season 2 | ep. 7

tea mixology
101

with Tao Zrafi

Tao Zrafi

steeping together podcast
- season 2 | Ep. 7

tea mixology 101

with Tao Zrafi

Date:
may 2022
Length: 54:32 see all
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episode transcript

Marika de Vienne 0:18

Welcome, everyone to another episode of Steeping Together, the podcast where we explore the vast world of tea over a cup of tea with tea enthusiasts. I'm your tea-obsessed host Marika. And as usual, I am absolutely tickled pink to be here with you today. So let's talk about mixology. The art of combining flavours into one perfect cocktail is a topic that seems to have grown in popular culture a great deal in the past decade. Cocktail recipes were for a time etched in stone, seemingly never changing or evolving, save for a few innovative drinks here and there. Anybody remember the advent of the cosmopolitan? One day it was just suddenly something that everyone had to try. However, if we look at mixology, today, this art form has been completely transformed by the creators, bartenders, and mixologists who have continued to push for constant innovation using ingredients like whole fruits, egg whites, you name it! And of course, tea, just to name a few. As someone who only drinks alcohol on occasion, I find myself completely unequipped to discuss this culinary art form. So in order to delve further into the topic, we have invited Tao Zrafi, noted bartender and mixologist, to find out the secrets behind mixing teas with alcohol. Welcome, Tao!

Tao Zrafi 1:40

Hello, thanks for having me here.

Marika de Vienne 1:41

Hi! Thank you so much for joining us. I am so excited to really dive into it. I have so many questions. But before we do that, Tao would you like to introduce yourself the way you'd like to be introduced?

Tao Zrafi 1:55

Oof, this is not my favourite part. I like when people introduce me, but yeah, so you said my name. I am a bartender, first and foremost. I've been in this industry as a bartender for now over, what, 12 years. I'm used to saying 10 but it's been two years. Oh my god, can we talk about Covid on this?

Marika de Vienne 2:21

I mean, how can we not talk about it? You know, you're in an industry that has had a very difficult two years, very affected by it. So I think to not speak about it and pretend that everything's fine is wrong.

Tao Zrafi 2:35

Because I've been stuck in like, it's been 10 years, right. But the last two years count too, because you know, we're here. But yeah this is what I do. This is my passion. I love anything beverage, not just cocktails, to be honest. So yeah, I've been doing consulting full time for the past four or five years. But back in the day, I would always be behind the bar of a restaurant or something and then doing some menus for places here and there, worked in different cities. But yeah, I've been focusing just on consulting, which is basically creating what we call a bar or beverage program. So depending with the person that I'm working with, it's either they just want like Tao cocktails or they just want me to help them with the stations, any other beverages, non-alcoholic beverages, choice of tea, coffee… I'm a snob for everything good that goes through my mouth. So it became kind of like what I do. Obviously, there are better experts in tea and coffee than me, but I can definitely like make menus, you know, with any type of beverage. So that's what I do. And I'm known for being you know, funky. That's my favourite word, I like funky stuff. I like making funky drinks. You know, using travel and weird ingredients as my main inspiration. And just being outside of the box, very outspoken, very direct, straight to the point.

Marika de Vienne 4:15

Awesome.
You're on the right podcast, my friend, let’s…

Tao Zrafi 4:19

I think that’s why I’m here.

Marika de Vienne 4:21

That's why you're here! I mean, first, you use the word expert, you said you know, there are people who are bigger experts than yourself. I've always taken issue with the word expert. I have been in the tea and spice industry for 20 years, and I'm still a novice. Because to be an expert, the very definition of the word means to understand everything or 90% of the things of one subject. Which in our business, you and I both know, we're gonna die not knowing everything.

Tao Zrafi 4:57

I didn't know that's what the word expert meant.

Marika de Vienne 5:00

Well that the way it's used a lot.

Tao

Isn’t that master?

Marika

A master, yes, is a master…

Tao Zrafi 5:05

I get your point, obviously. I mean, you have to be humble.

Marika de Vienne 5:10

Right? Ah, that's how you're trying.

Tao Zrafi 5:13

Well cause in bartending, you know, we're kind of like the rock stars of the beverage world.

Marika

I like that!

Tao

You know, more than a barista, or a person making you a tea. Do you need some calm today, or do you need to go to work with a nice coffee? Us we’re like… Let’s go! What do you want?

Marika

It’s party time!

Tao

Can we party or just like, decompressing after a day. But yeah, so it's definitely a hard industry and an industry that can bring out a lot of parts of human nature, where we work with public a lot too, we’re not behind the scene. But I think you just have to be humble in any field, knowing that you can always keep learning. So we agree on that.

Marika

Yeah, for sure.

Tao

The use of word expert, it's more in the sense of the pragmatic career, job, transaction, someone is paying you and not the other person.
That’s fair.

Marika de Vienne 6:09

That makes sense. I completely accept that. I'm always happy to define terms because I think words get thrown out far too easily and liberally, that it's like, let's look at what that word means. And so I've always gravitated towards the word enthusiast, nerd, geek, obsessive.

Tao

Got it, got it.

Marika

Like whatever that is, because I think it's truer, at least for me and I speak only for myself, it's truer to my instinct and to continue to learn, because I have a ravenous need to do so. But I am just really happy to already know that there's a kindred spirit here with me today.

Tao

Uh oh!

Marika

No I just feel like you, you take inspiration from a lot of places. That's a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Tao Zrafi 6:57

I do. I think that's why I'm in this industry. I happened upon it by chance, obviously, but I was always into anything art, creativity related since I was a kid. And now beverage just gives me a great opportunity, cocktails in particular, because you know, we gonna talk more about this, but you can be creative with tea, but you can know a lot about tea or be an enthusiast, like you said, without doing anything creative with it.

Marika

Absolutely.

Tao

You know, making a tea, picking it, whatever–obviously, we don't have that in Canada. But let's say in the countries where they do, that's a craft. It's not even craft-slash-art it’s not even a creator. It's just a craft. But now when we talk about like making food or drink, and the past few years, it is mainly a craft, you have to learn certain things, you’re working with your hands. But there is an artistic part about it. And usually I do go sometimes in certain extremes with these kind of discussions, but I felt like now there's a lot of people that are like, No, this is just a craft. And some people are like, No, I'm an artist. And I'm like, I think this one can go under the umbrella of like finding something in the middle, you know, both right?

Marika de Vienne 8:20

So I have never been part of a heated debate of art versus craft, probably because I'm always serving tea. And I'm like, why don't we just take it down a notch?

Tao Zrafi 8:32

Well yeah, and also, when you're serving it, you have to enjoy it, you have to know who made it, you have a passion and interest towards them too, right? But us, we do create stuff, you know, quote unquote, from scratch. Not from scratch, but you know, kind of, so then I can give you something that's delicious. But I can also give you something delicious, that had an idea and a concept in my mind. I'm like, that's why I put these things together. No, just because they work together. So that's where For me there is a middle ground.

Marika de Vienne 9:06

Right, there is a middle ground for sure. Because you have to know your ingredients. You have to know the person that you're serving, to a certain extent. And you have to bring out different flavours to create a whole experience. Yeah, not just a simple taste experience. Oh, I'm tasting orange, oh I'm tasting Cointreau, oh I’m tasting vodka.

Tao

Exact, exact.

Marika

Like how are you creating an all-encompassing experience? Alright, well let's dive in Tao, because… before… I don't really drink a lot of alcohol and it's not anything terribly interesting other than I don't digest it terribly well.

Tao

Yeah, that happens.

Marika

And I have always focused more on tea. It's not even like I don't get it. I get it. But I just don't have a natural inclination.

Tao

You get the draw.

Marika

I get the draw, I know how we're selling the seats for alcohol! The only tea cocktail I've ever really had, was when I was living in China, if you go to a club in China, they will bring you a bottle of whiskey, and a case of premade iced green tea. And you pour half-half into a glass and you drink. That's it. And it is quite possibly the easiest and fastest way to become completely inebriated in less than 10 minutes. Because the iced tea just rolls down your tongue, you don't even realise how much whiskey you're combining. It's not the national drink, but it is certainly the party national drink.

Tao Zrafi 10:33

And it has a sweetener in it?

Marika de Vienne 10:35

Yeah, it's basically an RTD. It's something that you'd buy in a depanneur.

Tao

An iced tea? Like the ones we have in North America.

Marika

An iced tea! Exactly. It's green, specifically, you'll never get it black or polong. And you just mix it with whiskey.

Tao Zrafi 10:51

Got it. Have you tried the Japanese version of that? The Umeshu with oolong.

Marika

I have, I have.

Tao

I think that one really works better.

Marika de Vienne 10:59

It works well. But it's just, I've never… that’s the extent of my knowledge. That's the only reason I'm bringing it up is that is absolutely where my knowledge about combining tea and alcohol begins and ends. And it's a very simple mix. Why would you use tea in a cocktail? Like this is my number one question. And I wanted to give you that background so that you would know that I have a bit of a bias because I'm like, to me, it's about getting drunk, which has never been something that I'm interested in. So why would you use tea in a cocktail?

Tao Zrafi 11:32

Yeah. So you will appreciate this based on what you told me about yourself. I've never drank before I was 23-24. Never, not even a single lick. For many, many reasons. But for me, it was never… I didn't like watching people getting drunk. I was like, there's something there that is enticing about the act of social drinking. I remember when I was a teenager, we used to be so into yeah, going to like electro music venues and you needed to have a bottle service, you know, the table. And there was the trend then, at least in my home country Tunisia, was flavoured vodkas. And I would love to smell them all, like so since that time, I knew that I wanted to do something with my nose and the smell and I would be like, Oh my God, this smells so good. But then I didn't want to try it. So there's already that aspect of it. So when I started making cocktails, like many many other bartenders it was to pay for school. And then I just got into it. I was like, Wow, this ticks so many boxes for me in terms of what a quote unquote job is, for me. Like how I can integrate so many things that I love in my day to day life. Travel, just a love for cooking, a love for hosting. I always worked with people, I worked in hotels, I come from resort town. So yeah, there was never a thing where it was about how to get people drunk, right? To me, that was like the by-product of it and how we can control. So I did take, and I still do take cocktail making very seriously, in my mind, and I just tried to make it about the experience. That's why the art part came into it very easily for me, I didn't feel that I was like, being pretentious. But it just made sense, because I'm like, if we are going to drink a cocktail, well then, and we're going to get all the alcohol, well let's make it worth it. Right?

Marika

Right, right, right.

Tao

Because otherwise, just take a beer and a shot.

Marika

Yeah, yeah, agreed.

Tao

I'll serve you that and sometimes that's all I want. There's days I do want an extra kick–me personally! So maybe you won't, you won't get that part because you would go to tea, but–
So why would I use tea in cocktails? It is a very misunderstood ingredient. Misunderstood just cause I feel that it's not used the right way. Because there's the tea, the leaves, you know, the actual physical thing you can touch, but then the tea drink which has water in it. And those two things are very different if you want to use them in a cocktail, then we can get to that later, but I came to start using tea just because it packs a lot of flavour. For the most part, obviously, there's some that are so subtle and you know, probably you'll be able to tell me more about that. But you know, like, you need to brew them for like, I don't know, 90 seconds at 70 degrees otherwise it's ruined, then you know, and drink it within three minutes and that's it, from a tiny, tiny cup. So you won't, you wouldn't use those. We know that tea is accessible in terms of price. And in terms of availability, especially nowadays. And when I started bartending, DAVIDsTEA was, you know, the big player basically for tea varieties. And for tea beverages, being in Montreal at that time, you know, it’s, this is our brand, this is from here. And I would be just inspired by the blends, actually. And I was like, How can I use this in a cocktail, right without them battling? Because there's certain blends that we would find that are already pack so much punch in flavours, that then, do you really need to add more flavour to it in a cocktail? So anyway, it is kind of easy, but complicated. The way to decipher this is we get back to the craft side of it. You need to know your classics, right? You talked in the introduction about the few cocktails that were set in stone, this and that. So those are the pillars we use. There are certain types of cocktails, you know, there’s most cocktails will be shaken. There’s a reason why we shake some cocktails, some cocktails are stirred. There's a reason why. And there's kind of like base formulas, and you use those like formulas, and then you just twist them. But you need to master them and understand why you need those to create a daiquiri or a margarita. Or why would you make an old fashioned or Manhattan that way. So for most cocktails, there's a balance between sweet and sour, for certain cocktails there's a balance between sweet and bitter. All of that, you always have to take in consideration the alcohol, the burn of the alcohol, the proof of the alcohol. It's the body of the cocktail. But then the most important part that links this to tea, you balance all of that with the dilution, which is water.

Marika

Oh!

Tao

And the dilution comes from your ice cubes. Back in the day with the golden age of cocktails before even they had, we're talking 1860s, where some people started becoming like ice entrepreneurs, big blocks of ice, delivered daily to the bar that would chip it and stuff. Before that there was no ice right? For bars, readily. But you needed dilution. So you would see in old old books like pre-1860, that one of the ingredients is water.

Marika

Right… That works!

Tao

So you need to learn how to balance all of those things. You need water. And there's no like, skinny cocktail, you know? You need, you need sugar. You just need it. I mean, think of any cocktail, they have sugar in it. … Maybe not a martini but…

Marika de Vienne 18:02

Yeah no, as you're saying that – right there's exceptions to everything. But you know, I've never really given any thought to the balance in a cocktail, not because it isn't worthy of study simply because it hasn't been on my radar. But as you were talking, I thought, the things that I think about when I think about a cocktail is cold on my fingers. Very often a kind of stickiness after I've had a few sips? And like you said the sweetness, because the sips or the fruit juice, the juice that will you know, come out of the fruit. Those are the textural sensorial things that I'll feel with the cocktail. And then you said yes, the burn. And then the sweetness and the balance of flavours of the bitterness and any other–the sour. Of course, there. And yeah, water would be the dilution that will bring everything to life, that will let everything breathe. And so if you use tea, instead of water, you're adding another flavour component but allowing the cocktail, can I say to bloom? Because that's the image that I have in my mind.

Tao Zrafi 19:05

You're the tea person, so why wouldn’t you use bloom?

Marika de Vienne 19:08

I'm just making up a word here. I don't know if that's the word.

Tao

I will go for it, yeah. I will sign off on bloom, yeah.

Marika

Thank you. Trademark! That's really fascinating. So you're just substituting a necessary component within the cocktail that you usually find through ice or through water, but an infusion.

Tao Zrafi 19:27

Well you see what’s funny is, this is what you understood and this is because you, you work with tea. And I guess I did a good job explaining that, I didn't think that you will get that because you use the word substituting. Now why we would have bad tea cocktails, it’s some people would make tea, and then they would add it to the cocktail, but then they would add the water still.

Marika

Oh no!

Tao

You see, you said Oh, no!

Yeah it doesn’t make sense.

Marika

Yeah no because then it–it wouldn’t taste like anything!

Tao

So usually when you shake a drink or when you stir it, you roughly add 33% dilution. So you, so let's say you have three ounce of alcohol syrup, lime juice, wherever, you're going to have one ounce of water. So let's say you decided to make a tea version of that cocktail that I just said. It had a booze, it had the sweetener, it had sour, and then you add a tea and then you shook it. Well now you have maybe two ounces of dilution. Well, the balance is off on that base recipe that you used, or that you wanted to follow. Or that someone at home would be like, Oh, this is a recipe for a gin sour. Oh, you know, what would be good gin sour, some Earl Grey tea for example. But then if they just brew it and put it in the shaker and then shake it, that's not how it works. So there is ways, that's where it becomes a craft, you need to understand all of those variables. And you need to be like what's the best way for me to make this into a cocktail?

Marika de Vienne 21:00

I love it because you know, a lot of the times I've had tea infused, name it you know, tea infused cocktails, tea infused beers, tea body products, like beauty products. If it has tea in it, I either buy it for myself or somebody has gifted it to me, right? So… and thing that annoys me the most about all of these products is every time I get a tea candle a tea body cream, a tea beer is that it tastes like lemon. It always tastes like lemon verbena. I don't know when the industry has decided that like white tea tastes like lemon verbena.

Tao

That’s fascinating!

Marika

It just, it happens to me all the time. And I get so frustrated because I know, being a tea drinker, how large this flavour world is. So you just threw out like–put an Earl Grey in a gin sour. I don't, I don't even know what a gin gin sour is, but I'm with you. There's gin and it's sour, so I'm gonna go with that!

Tao

Yeah, it's a good combination.

Marika

It's a good combination. And the Earl Grey is an interesting component because you have a more tannic intensity because of the black tea, I'm assuming you're using a black Earl Grey. And you have the floral aroma of the bergamot that comes in and compensates with everything else.

Tao Zrafi 22:17

Yes. Yeah, citrus is one of the most common ingredients in cocktails in general, in classic cocktails and in any riffs you can do as well. Just something about it that makes it work. I mean, citrus is beautiful on everything right? You know, when you have like grilled fish and it just needs that squirt of lemon?

Marika

Just the lemon!

Tao

You know! Just that will make a difference, right?

Marika

The simple pleasures.

Tao

So yeah, the squeeze in like the oils outside of the peel of a lemon on top of a drink also does the trick, you know? Yeah. So it was just works. So citrus in tea, putting that into a cocktail, one of the easiest things that people can do. Now if you want me I can tell you what the ways can be?

Marika

Yes, please.

Tao

So no matter the tea, okay, then that's another discussion, that's about flavour pairing. That's about the concept, that's about what do you know about that tea, when you tried it in itself? One of the best ways for cocktails would be infusing the tea into one of the alcohol components. So as you know, water can extract flavours, essential oils in teas or in anything. Hot water extracts them differently. Alcohol extracts different molecules that water can never extract.

Marika

Exactly.

Tao Zrafi 23:39

That's the interesting part about this, is the part that you know less about just because you don't drink a lot, but alcohol allows you to extract flavours that water can't, and conserve them. Yeah they stay kind of fixed in there. Yeah, and it has the same variables as water in a sense, like you can over-infuse and you know, you can over-extract, there's that too. That's one way. So take a bottle at home of whatever and infuse it–

Marika

With vodka.

Tao

Yeah with vodka would be the easiest, easiest one. Yeah, and I think it's a great canvas if you have a tea that you really want to showcase. And then instead of brewing the tea as one would, and then adding that tea as an infused water into the cocktail, and losing the balance of your dilution, what you can do with that tea is making into your syrup. Because you need the syrup in the cocktail plus the water dilution. So if you don't want to over-dilute, that's the best way, to use that tea as your sweetener. So you would make your tea, obviously filter it whatever, add your sugar to it.

Marika de Vienne 24:58

Agave, honey, whatever you feel like, yeah.

Tao Zrafi 25:01

Usually we would do you know, part to part in cocktails. That's how you can follow the regular. This is not like “sweetener to taste” type thing. This is not for you to drink it, this need to be a syrup.

Marika de Vienne 25:11

Oh yeah. Right. Like a simple syrup, an intense concentrated syrup.

Tao Zrafi 25:15

One to one, yeah. For the most part. So that's another great way. And then in the middle of all of that there's, this is not to be drank as a tea. So you can over-infuse. Bitterness in cocktail is something we like, it's something we can balance, because as I said cocktail has, it has always a sweetener in them. So you balance sweetness with bitterness, or with acidity, but it's not a bad thing if you over-infuse that tea. That can be like, if you do that, mindfully, you're like, This is what I want, because my cocktail is gonna be balanced that way. That's the right approach. Because otherwise, to be honest, like you said, when you get tea flavoured things, and you mentioned beer, and I love like beer and craft beer, and I love when the brewers tried to put unusual ingredients in them. I think in Quebec, we're very lucky because we don't have all those like European strict rules. We have the craft and the way to make things the right way. And then we added a layer of creativity, shout out to Quebec brewers, they’re really doing a good job. And but some beers, yeah, they leave you craving more, because I get that that person wanted to put something, but they didn't put enough for me. You know, it’s like ooh a whisper of this. And I’m like don’t give me whispers, give me the thing!

Marika de Vienne 26:46

I mean, it depends on how they market it, right? If it's put in as a light component to add another flavour in your drink, fair enough. But if you're gonna call it tea beer, come on. Come on! You gotta give me a little bit more than that.

Tao Zrafi 27:01

Yes, exactly. But again, the tough thing with beer, for example, is like when you make your recipe, you can’t taste it right away.

Marika

Right, yeah you gotta hope.

Tao

Yeah, you have to wait. So the outcome after of like, when you ferment it, it just comes out different. I made beer with some brewers for pop-ups I did before and I was like, I want a more, you know? So only then I realised why the brewers sometimes would make something and then for me would be not strong enough. But yeah, I think with tea, you have to not be shy, you know. And that's why I love working with tea because it's malleable in a cocktail. It's rare that you'll be like, Oh my God, this tastes too much like tea.

Marika

Right, right.

Tao

It’s rare, right? You have to put like a kilogramme in one litre which is impossible. But instead of putting like, I don't know, how much would you put in a regular cup?

Marika de Vienne 28:00

So the rule of thumb is that for about 12 to 16 ounces, you're going to want to put 2.5 grammes. And you're going to steep that anywhere from you know, three to seven minutes depending on what type of tea you're making.

Tao Zrafi 28:16

2.5 grammes of tea ?Okay. So 16 ounces is half a litre. So that will give us like, I don't know, four or five grammes per litre. So when I want to make something tea-based for a cocktail, I would put at least 75 grammes in a litre. Like at least. That’s where I’m starting.

Marika de Vienne 28:43

Okay. And then you'll see if you need to put more after. Is it the same amount? Be it water be alcohol, like if I did it in vodka versus water, am I using about the same proportions?

Tao Zrafi 28:52

I really cannot like give you… there's no rule, like there's no tea cocktails. Like written right now. Like it's, it's me. It's you. It's someone at home, it’s someone at a bar. It's not the same thing. So I can tell you, Okay yeah, try the same, but then you're like, well, thanks Tao for the recipe. I did put more and it was delicious. I'm like, Yep, good. Probably was.

Marika de Vienne 29:19

So it seems like tea in cocktails is still in its infancy in the sense that nothing has been etched in stone. There is no, like you said, there is no tea cocktail out there. That's amazing! You have a freedom to play and to discover and to try a bunch of new things.

Tao Zrafi 29:37

I don't think, I don't think anything should be etched in stone. Aside from those technical things I mentioned that for me, I'm very picky about because we can’t forget that if you're using tea as the infused water, you just can’t use it that way. You can make maybe a tea ice cube and put it in your cocktail and then as it dilutes we'll have some hints of tea.

Marika de Vienne 30:03

I like that though.

Tao Zrafi 30:04

Yeah yeah, it's something that's fun, you know? Very Instagram-friendly. But yeah, either make it into a syrup, either infuse it in your alcohol, you can make a tincture with it.

Marika

A tincture. How do you make a tincture?

Tao

So a tincture, instead of you taking 75 grammes of tea and infuse it in a bottle of vodka, you would take 100 grammes of tea and infuse it in 200 millilitre of vodka, for three weeks.

Marika

Ooohhh.

Tao

And then you will put it in a spray bottle, right? And then you would spray it on top of the drink, so you're gonna get intense aromas, but it will be not drinkable, quote, unquote. It will be too, too bad just to drink. You can’t just add an ounce of that in your cocktail. So tinctures are medicinal originally.

Marika de Vienne 30:58

The first thing I thought of when you said that, and why I kept going oh, oh! To me that sounds like a bitter.

Tao

Yeah!

Marika

Like an aromatic bitter, which is also medicinal in its origin. Why would you spray it versus adding it as a dash of bitters?

Tao Zrafi 31:14

You can, if it's a dash, you can yeah. If it's a dash you can.

Marika de Vienne 31:17

Okay. It's not, the aerosol effect is not of any importance?

Tao Zrafi 31:21

But that would be like, I can imagine now, it'll be on like a eggwhite cocktail on top of the foam. Because it will stay on that foam, so every time you bring your nose, your nose is like getting hit, let's say with that Earl Grey. And what I like to do, I told you I do funky stuff. So I would put a cocktail that has no citrus in it. And then I would hit it with that, Earl Grey bergamot intense spray. So your mind is like where's the citrus from? Like, I like to do something like that!

Marika de Vienne 31:54

That's fantastic. Because what you're, what you're proposing with this cocktail, is that the citrus notes would be entirely captured by your nose as your tongue is tasting the cocktail itself. So your retro-olfactory senses are going to trick your mind into thinking that there is citrus in the drink. You're really giving people a 4k experience here like you're not, shying away from this!

Tao Zrafi 32:21

I like, I like the art of deception with drinks, a lot. A lot.

Marika de Vienne 32:25

It's interesting, because you've posited so many different possibilities, be it you know, make a very, very strong concentrate and use that as your water substitution within your cocktail. You've posited the ice cube thing which I think I'm doing tonight. I'm not putting it on Instagram, but I still use a really cool and funky idea, I like it! You mentioned the infusion with alcohol, which I've only ever done with vanilla bean, I had never considered doing it with tea. That's super exciting. But this tincture part, aside from the time that it takes to make, I feel is almost the easiest way, ironically, to start using tea in your cocktail.

Tao

Hundred percent.

Marika

Because if I had to what we're positing here, is I will have to start from scratch. I will have to get a basic bar at home, I will have to get you know the basic ingredients. And let's say I get like six alcohols, a shaker, and I have my basic fruit juices or whatever it is. But if I have one or two tinctures, I could really start to build a cocktail library that is something to be proud of.

Tao Zrafi 33:31

Yeah, yeah, and you won't need much.

Marika de Vienne 33:35

Yeah I feel like there's an initial learning curve with just making your different, your tincture, your simple syrup, or your concentrate. But after you have those basic recipes down, you can just play!

Tao Zrafi 33:46

Yeah, these three techniques are the easiest. The syrup, you know, you boil water right, with whatever you want in it. Thyme, rosemary, leftover citrus peels, you can boil water with anything. Boiling water and tea is what we do. That's how we make tea. Just filter the leaf and add sugar. Putting the tea in different quantities, either to make a tincture or just an infused vodka or gin in a mason jar, leaving one for one day and the other for three weeks. So it's very easy. You're not doing anything else. I you know, I told you I'm a pretty direct person in terms of what I do, but I don't like the dumbing down of cocktail culture for people. I'm not pro that, I've been contacted by some places like, just make us like simple drinks. Simple, simple is fine. You know, nothing wrong with that. We're not all–this is my job. I know that I can do more than the common person at home and they shouldn't do more than that. That's why I'm here. I want them to come in so I can live and make money right? But we don't need to make it so dumb. Like people make beef wellington at home, you're telling me you know, you can’t make a syrup? Do you feel me though?

Marika de Vienne 35:06

Well–I do! Because what I was about to say is there's a difference between dumbing down and assuming that everyone is dumb. You know, I like what you said like cheat codes where it's like, I've got a tincture, I've got a syrup, I've got a concentrate, and then after that I can play and discover and layer and develop and grow, and all of those wonderful things.

Tao

And it would come easy to you. I mean this is not rocket science.

Marika de Vienne 35:31

No, it's really not. And I spend zero time in the kitchen, just for our listeners to know, I spent zero time in the kitchen. And I understand exactly what you're proposing. And I think we're gonna have to throw up a few recipes, basic concept on the website so that people can get a glance of it. But yeah, I don't see why you have to, I think assuming that people won't understand it is the first step towards just not communicating the amazingness of it, for lack of a better term.

Tao Zrafi 36:00

Yeah, and being–for me that’s being like, arrogant.

Marika de Vienne 36:03

Yeah arrogant and condescending, extremely arrogant and condescending.

Tao Zrafi 36:06

I don't like that part about the craft of our type of jobs, being quote, unquote, like you said, experts, or even geeks or nerds, that's the words you use. You can easily go from being a fun, passionate nerd to an arrogant one just because you think people are at home, or whoever listens to you, are not understanding. Yeah, you spent more time on it. Yeah, this is what I do. But I don't want you to make something boring. This is 2022! We have Google, you can write “how to make this?” And it will give you the dumb recipe. Why would you pay me to give you a dumb recipe? You don't need me for that. You need me to give you the extra one!

Marika

The extra!

Tao

The one that you’re like, yes!

Marika de Vienne 36:57

It’s so funny that at the top of this episode, I said you know, Tao’s gonna explain to us, you know, how to use tea in cocktails. And you've done that, like there’s no doubt in my mind that that is exactly what's happening. But I feel that the doors that you have opened are so–like my head hurts in the best possible way, in the best possible way! My, my neurons are firing faster than I can process the information. Because I don't know if this is how most people feel when we talk about tea in this office. But I feel like the possibilities here are endless! This is so exciting.

Tao

I need to come back for Season 3.

Marika

That’s what I was gonna say! You gotta come back for the next season. I'm not joking, because I feel like I've never thought–not that I didn't think that you know, bartending was a job or that mixology wasn't an art, I just don't think I understood the depth of work in the balance of flavour and texture and equilibrium and sensation. You have to bring everything in that one cup, and I think that's one of one of the things that our two industries have in common is that, at the end of the day, that cup has got to sell like that cup’s got to, and not sell in the capitalist sense but be appreciated by the person who's drinking it.

Tao Zrafi 38:18

All this stock, all this work. That’s the cup, after. At a certain point, if you come to me at my bar or even at my home, you can, I'm not even gonna think it's disrespect. You can not care about the process. You just want me to–that's my job. I personally, that's the thing.

Marika de Vienne 38:37

I completely agree. I don't need people to watch me do the Gong Fu ceremony. I need them to enjoy the cup, I need them to enjoy the tea. I'm going to, I'm going to put a pin in it. Or else I feel like I am going to keep talking. I have so many more questions. And yes, if you're willing to come back, please do, because like!

Tao Zrafi 38:54

We'll give it a period and we'll come back and see where we are.

Marika de Vienne 38:57

And see where we are. But I think we will throw a lot of things up on the website just because I think they're interesting and should be shared. I'm going to keep drinking my Blood Orange Boost, we're going to take a break and we'll be right back.

Tao Zrafi 39:09

Cool. Awesome.

AD BREAK 39:12

Today's episode of Steeping Together is brought to you by Blood Orange Boost. Been stuck on the same task for hours? Struggling to finish your uh… This juicy citrus blend is the go-to tea for when you have to get on with the rest of your day and your brain just don't want to think good. Is it because of the caffeine, you ask? No, not at all. This tea actually has very little caffeine. Instead, the brain-boosting power comes from a combination of rosemary and olive leaf, both known for their memory retention properties and a naturally occurring amino acid that helps promote focus and clarity of thought. Actually, gamma and [mumbling, clears throat], gamma-Amino…butyric acid to be more exact. Wow. Yeah, I'm gonna need a whole pot of tea to remember that one. Blood Orange Boost, giving you the focus to learn how to say gamma-aminobutyric acid.

Marika de Vienne 40:10

Welcome back, it's time to play “What Are You Drinking?” the quiz where we ask our guests three situational questions, some realistic, some completely out there and they have to use all their experience and expertise to tell us what they would drink in any one of these situations. Tao are you ready to play “What Are You Drinking”?

Tao

Yes, yes, I am.

Marika

I really did make it sound like you're on a quiz show. I tried to, I tried to bring that energy to it. And typically, most of our guests answer with tea. Feel free to answer with tea, but I feel like that would be limiting or somewhat muzzling the beverage lover that you truly are.

Tao Zrafi 40:50

I feel nervous, like a real game show! But I'm gonna, yeah I'm gonna say what I feel like.

Marika de Vienne 40:57

Okay, here we go. Question one. You've just decided that today is the day you are going to finish that project you have been putting off for ages, you are going to need all of your motivation, your energy, your creativity to accomplish this task. What are you drinking?

Tao Zrafi 41:16

Whoa. So I tend to multi drink when I have that vibe.

Marika de Vienne 41:22

Like a longer term project.

Tao Zrafi 41:24

Yeah. I’m like today, like, this is a big deal. This situation you said it's a big deal, it's gonna take a few hours and I'm gonna need, not just energy or caffeine or whatever. I'm gonna need the mental booster. Something that also gets me in a vibe? I'm gonna choose the music to go with it, something like that. So I would say, Oh, very interesting. I would say I will make some sort of twist on a Mezcal Negroni, to be honest.

Marika de Vienne 42:03

I love Mezcal. And I do love a good Negroni. So that sounds intriguing.

Tao Zrafi 42:08

Yeah. And I will follow it with a couple of those special beers that I have in the fridge that I'm I'm waiting to drink on, you know, but probably something very hoppy but refreshing. So I can like keep going back to it. But I would see myself if I would start this early. So around noon or something I will make, I will make a sweetened like lapsang souchong coconut latte.

Marika

Yes! On board! Sorry!

Tao Zrafi 42:50

Yeah. Cuz that's gonna be like, well, this is not a regular day. You don't go to your little coffee shop and be like, Yeah, I want a lapsang souchong with this sweetener, with coconut milk in a big big cup! Because it needs to last me a couple of hours so I can get to drinking after right? Well, that's why I'm following it with the smoke too of the mezcal and stuff. But I would do that at the beginning of the day.

Marika de Vienne 43:15

That's awesome. Okay, first of all, I said ”What are you drinking?” and you name three things? Yeah, like you're already…!

Tao

Yeah! Yeah.

Marika

But you, the length of the project is the length of the project. What's interesting to me in your answer, and I love this is why I love asking these questions because you learn so much about people's choices in those moments.

Tao

Yeah that’s true.

Marika

You’ve got this big project, you've really got to hunker down and you are continuing to stimulate yourself with different flavours, different inspirations. You're going into your reserve of beers, like there's a whole event linked to this. Where as you said, a lot of people, their inclination is I'm going to get a matcha or I'm going to get a coffee and I'm just gonna power through!

Tao

Yeah, yeah!

Marika

But you're really going to put yourself in the headspace through your beverages, to accomplish this task.

Tao Zrafi 44:05

Yeah, caffeine just has a, not to say limited but you only can go this much. I love love love coffee. I'm a snob about it. I love just–for me a perfect pulled espresso, it's like.. Llike when I go to places where they don't have like real good espresso. I would be miserable. So I love travel, I love being you know, in weird places, but I need me that good–

Marika

That good coffee..?

Tao

Oh my god. When I went to India, everyone's like Tao get ready. And I’m like, watch me go. I discovered this culture of third wave coffee. I mean, India has the terrain and temperature to have beautiful coffee plantations and beautiful coffee snobs that made me amazing espresso. So that's the kind of traveller I am.

Marika de Vienne 45:00

I am the same very much in the sense that I will find that good cup of tea. I mean, I'd rather drink a bad cup of coffee than a bad cup of tea. I'll drink a bad coffee. I do it, I do it regularly. But I'd rather have bad coffee than bad tea. Like if I have to make a choice.

Tao Zrafi 45:18

I see. So when I drink bad coffee, I'm like weeping at the same time.

Marika de Vienne 45:22

That’s how I am with tea, I'm just like, why is any of this happening to me?

Tao Zrafi 45:27

And I can go like, a whole day without coffee. I'm not that type of person. And I only drink two. Max. So the caffeine for me. It's like, I love it and stuff and I need it and I crave it, but I don't drink Redbull I don't drink energy drinks, even if natural ones. I don't drink that. So, but I like drinking. And I need different things to keep stimulating me and that's why I gave you all those.

Marika de Vienne 45:53

I love that, your inspiration comes from the variety and not from a need to produce an energy.

Tao Zrafi 46:01

Yeah. Because then I'll be just shaky. I’ll have a panic attack and then I'll be like, No, I'm not working on it today! Legit, yeah.

Marika de Vienne 46:07

It's true. It's true. Oh, I love it. Okay, we're gonna go to question two. Question two: Summer is coming to an end, but you managed to find the time for one last weekend camping trip. It's a beautiful evening with a crackling fire, s’mores, the whole deal, and a star-filled sky. What are you drinking?

Tao Zrafi 46:28

Again, this is not gonna be one thing, because I mean, oh, man! Last weekend of summer in the forest. That's an amazing thing. I'm thinking about food a lot right now, what I would eat, but I would probably bring a pre-batched bottle of one of my favourite cocktail that I bring to friends. It's a clarified milk punch that has the Milk Oolong from DAVIDsTEA, actually.

Marika

Oh, yeah.

Tao

And it has fig jam, honey, sapote, and goat's milk.

Marika

[Whistles].

Tao

And you mix it with whatever booze you want. So we will have Mezcal, gin, whatever. And I would have this mix already prepared and bottled and you would pour your booze and we would pour this mix on top. So you do a couple of those and then a bottle of very, very funky barnyard the orange wine. Yes. But I will invent any excuse to drink Barnyard–

Marika

To drink orange wine.

Tao

The orange wine. So this is the first week of fall. Why would you drink you're in the city, in traffic! Well, I mean, not in traffic. I don't even have a car, so I'll be drinking you know, orange wine any time.

Marika de Vienne 47:42

I've recently discovered orange wine. I have to say I'm intrigued. I picked up the book Amber on orange wine because I want to read up on it more before I continue! But I agree with you, from what I have tasted it does seem like it's a one size fits all kind of drink where it kind of doesn't matter the situation you’re in…

Tao

For me, yeah!

Marika

No it goes down, it goes down very very easily! The first drink you described however, sounds like mellow comfort to me. What you were describing was a drink that, A– I think you're camping with friends. I didn't state that in the question but like you said you're making it for your friends. This is not a drink that you're having alone… Maybe you are!

Zrafi 48:24

Uh… No no no, just me, actually this is the reason why I said the word friends. Yeah, my friend always demand this for me as their Christmas gift for themselves.

Marika de Vienne 48:33

I can absolutely see that because what I felt as you were describing the ingredients was just, everybody take it down, enjoy yourself, savour this moment. No stress.

Tao Zrafi 48:46

Yeah! With your favourite booze.

Marika

With your favourite booze.

Tao

Yeah, like so I make that batch and then you put whatever you want, so it's catered to you and it has yeah I mean, honey, milk. Milk and honey. Figs.

Marika de Vienne 49:02

Yeah, there’s nothing not to like there.

Tao Zrafi 49:05

Oolong? Oolong is my jam, to the listeners regarding this is a tea podcast after all. Oolong is my one tea love that is just…

Marika de Vienne 49:15

They think we're gonna we set this up, I have said on this podcast and many times before oolong is absolutely my favourite category of all time.

Tao

Oh we didn’t set it up, no no no no. Oolong is the “bleep”!

Marika

Oolong is everything.

Tao Zrafi 49:25

Oolong.

Marika

Oolong!

Tao

Go oolong! No, I love it. What like, this is a crazy tea category.

Marika de Vienne 49:35

Absolutely. It's such a wonderous tea category.

Tao Zrafi 49:37

And I love that you can like keep brewing it and stuff. Wow. When I learned that I was like, this is the perfect tea.

Marika de Vienne 49:44

I'll never get enough oolong. I'll never get enough oolong. But let's go to the third question. So this is our first listener question that we've received, from Marybeth Winter. Thank you Marybeth! if you were stranded on a desert island, and you could only bring three teas, what would they be? Because of the nature of your work, we can substitute for alcohol or any other ingredients. But we have to assume that you have all the equipment to make what you'll be consuming. This is the caveat, you can make whatever you want. But if you only had three teas or three drinks, like what are you bringing with you?

Tao Zrafi 50:22

I mean, I'm gonna just basically say some of the same stuff that I said in the other answers, it will be specifically the Milk Oolong because it has some extra flavour to it, and it works well by itself. Cold, sweetened, in cocktails. I would bring that… I would bring orange wine. I would bring, I would bring beer, or really good tea-infused beer. Because I really love tea flavoured things, I just need them to be out there. But I would be happy with those things. Weirdly enough, even if I didn't have coffee. There's something about tropical islands that… I love coffee and I want it every day, like same thing when I went to Southeast Asia, I would try to track the good coffee places. But if I'm on an island, I'm not thinking, like I'm not needing that. So I feel that the oolong, beer for during the day, and orange wine for when we have a fire and we need to make sure that we're not being eaten by wild animals and hoping for the next day. Because I'm thinking survival mode here, you know?

Marika de Vienne 51:54

Yeah absolutely, I love it! I love it. It's fascinating how, you know, how many beverages have entered into your life. How you continue to seek out these new and different beverages. I'm absolutely fascinated by it. I'm completely grateful that you joined us today to talk about all of these things. And thank you, for listening to today's episode. If you would like to reach us with comments, questions or suggestions for the “What Are You Drinking?” game, you can do so at steeping.together@davidstea.com or through our website at davidstea.com. Tao, if people want to know more about you or follow you on any social media platform, plug away. Let us know, because you're an interesting guy! I want, I want more!

Tao Zrafi 52:41

Yeah, well, first of all, thanks for having me here. This is my first ever podcast so it's really dope. Yeah, right now with what we know happening in the industry, so I'm not behind a specific bar. We'll see how things turn out. People can follow me on Instagram. Just write Tao Zrafi, it's @travelingbartenders, but travelling with one L! There's another couple that are travelling bartenders too on Instagram. We talked between each other we're like hey, do you want to give me the name, like nope!

Marika

So I will go with the misspelled one, that’s why!

Tao

Exactly. English is my third language after all so I was like eh, this works. So yeah, follow me there I'm gonna work on some things for this winter. I do have something you know pretty big and amazing coming up in the fall that I cannot talk about now. Hopefully that will bring more of what I do to the masses as well, once this project comes out, so follow that and… And please like anyone who wants any questions, any recipes, ideas, how to, don't hesitate, this is what I do. I love sharing good drinking with people and yeah! Well I guess we'll see you next time, we'll have to come back, see what – I’m very intrigued about what people are gonna tell you about the drinks.

Marika de Vienne 54:07

Right, yeah, I am as well. Yeah. All and any feedback is appreciated because we crammed a lot into today's episode, but there's a lot to continue discovering and I'm really excited for next steps.

Tao

Yeah we did, me too.

Marika

Alright, well have a great week and happy steeping everyone!

Tao Zrafi

Tao Zrafi

about the guest

Tao Zrafi is a mixologist, bar program consultant and globetrotter. If you’ve ever been to any of Montreal’s popular cocktail bars, then odds are you’ve probably tasted one of Tao’s concoctions. After moving to Canada from Tunisia at the age of 20, Tao made a life-changing decision to test his luck in the bar industry, something entirely new to him by the way! He never even had a sip of alcohol until he was 23… but he quickly became fascinated by the art of mixology. Tao worked at various restaurants and bars across North America and even entered numerous competitions. He eventually started making a name for himself and found his unique style that resonated with the masses. Unfortunately, restrictions implemented throughout the pandemic put a hold on his plans but that didn’t stop him from making new ones. Instead, Tao focused on consulting, sharing his knowledge, launching pop-up shops, and planning his lifelong goal of creating his own funky bar project. And so, he did! Keep your eyes (and taste buds) open for what Tao has in store next…

Here are three recipes featured in this week’s episode, courtesy of Tao Zrafi.

Tea-Infused Spirit:
In a jar, pour 750 ml of your fave spirit beverage, add 50 g of your desired tea, seal the jar, shake and let infuse anywhere from 1 to 3 days.

Tea Tincture:
In a jar, pour 250 ml of neutral spirit such as vodka or overproof rum, add 75 g of your desired tea, seal, shake and let infuse anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks.

Basic Sour Recipe:
2 oz base spirit
0.75 oz sweetener
0.75 oz lemon or lime juice
Want froth? Add 0.75 oz of liquid egg white
In the shaker, add a dash or two of tincture, or spray over the foam once the drink settles in your glass.

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