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keep your 40 – I’ll have an Earl Grey tea

Earl Grey shirt from Threadless, design by Richard Lee

Although it is known that the second Earl Grey, who served as Prime Minister from 1830-1834, gave permission for the production and sale to the Twinings tea company of the blend of black teas flavored with bergemot oil that bears his title, the actual inspiration for this blend seems to be lost to history. The practice of flavoring oolong teas with blossoms is a Chinese tradition. One that has used the blossoms of jasmine, osmanthus (cassia flower), rose, and other flowers to infuse tea leaves with a floral note.

These days, there are at least a hundred blends of tea sold under the description Earl Grey. At the website Tending Toward Tea, Julie gives tasting notes on 160 different brands. My personal favorite is Numi Aged Earl Grey, made with organically grown Assam tea leaves and Italian bergemot, and infused by aging, like a traditional Chinese blossom teas. Also it has a rich dark orange color when brewed.

But this is a blog about booze, I hear your fingers flex as you work up the nerve and wit to leave a belittling comment to that effect.

Last autumn I had a tall drink at Delta Cafe with their house infusion of Earl Grey tea in vodka. It was just the vodka and soy milk, but tasty. Since that drink I’ve been playing at this infusion.

vodka infused with Earl Grey tea
Combine, in a quart-size mason jar:
â—‡ a fifth of vodka,
â—‡ five teabags Earl Grey, and
◇ ½ teaspoon dried orange peel.
Let this sit for 16hrs. Agitate the jar a little every 4hrs or so.
Strain and funnel into a clean bottle.

This infusion should result in a liquor that has the unmistakable aroma of citrus and black tea, the taste of tea, and an almost creamy mouthfeel due to the tannins from the tea leaves.

Now that we’ve got some Earl Grey Vodka, let’s do some mixing!

First, a couple of simple drinks on this vodka, then something more complex.

Earl Grey Молоко
In a rocks glass, over ice, pour
◇ 1½ oz Earl Grey infused vodka,
◇ ½–¾ oz whole milk,
and garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

This is a straight-ahead lowball that imitates the taste of Earl Grey tea (with milk). The milk, while not entirely proper for Earl Grey tea, helps temper the tannins in the vodka. A good rice milk would be just fine as a substitute for vegans.

the Venerable Earl Grey
In an old fashioned glass, place
â—‡ a nickel-sized piece of orange peel,
â—‡ a nickel-sized piece of lemon peel,
◇ ½ tsp sugar,
â—‡ a dash of orange bitters (or Campari),
â—‡ a couple ice chips (and a splash of water if necessary), and
Add a handful of ice and pour in
â—‡ 2 oz Earl Grey infused vodka.
Garnish with an orange wheel.

I don’t have much to say about this substitute old fashioned, except that it works as a simple means to show off the structure of this infusion.

But here is a real cocktail, a concoction of spirits and juice that I’ve been enjoying since June, when I threw it together for a co-worker’s party.

the Blue Meanie
In a shaker over cracked ice, pour
◇ 1½ oz Earl Grey infused vodka,
◇ ¾ oz blueberry juice, and
◇ ¼ oz Grand Marnier.
Shake until chilled;
strain into a cocktail glass;
and garnish with a twist of lemon peel.
If you’re so perverse to want two garnishes, toss a blueberry or two into the drink as well.

I’ve been using Knudsen Just Blueberry, which is from concentrate, but has a pretty good taste.

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