I had always hoped that high tea would catch on in America the way it’s revered in the U.K.: English tea served in a pretty cup flocked by diminutive sandwiches, scones, and clotted cream. But it wasn’t until college when I was working in a tea house that realized that I could begin my own ritual of taking tea whenever and however often I wanted. Eureka! The endless imaginary tea parties of my childhood finally came alive.
Now, teatime is an essential daily practice in my house. In winter, I punctuate my day by filling my cup. I have a hard time staying hydrated during the cold months, so I constantly have the kettle going. Now that it’s officially spring, I sip tea to take the chill out of the air. I take it with breakfast sitting quietly in the kitchen, refill between sessions on the computer or phone, and – my very favorite – tea in the afternoon when I start to get that “how could I possibly survive until dinner?” feeling.
I oscillate between perky peppermint blends and bold blacks, sometimes with milk or honey or both. And when I have company in the afternoon, I love to break out the botanicals and customize a hot toddy for the occasion – I’ll take any excuse to have a tea party. The beauty of the toddy is its simplicity. Choose a base spirit, such as rum, whiskey, scotch, or cordial, add a sweetening agent and hot water, and you’ve got a deliciously warming libation.
On one recent, particular blustery day, when my dear pal Anna Beckman was coming over for tea, our mission was twofold: arrive at a botanical toddy recipe perfect for daytime sipping that would also pair well with an Italian-inspired cookie recipe she was working on. A brilliant graphic designer, Anna stumbled upon her dream project when she decided to open Star Street Party Co. here in Rhode Island. The bakery specializes in gluten-free amaretti cookies made with almond flour that (currently) come in two varieties – cardamom-rose and lavender-lemon. These perfectly chewy cookies are delightful on their own or paired with a hot beverage. (I’ve got her on speed dial for next time I’m planning a baby shower or bachelorette party.)
After some taste testing, we arrived at our final recipe for the Ruby Tea Toddy, a luxurious pink tea brewed with equal parts dried hibiscus, lavender, and chamomile blossoms and spiked with a healthy dose of Amaro Nonino Quintessentia. The liqueur, from the Friuli region of Italy, is silky and bittersweet. Made from grape brandy infused with a secret blend of aromatics including citrus peels, spices, bark, flowers, and herbs, it’s aged in oak barrels and sweetened with sugar.
The true alchemy of the Ruby Tea Toddy is that the aromatics of the amaro fortify the floral botanicals of the tea: Lush hibiscus notes pop with the astringency of orange peel; lavender tempers the sweet essence of mint leaf and chamomile with a most sensual balance, a light herbal smack to the palate. This tipsy tea is a botanical daydream. It’s the perfect libation for inviting your gal pals over. Assemble a sumptuous snack to celebrate one another, as well as your daily feats, flops, and the pleasures of everyday.
Ruby Tea Toddy with Amaro
makes 4 drinks
1 tablespoon dried loose hibiscus flowers*
1 tablespoon dried chamomile blossoms (or 1 teabag)
1 tablespoon dried lavender blossoms
4 ounces Amaro Nonino Quintessentia
Bring the kettle to a boil and pour water over the blend of dried blossoms. Steep for 5 minutes. Add one ounce of amaro to each tea cup. Pour the strained tea into each cup.
*Bartender’s note: You can find dried botanical ingredients at your local herb shop, such as Gather Herbs in Newport or Farmacy Herbs in Providence or order in bulk online from Mountain Rose Herbs.
Photos by Willa Van Nostrand. Thank you Anna for sharing your delicious amaretti!
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