tea — refreshing, rich in antioxidants, and with a variety of flavors to suit many palates — is enjoying robust growth across the country, both on its own and in cocktails and other beverages. Even the high tea service and tea parties of decades ago are enjoying a resurgence as consumers seek more robust experiences when they go out.
Sanjiv Razdan, president for the Americas and India of the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, a coffee house chain based in Los Angeles, said that although coffee gets a lot of attention — especially during pumpkin spice season — “the tea category in the United States has been growing at a faster rate than the coffee category … and we’ve been seeing how that has been playing out in our chai lattes, our cold brew teas, some of our flavored teas, [and] our herbal teas. So that has been a big shift.”
Photo: The Watermelon Mint Cold Brew Tea at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
That was reflected in the chain’s introduction in May of a trio of seasonal drinks: Watermelon Mint Cold Brew Tea, which was Scottish breakfast cold brew tea served over ice with a new watermelon mint sauce; Peach Jasmine Cold Brew Tea, which was jasmine tea and green tea with peach flavor; and Mango Cold Brew Black Tea, which was black tea with mango purée.
All three borrowed from the coffee trend of cold brew, for which coffee grounds are steeped for 12 hours or more in cold water to create a brew that is smoother than traditional coffee.
“The whole idea of cold brew coffee, that it’s lovingly extracted through cold water, not hot water, so you get these softer notes, no harshness — we've extended that whole logic to tea, and we’re seeing that it’s getting people’s attention,” Razdan said.
Pairings and parties
Cold Brew tea is not just for mixing with fruit flavors, however. Gozu, a fine-dining restaurant in San Francisco focused on wagyu beef, also has an $80 per-person menu that pairs tea, instead of alcoholic beverages, with food and includes cold brew white tea served with the initial canape course, plus two different varieties of cold brew genmaicha — Japanese green tea brewed with toasted brown rice. One of those teas is paired with sashimi and another is paired with asparagus, a vegetable that is notoriously difficult to match with wine.
For the wagyu itself, beverage director Jordan Abraham pairs a hot dark oolong tea from Taiwan poured over amazake, a non-alcoholic Japanese rice beverage that he sweetens with demerara sugar and sets on fire — both caramelizing the sugar and giving his customers a show.
Meg Benshalom, beverage manager of the Beacon Grand hotel, also in San Francisco, is planning a show of sorts for the holidays at the property’s Beacon Lounge called “Bubbles, Barrels and Tea,” for which she’ll be combining barrel-aged cocktails with sparkling wine and hot tea.
“Think hot toddy with layers of other expressive and nuanced flavors,” she said.
The tea service will start with hors d’oeuvre and finger sandwiches along with sparkling wine. Then they’ll get a cocktail served in miniature barrels paired with a tea.
For example, the Forbidden Fruit cocktail, made with Milk and Honey Whisky from Israel combined with pomegranate, apricot, lemon bitters and smoked thyme, will be served with a teapot of Egyptian Chamomile Tea, made by Jenwey Tea with chamomile flowers and lemon and orange peels.
Guests can add the cocktail to their sparkling wine or hot tea, or both.
“The botanical flavor of the tea enhances the nuanced complexities of the barrel-aged cocktail [and] the hot water creates space for the flavors to dance — like singing echoes in a cave,” Benshalom said.
“Our guests are starving for that next-level interactive experience,” she said. “We created our ‘Bubbles, Barrels and Tea’ activation as a modern take on the time-tested tea party.”
She added that getting the guests involved by combining the cocktails with bubbles or tea makes it all more memorable.
Guests get a drag show and an “upside down” tea party at The Commons Club at the Virgin Hotels Nashville on the second Sunday of every month. For $35, guests get a pot of tea and a tower of snacks, or for $55 they get two cocktails made with tea.
The Posh Spice is made with Aviation gin, chai, lemon and crème de violette. The Baby Spicy has Deep Eddy vodka, hibiscus tea, lemon and Aperol. The Sporty Spice is made with Dickel 12-year-old bourbon, mint, lemon, Angostura bitters and hot water.
“Tea is definitely still a big thing here,” general manager Uby Khawaja said.
The property’s public relations representative, Heather O’Dell, explained that the drag tea party pays homage to the tea parties of the 1950s and ’60s in New York City, where members of the LGBTQ community would gather.
“It was a place for singles to meet, almost like a mixer, if you will.”
A tea experience
Photo: The “Bubbles, Barrels and Tea” show at the Beacon Grand hotel.
At Canyon Ranch Spa & Fitness in Las Vegas, chef Pete Ghione, the property’s director of culinary innovation and training, is offering teas paired with different flavored shortbreads and other accompaniments.
For example, the black breakfast tea is paired with a chocolate dipped shortbread and a rock sugar stick; citrus chamomile tea is served with lemon and lemon zest shortbread; and a bourbon vanilla rooibos tea is served with vanilla bean shortbread.
“So there are all these different tastes and textures and aromas going on, and with the shortbread you get a crunch,” he said. “The whole goal is to create a tea experience rather than a cup of water with a teabag in it.”
Ghione said that when pairing food with tea it’s important to consider the mouth feel of the tannins in tea as well as the flavor.
“Try the tea and imagine the flavors [that will go with it], and then try the food and see if it really will complement it,” he said.
At Canyon Ranch Grill, Ghione is launching a reservations-only tea service that, like the Bubbles, Barrels and Tea program at the Beacon Grand, will be interactive, as the tea will be served with dried fruits and herbs that guests can eat with their tea of choice or actually add to the teas.
“The guests will be able to choose what they like,” he said.
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]