Samui Wining & Dining
Tipsy On Tea

An exciting new genre of cocktails has arrived!

 

11It’s the English national drink. The Chinese regard it as medicine. And in Japan it’s a ritual. It’s sipped and guzzled in tin mugs and china cups from one end of the earth to the other. Next to water, it’s by far the most popular drink in the world and there are hundreds of ways you can drink it. But now there’s a whole new approach to add to the list: tea cocktails have arrived in all their glory!

 

In spite of the huge diversity of teas, there are, in fact, only really four basic types. ‘Tea’ refers not only to the Camellia sinensis plant but also to the various drinks that can be made from it. Black tea comes from mainly India and Sri Lanka, green tea is sweeter and contains more vitamins, and oolong tea is found in China and Taiwan. But the rarest and most prized of all, white tea, is only found in one province in China and is harvested just once every year.

 

And all the others? The chamomile, the blackberry and acai, the orange and kiwi, the mistletoe and rose pompon? Well, they’re not ‘teas’ at all. They are dried fruits, flowers or herbs. And the word ‘tea’ is also a convenient way to refer to an infusion of any of these things in boiling water. As well as having their own characteristic aroma and flavour, most of these have proven medicinal or restorative properties, too. And combined with the four main teas they give rise to the abundant confusion of pre-packed commercial teas that dominate so many of today’s hypermarket shelves.

 

However, there is truly an art to all this. It’s certainly easy enough to merely throw a couple of enticing names together. But to actually successfully blend a tea with fruits and/or herbs takes patience and skill. The astringent taste of a black tea, for example, can be subtly altered and flavoured by adding bergamot (as in Earl Grey) or enhanced by crushed flakes of citrus peel, vanilla or caramel. There’s an entire universe of taste-bud treats in this enterprise alone. But it’s when you start to combine alcohol with some of these permutations that things start to get really interesting!

 

The knack of making a ‘standard’ cocktail is cunningly to create a smooth taste that disguises the kick of the alcohol. But in making a tea cocktail you have to throw away the recipe book and start from scratch! There’s a whole new set of flavours, hints, undertones and aftertastes to consider and experiment with. As a result, with the few exceptions of safe and steady traditional mixes, the exponents of this adventurous new genre are mostly working in splendid isolation – you won’t find the same tea cocktails repeated at different venues. As yet, there are only a few places on Samui that have adopted this pioneering venture. One of them is Anantara Bophut Resort and Spa in Bophut. And another is Namcha, a wondrous time-warp excursion into tea artefacts and paraphernalia, located in Fisherman’s Village.

 

‘Anantara’ has a long-established reputation for being that rare combination of both extremely laid-back and also very high-end. It’s to be found fronting the ring-road; just about the first big resort you’ll see when you pass the traffic lights at Bophut, heading towards Nathon. Their signature fine-dining Italian restaurant, Full Moon, has more than its share of contemporary cuisine innovations and is very serious about its teas, too. There is a range of 14 available, all of them utilising the exemplary Sri Lankan Dilmah Tea.

 

But it’s raised the tea ethos one step higher and now is also building a range of tea cocktails. Under the watchful eye of (and following the expert training provided by) Robert Schinkel, Dilmah’s nomadic cocktail expert, Anantara is coming to the fore. Their own tea-cocktail guru, Janice Beukhunthod, makes a literal blaze and never fails to impress with her ‘Fiery Blazer’. Sweet green Jasmine tea, mingled tantalisingly with Grand Marnier and embellished with orange zest, is fierily finished by flaming orange pith-juice delicately sprayed around the rim of the glass. It adds a distinctive bouquet that’s re-enforced by the tangy taste of the burnt orange – and that’s before you get down to the fragrant bedrock of the liquor!

 

Or you could throw in your lot with the Earl Grey and vodka of the ‘Ceylon Martini’. But if you want to be both stirred and shaken, take the ‘Samui Classic’ for a test-tipple. With a green tea base and added apple and lime, the vodka combined with the melon liqueur will quickly have you smiling!

 

Namcha, on the other hand, is essentially a tea house – but a unique one. Here the very relaxed and outgoing owner/manager, Michelle Ho, has filled her beautiful establishment with relics, antiques and curios. It’s worth a stop-off just to marvel at her collection (otherwise known as the ‘décor’)! And she’s also made a lifelong study of both teas and tea cocktails. Ranging from the cool and easy ‘Oolong Mojito’ (lime, mint and Malibu) to the devastatingly smooth ‘Cocco Rocco’ (cold-infused white tea with coco-nut milk and more than a splash of white rum) she’ll conjure a cocktail for any mood or occasion. How about the ‘White Tea Juana’? This fruity fandango is based on white wine and peach wine and comes with two sorts of grape juice, apples and strawberries, grapes and oranges. There’s even a particularly potent ‘Lovers’ Cocktail’ but rumour has it that it’s not advisable to exceed the stated dose!

 

She’s travelled the globe in search of elusive and perfect teas and is a firm believer in their medicinal properties. But being a woman of the world she’s also got a firm grip on reality and is one of the first in line when it comes to trialling new cocktails! And Namcha’s individual blends of tannin to make you tipsy can be found just through and to the left of the big archway at the entrance to Fisherman’s Village.

 

The English never got this far with teas. And the Japanese were far too serious about it all. The Americans probably came the closest, as coffee is fine with most kinds of alcohol. But nothing beats the finesse of tea. It’s subtle, and with the right sort of ‘supplements’ it becomes sublime. Which, no doubt, explains the success of its latest manifestation, tea cocktails. And it’s also the reason why more and more people are looking forward to getting tipsy – on tea!

 

Rob De Wet

 


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