Some of you may have noticed this small but chic trend recently being trialed in the American craft brewing community and may have wondered more about it. Maybe you thought it was just another gimmick to attract market share… Rest-assured, readers, tea infused beer is not just another gimmick, in fact, many of the far east countries such as India, China, Japan, and Tibet have brewing traditions involving tea infusion going back thousands of years. Chamomile being one of the most popular, leaves and flowers traditionally used to make tea have also long been used to impart flavors into the indigenous beverages being brewed, especially meads and fermented grains. For more information, you can read about the Himalayan Tongba ales made of millet and tea that are even consumed in a similar manner as tea.
But what kind of tea? What kind of beer? How much to add per gallon? After consulting a friend who works at a local tea shop (he’s as into tea as much as I’m into beer) I was taught on many types of tea, and most importantly, what type of beer flavors would complement those teas. We will not be looking at doing flavored teas for this experiment, mostly because I believe that if you’re going to infuse flavor of tea into a beer, then you may as well start with good tea instead of poorer grades that have to be flavored before they are drinkable.
So to answer our first question: Which type of tea? After talking with my friend, we decided to try for darker teas paired with darker beers (mostly because darker teas tend to have less bitter tannin than do green teas). Not surprisingly, a lot of the flavors you get from darker teas would end up melding very well into brown and dark colored beers. We ran the gamut from sweet and bready, to robust and nutty, to pleasant and fishy all the way to subtle and earthy. In the end, we picked a dark Oolong that we thought would pair exceptionally well with a dry Irish stout and have decided to further experiment with the Earl Grey in a classic English Brown Ale; mostly because it sounds too tempting to pass up. Look for a follow up post in the next few weeks as I teach my tea friend the ways of making beer so that we may come to an ideal method for properly infusing the flavors of tea into beer.