From Tea Ceremony to Cocktail Ceremony

The mixing of tea and alcohol dates back to the 18th century, when the punch was first created. I have immersed myself in the history of tea and punch, and in the Japanese tea ceremony – and from this I have developed a concept I call "Cocktail Ceremony".

In the tea world, the saying goes that the tea is made in the field, or that the quality is produced in the field (at least), and that all you can do once the tea is picked is either to destroy it or to maintain that primary quality. My guess is that most spirit producers also maintain that same honorable attitude towards the raw material that they use for their products, and there's no doubt all authentic beverage producers would sign that their products are characterized by both soul and seriousness whether it's oolong tea or scotch, but the difference between the end product liquor and the end product tea is, of course, the intoxicating effect of alcohol which adds another dimension to the beverage experience; a "room" characterized primarily by courage – I'd say. This is because the chemical compound that arises during the production process causes us to let go of our inhibitions when consuming these drinks. Tea on the other hand does not inhibit this particular type of relaxation-trigger, but even tea certainly makes us relax – all be it perhaps in a more introverted way. Every sip of tea is a little calm. If we are worried, it can comfort us, with no side effect. I want to say that what distances the tea from any other beverage is its apparent seriousness. The tea has its very own “room”, and it is a very sober room that the alcohol cannot challenge or claim.

When I think about it, the basis for my appreciation of cocktails with teas is probably that those cocktails invite to both of these rooms at the same time. The subtle taste of tea in a cocktail is elegant and slightly soothing. Thankfully, there are many bars around the world serving cocktails with Camellia Sinesis (the Latin name of the tea plant) and many also offer products of dried flowers and herbs that have been cooked together with sugar syrup or infused in liquor and liqueurs.

Mixing tea with alcohol is nothing new. The punch is a product of the collision between the colonial / industrial power of the western world and Asia's exotic agriculture. Our Swedish punsch (spelled with 's'), which was introduced as early as the middle of the 18th century, derives from a mixture of citrus, sugar and tea that the colonial powers brought home from Asia, and in addition to these components it also contains water and arrak. Arrak too is originally an eastern product.

Today, not all punches contain tea – that component has unfortunately fallen into oblivion. But many recipes still protect their origin, which is based on the five ingredients I just mentioned. Yes, the name most likely comes from the word 'panca' which means just five in Sanskrit. We do not know exactly when the punch made its way into the western world, but it consolidated in our social cultural expressions during the 18th century, and has since then shown different mixtures on varying base-spirits, such as rum, brandy, scotch and liqueurs. Today, punch can contain just about anything, and local produce often comes into play. The punch is meant to be served out of bowls for friends and acquaintances to provide themselves (not to be confused with the terrible 20th century bowls with cheap liquor, ginger ale, grenadine and star fruit), which makes it a social drink. It has been drunk both hot and cold through the ages and today it is the cold varieties that dominate. Often they are still served out of bowls for the guests to share, but can still be served as a cocktail in a glass – a so-called individual punch.

Meeting in drinking can take many expressions. In addition to immersing myself in the punch-history, I have also taken a closer look at the Japanese tea ceremony, (which in proper translation should be called 'tea gathering'). In Japanese tea ceremony they use matcha which is a green tea that has been crushed to a fine powder and whipped during preparation. Just as with the production of blended scotch, for example, there is a Master Blender in the match production, who has the task of mixing teas with different character traits in order to obtain an ultimate end product that takes into account scent, aroma and color. During the tea ceremony, the match is prepared and enjoyed in accordance with a ritual in which all participants submit to a union of four (for the ceremony) fundamental ideas: harmony, respect, purity and peace of mind. This common submission creates a bond between the host and the guests. The tea ceremony is a spiritual gathering with roots in Zen Buddhism, but the social aspect is at least as essential. It's basically about meeting.

I too want to meet. The tea ceremony may seem to be miles away from the cocktail parties and bar hangouts, but I've decided to try to combine the essence of these different 'worlds' in order to find out if it's possible to infuse the seriousness of the tea into an alcoholic beverage. More specifically, I wish to meet in a ceremony with punch. My goal has been to design a cocktail gathering similar to the tea ceremony, but with a slightly darker tone that correlates with the night-time aspect of cocktail consumption, still fueled by warmth, however, and as such a gathering I'm hoping it can act as a catalyst for exciting meetings.

For my first cocktail ceremony, instead of matcha I used a high-quality jasmine tea which is rolled in small beads. I let the jasmine beads to soak in equal parts of water and sugar for one hour. I also made an iced tea on dried hibiscus which was to represent the water and the acid. In addition, it gave a beautiful color. My friend Cajsa-Lisa came over one evening last week when I wanted to test the design of the ceremony with a guest and she brought some fresh ginger which I also used in the drink, adding a subtle heat and further complexity.

/Tina Shine

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