The quintessential American summer drink, iced tea was invented in 1904 at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Since then, it has easily overtaken hot tea in popularity; Americans drink 85% more of iced tea than hot each year — about 2.5 billion gallons in all.
Iced tea is typically brewed hot and served cold; the flavor and body vary depending on the type of tea that’s used, with black tea being the traditional choice.
It goes down easy with barbecue and plenty of other classic Southern dishes and is so common south of the Mason-Dixon line that it’s sometimes called the house wine of the South.
We like it plain, we like it with sugar, with lemon, with mint and mixed with lemonade, so why not with vodka, tequila or rum?
An appealingly exotic option for making cocktails is Pu-erh, an ancient type of healing tea picked from old-growth, wild tea trees in the mountains of China. It is the oldest tea to have traveled the ancient tea route, from the village of Pu-erh through Yunnan Province and onto the southern Silk Road.
After picking, the tea’s leaves are put in a pile, dampened and left to ferment for 60 days, giving Pu-erh a distinctly earthy flavor. Like a great wine, this fermented tea is thought to get better with age.
Artisan tea makers have begun to offer Pu-erh in the U.S., including Mighty Tea and Oakland-based Numi Organic Tea, which makes Pu-erh in four flavors: Chocolate, Moroccan Mint, floral Magnolia and Emperor’s, a rich, earthy, malt-tinged tea that is a good alternative to coffee.
Numi now bottles its iced Pu-erh teas, but for this recipe it recommends that you steep a traditional tea bag in hot water to best pull out its rich flavor, letting it cool before mixing. The strongly steeped tea will also help boost the drink’s structure.
Pu-erh’s earthy backbone offers enough weight to balance the other range of flavors going on in this summery cocktail recipe, which includes plenty of refreshing fruitiness from the frozen cantaloupe, complemented on the finish by the crispness of the lemon juice and vodka.
Numi Cantaloupe Tea Daiquiri
1½ ounces Numi Emperor’s Pu-erh Tea
1½ ounces vodka
3 ounces frozen cubed cantaloupe
1 ounce coconut milk
Splash of lemon juice
1. Steep tea in boiling hot water at four times the normal strength for 2 minutes, then remove tea bag and chill liquid for later use.
2. Combine and blend ingredients in a blender, adding a splash of lemon for each serving.
3. Serve on the rocks, garnished with a lemon wedge.
Photo: Cantaloupe Tea Daiquiri. Credit: Courtesy of Numi Organic Tea