Tea and whisky have enjoyed a centuries-long romance. Like whisky, tea is a time-honoured beverage that calls on hundreds of years of skill and tradition. Tea also has a vibrant history, and a reach that today touches every corner of the globe. In addition to their prominence, the two make a particularly good match because their flavours work in harmony. Like in any good marriage, they soften each other’s edges. They also heighten each others’ aromatics, complementing each other through shared notes of smoke, malt and tropical fruits. Delicious companions indeed. The pairing of whisky and tea has taken on many forms through the years, and continues to evolve today. How many of the following pairings have you tried?
The Hot Toddy, a much-loved Scottish invention that combines whisky with lemon, honey and hot water or tea, has been enjoyed since at least the 18th century. Sometimes spices such as cinnamon or cloves are added, or sugar is used instead of honey. Whatever the modification, Hot Toddy drinkers tend to believe that their own special formula is the perfect recipe. The famous concoction is universally cherished as a sweet, warming tonic against cold weather, a trying day or the threat of flu. In 19th-century Britain, it was common for doctors to prescribe a Hot Toddy as a cure for almost anything, from stomach pain to insomnia. Today it is sipped more to soothe colds – whisky to fortify, tea to warm, lemon to boost vitamins – or as a pick-me-up for a moment of comfort in our busy world. Next time you feel out of sorts, a Hot Toddy might just be the thing to get you back on your feet.
While the Hot Toddy has a long history in Scotland, the classic pairing of whisky and tea is taking on a crisp new form in Asia. China has become one of the top 10 consumers of Scotch for the first time, in part because of the discovery of a bold new way to enjoy it: mixing blended whisky with chilled tea, especially green tea. The drink is usually served as a highball, over ice, with about one part whisky, three parts tea. The tea is usually lightly sweetened. The soft, vegetal, grassy flavours of most green tea means it adds to, rather than overpowers, even the lightest whiskies. Often, a green tea will highlight citrusy notes in whisky. The result is a refreshing, breezy drink ideal for summer picnics and sultry evenings.
The popular Asian mix of whisky and green tea is just one new development in the tantalising tea and whisky duo. There are also now tea companies that bottle fine teas especially to be drunk with single malt whisky. Made from hand-picked, loose-leaf tea sourced from around the world, these teas make ideal partners for exceptional whiskies. Like fine wines, both whisky and tea develop in the glass. Their flavours evolve, with some notes softening and others becoming more pronounced. This makes them well-suited cohorts for a relaxed home tasting. If you would like to try these new takes on whisky-meets-tea, all it requires is a selection of teas, a few bottles of The Glenlivet and some willing companions. Your friends may not always share your opinion on which pairings work best, but flavour – like love – is always a matter of personal preference.