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_MG_8396 - credit Rare Tea Cellar.jpg

by guest blogger Seanan Forbes

Tea in cocktails. It may look like a new trend, but according to Peter Vestinos, now in charge of West Coast sales and marketing for Death's Door Spirits, it has quite a history. "Before we started cocktails in the U.S., there were punches in the UK," he says.

Ask Vestinos about history, and you're in for an education - in linguistics, as well as tradition. Supposedly, the word "punch" is derived from the Hindi word "ponch," which means "five," and punch has five elements: sweet, sour, bitter, weak ("something to water it down," Vestinos says) and spirit. There was always, Vestinos notes, a spice - and "that spice was usually tea." Not new, then. "Tea shows up early in our cocktail history," he says. How early? The 17th century. That's a drink with a lineage.

Rodrick Markus, founder and president of Rare Tea Cellar (the website, www.rareteacellar.com, will go live in a couple of weeks), has worked with more than a dozen Chicago bartenders on the making of tea cocktails. "I'm blown away by how each mixologist handles a blend," Markus says. "It's like a chef."

Sepia's Joshua Pearson, Adam Seger of Nacional 27, Death's Door Spirits' Vestinos and John Kinder each takes a completely different approach to tea and cocktails. Markus is never bored. "I absolutely adore it," he says.

Then again, he absolutely adores tea. Markus' background is in psychology and hypnotherapy. He started importing, and found his way into wine and cigars - and a problem. "Your best clients are abusing the product. It felt like the opposite way to how I wanted to be living," he says.

photos courtesy Rare Tea Cellar

It's hot and humid out, folks. Go drink some beer.

But not just any beer -- get thee to the Goose Island Brewpub, 1800 N. Clybourn, at 6 tonight for the exotically named, potentially award-winning Sai-Shan-Tea, which is very much a beer.

It's the product of a collaboration between Goose Island's brewmaster Jared Rouben, tea purveyor extraordinaire Rodrick Markus of the Rare Tea Cellar and Chicagoist's beer connoisseur/food editor Chuck Sudo (whose byline you see from time to time in our food pages).

Rouben has been on a roll with these beer-making collaborations with Chicago chefs, so it was only a matter of time before a tea connoisseur and bearded blogger were added to the mix.

The beer's key ingredient is Markus' Emperor's Lemon Meritage tea. Sudo, who blogged about the whole beer-making process, describes it as a saison that goes down like a shandy.

"We wanted the beer to have a lot of character and weight, but have people coming back for more," Sudo says via e-mail.

Like summer, this stuff is fleeting -- only 40 kegs' worth available, and only at Goose Island Clybourn -- so try Sai-Shan-Tea while you can. While it's hot. And since we're headed for vacation tomorrow and need to have a clear head whilst packing, have some for us, too.

Dancing with the (tea) stars at the Drake

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The Drake Hotel is hosting another tea event this weekend -- with a distinguished guest.

It's an Afternoon Tea Dance & Tea Reading in the hotel's beautiful Palm Court, complete with afternoon tea, live jazz, dancing and, yes, the reading of tea leaves. (Don't know about you, but I could stand a little fortune-telling about now ...)

IMG_0653.jpgWhat makes this event intriguing is the presence of John D. Harney, the master tea blender at Harney & Sons. Harney's story is interesting, having waded into the tea business in his 50s and now offering some of the more interesting blends available (his English Breakfast is delish and will spoil you on all other poseurs).

He'll also be discusisng a new book, The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea, full of good information on how to develop one's palate for tasting the ever-widening offerings of tea the world over.

The event is this Sunday: reading from 3 to 5 p.m., dancing from 4 to 6 p.m., tea service throughout. Cost is $30 per adult.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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