When Tea Met Booze: L'Espalier Introduces Tea-Infused Hot Toddies

We chatted with tea sommelier Cynthia Gold to learn more about the new way to steep.

Photos by Julian Landa

For years, it was difficult for me to see the appeal in the world’s second most popular beverage (water being the self-explanatory number one). Besides the tepid silver pots of green tea I’d politely sip in Chinese restaurants, I’d rarely been exposed to anything other than the occasional bag of Earl Grey or English Breakfast. But, after wandering into Tealuxe in Harvard Square and later into the new David’s Tea in the South End, I was embarrassed by all the incredible blends and complex aromatics I had been missing.

Tea consumption in the U.S. has increased dramatically over the past three years, and like much like craft coffee and microbrews, whose popularity has spawned experts in the form of barista championships and cicerones, the tea world has a growing syndicate of tea sommeliers. L’Espalier’s Cynthia Gold is in this niche class of tea educators who face the same antiquated misconceptions as her counterparts in wine. “It is no longer divided between ‘pinkies out’ prim and proper occasions or that generic teabag that everyone has in his or her cabinet. It is simply a matter of education. As we learn that there are exciting and complex teas worthy of more respect, it becomes natural to explore them,” she says.

Gold comes from a culinary background, as a chef that previously specialized in desserts. Almost fifteen years ago, as she was putting the final touches on her menu at Arlington’s now-defunct Tea-Tray in the Sky, she decided to tackle the ubiquitous tea list. As she began to delve deeper into her tastings, she found a world of untapped potential. “Before long, I began to be inspired to start to play with the tea in my cooking. What I hadn’t realized at the time was that I was one of the first chefs in this country to do this, which brought some from the tea industry in to check out what I was doing,” she says. Soon after, she was invited to go to Asia and explore from the source. At a small farm in Hanzhou, China, she spent time in the tea fields, harvesting leaves and taking them through the wither and firing process. She also spent time in Europe visiting famous tea destinations like Paris’s Mariage Frères and London’s Harrods and Fortnum & Mason.

Now tea sommelier at L’Espalier, Gold conducts regular guided tastings that focus either on a specific growing region or theme. Her newest event, coming up this Sunday, takes that famous winter elixir, the hot toddy, out of its comfort zone. “This winter is such a rough one with everyone coming down with colds and the flu, that it seemed like it would be fun to turn toward that classic, comforting drink,” she says.

Expect earthy, smoky combinations like single malt scotch blended with Lapsong Souchong; a Darjeeling tea with cider, Pernod, and Grand Marnier; and a malty Assam combined with spices and hot buttered rum.

Hot Toddy Tasting: $50 per person, January 27th at 2pm (774 Boylston Street) 617-262-3023, www.lespalier.com.