by Nandini Natasha Austin
Whenever I have a sip of ‘Fever Tea’ – one of our custom cocktails – I am transported back to the fragrant teashop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where I first came upon this tea’s signature taste and scent. Named the Bellocq Tea Atelier, the shop has a discreet, almost clandestine entrance that actually felt comforting, as it took me back to my days of working for that singular hotelier Ian Schrager. He is also someone who knows how to employ minimalist or even none existent signage so that only those ‘in the know’ could figure out what was hidden behind those doors at his Morgans Hotel, all in keeping with that place’s mystery and charm.
I found oodles of that same lost-in-the-big-city charm, along with wonderful scents I didn’t know existed, at Bellocq’s. This enchanting house of tea is beautifully done up to evoke the lush atmospheres of the early 1900’s parlors of the Storyville prostitutes that E.J. Bellocq made famous with his photographs.
This shop was the intimate yet dramatic backdrop we chose for our event. Bellocq offered its own mysterious feelings upon entering, with its faded, aubergine walls, rustic furniture and rows of antique silver boxes of tea laid out on the long tables. And what a welcoming shop for an avid tea drinker like myself! Bellocq’s carefully selected, single-origin offerings originate from the finest estates in China, Japan, India, Nepal, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Malawi. As the lovely shop proprietors told us, each tea is exclusively full leaf, almost entirely organic, and sourced from high elevation gardens where the best bushes of tea live.
Why were we there? The Cocktail Architect team was to create a well-balanced, fun cocktail using a tea blend of our choosing. Previously, I had come to Bellocq together with Karen Ferrries from the Cocktail Partychef; she would be in charge of creating the delicious bites for the event. After careful deliberation I chose #12, a lemongrass tea blend. Lemongrass is known for its healing properties. As the weather was changing, I thought it would be perfect for our fall event.
The signature cocktail we developed – aptly named ‘The Fever’ – was a twist on an ancient Sri Lankan recipe known as “fever tea”. Lemongrass’ medicinal use was early on well regarded. For example, distilled essences of the tea were exported as early as the 17th century in the Philippines.
You should really get to know this herbs useful properties. Its strong lemon-scent with a hint of rose fragrance is so much more than just a flavoring for tea. You will find it used in soap, leaving the user with its perfume, which works well as a natural mosquito repellent. It works well as an extra boost in the morning as it contains rich antioxidants. It has also found use in treating headaches, stomachaches and fevers.
Getting on to our recipe: We infused the loose tea in vodka overnight, ensuring that it was absorbed thoroughly into the liquor. We also created a fresh cardamom and star anise simple syrup to add some sweetness. Lastly fresh citrus in the form of lemon juice was added for balance and to give it a zesty finish. For presentation, we served it up in a martini glass topped with crushed red peppercorn dust. That delivered an unexpected hint of heat right at the end. We batched the cocktails freshly that day. Each drink was vigorously shaken with ice and strained for each guest. This very luxurious gesture allowed them to be served sublimely frothy and icy cold.
As the drinks flowed, I enjoyed my usual storytelling, amusing the guests with the history of lemongrass and all the love that went into creating the delicious elixir. Mouthfuls of deliciousness bites followed. My favorites were the Bellocq tea cured salmon with lapsang souchong gelee, edamame and the Korean Spanish octopus. (You’ll have to guess what that last one was all about!) The team at Tinsel and Twine curated the event, inviting a welcome mix of guests from the event-planning world. It was a divine night.
Another Brit, Sting, famously sings: “I don’t drink coffee, I drink tea my dear.” Yes that’s me. Whilst I have lived in New York since 2008, I cannot shake my old habit of having a daily cup of tea. Now, along with the numerous jars of teas in our Cocktail Architect kitchen, I have added Bellocq’s special blend #12. I know it’s always there for those times when I need a little pick me up. Of course, dear Reader, I add a splash of vodka. Won’t you join me?
Here’s how to create ‘The Fever’ –
2 oz. Vodka with Lemongrass tea elixir (let this infuse overnight!)
1 oz. Cardamom and Star Anise syrup
¾ oz. of Fresh Lemon juice
For garnish sprinkle a grind of Pink Peppercorn dust over cocktail.
Enjoy and revel in the moment!