Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tea vodka: You're soaking in it

So I like dunking things into liquids. Tea bags, mostly. Donuts on occasion, sometimes cookies. And often I have a large glass jar under the sink containing fruit rinds or berries or vanilla beans submerged into an awful lot of vodka. It's an full-infusion household here, for sure. And this week I'm going to try it with tea.

I've settled on one basic recipe for infusing most vodkas. You can really just drop the fruit right into the vodka and let it sit a few weeks, but I like this recipe the best. Gives it a heft, makes more of a liqueur.

Here's the basic recipe for what turns out less like lemon-infused vodka and more like limoncello, adapted from trial, error and Cooking Light:
  1. Combine 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. (Adjust this amount/ratio depending on your preference for sweetness.) Heat over a low flame until the sugar completely dissolves. You've got a nice simple syrup.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 5 lemon rinds, cut into strips. Let this cool completely to room temperature (otherwise, the next step evaporates the alcohol!).
  3. Stir the syrup and lemon rinds, plus 1/4-1/3 cup of lemon juice into 3-4 cups (one regular bottle) of vodka. Store in a cool, dark place for three weeks, swirling or lightly shaking the container every so often.
  4. Then strain and filter with cheesecloth. Stores in the fridge up to 3-4 weeks, or a year in the freezer.
The lemon rind can be replaced with a lot of different things. We did a great cranberry-lime version one year, with halved berries and lime rind. Cranberry-cinnamon was pretty tasty and autumnal. Our favorite is still good ol' vanilla; split two vanilla beans (possibly a challenge to find at the store) and drop ’em in the syrup. We also had good luck with orange rind and coffee beans, without using the sugar method; hot peppers work, too. Also, try nicking blueberries and putting those in with a cup of Chambord (and serve with a little lime). Note: I use Smirnoff's "triple-distilled" vodka for infusions. It's the right balance of quality (not great, but certainly not bottom-shelf, and the "triple-distilled" version helps) and affordability.

Today I'm starting some experiments with tea leaves. (I'm not the first — one company has actually bottled a sweet tea-vodka, targeting a Southern audience.) My concern is that, as tea lovers know, steeping tea too long increases its bitterness. So I plan to watch the samples carefully, tasting often. These could be ready in a few hours, or a few days.

I'm starting one regular large jar of the stand-by lemon version above. This uses one 1.75-liter bottle of vodka. I'm also trying small Mason jars — just like hooch! — with two spoons of these teas, with barely a quarter cup of the syrup:
  • A Chinese Keemun that's one of my favorites, from Tea Gschwendner (No. 555).
  • A Japanese Kabusecha, half-shade green tea from Gschwendner (No. 718). Probably a little too nice for an experiment like this, but I thought I'd want a very fresh, light taste to this.
  • Opened bags of Chocolate Mint Truffle, an herbal infusion from Mighty Leaf. I received this as a gift a while back, makes for a lovely treat with a rich dessert. Contains spearmint, cacao nibs and rooibos.
Here are the jars, taking on color quickly, left to right: green, choc-mint, keemun ...

I'll report back about the spectacular failure or my rush to the patent office.

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