It’s all about layers,” Erik Eastman tells me. “It should taste complex without being complicated.”
Director of sales for Minnesota Ice and proprietor of Easy & Company, Eastman knows a thing or two about mixing a cocktail. But he’s received tons of great feedback lately—through social media and at a meeting of the Sunday Sober Supper series—for something zero-proof.
His “tea gimlet” is an easy formula for creating next-level non-alcoholic cocktails. It’s also endlessly customizable—Eastman walks us through the steps with a few pointers on each component:
Basic building blocks:
2 parts strong tea
1 part citrus juice
½ part sugar (or more, to taste)
The Tea: “The tea is the stand-in for the spirit, so it has to be flavorful.” Eastman recommends starting with your favorite teas and the best quality versions you have. Go to a specialty tea retailer and look for something bold and vibrant—no sleepytime chamomiles, if you please.
(That’s not to say floral teas can’t work, but get something more lively. Rosehip tea makes a powerful bouquet when steeped for a long time, same with rooibos and hibiscus.)
The key with the tea: steep it for a lot longer than you would if you were just making a cup. It’s going to be diluted with other ingredients and shaken over ice, so you need to extract all the flavor and tannin you can. (It shouldn’t be unbearably bitter, but some teas can handle up to an hour-long steep for this process.) Chill before using.
The Sugar: Make a 2:1 sugar syrup of some kind. When you select your sugar, note that there’s an obvious place to start: “Honey and tea are best friends,” Eastman says, “and there are so many different honeys you can use.” A deep basswood honey with grapefruit juice is one of his favorite combos.
You might normally boil your sugar with water for a cocktail syrup. But use this step as an opportunity to inject another layer of flavor into your NA drink. Mix your honey on a low blender with something other than water (juices work great—orange, grapefruit, white grape, etc.) Just don’t boil your citrus.
If you do go the white sugar route, add some whole spices during the boil to complement the flavors of the tea.
The Citrus: Juice a bunch of standard lemon or lime juice, but think about layering flavor here, too. For a more dynamic lime juice, swap in lemon for one-quarter of the volume (and vice versa). Or swap in variety citrus when you can find it (Meyer lemon, yuzu, sudachi, etc.) You can also add a pinch of a high-quality vinegar in your citrus mix.
The Method: Shake all ingredients over ice. Taste and adjust sugar and citrus levels if necessary. Strain into a cocktail glass.