The origin of the name for punch may be somewhat in doubt – some say it comes from the Hindi for “five” since the drink consisted of five main ingredients, while others surmise it is a short version of the word “puncheon,” a cask for liquor or the tool used to stamp the name of the cask’s contents. However, what is certain is that over its long history from at least as early as the 17th Century, this thirst-quenching, complexly flavored, and balanced drink has proven to be a perennial favorite, although its popularity was somewhat usurped by the cocktail in the 19th Century.
With tea as part of the mix (a traditional element in the earliest recorded versions of punch), you cannot go wrong when it comes to crafting an eminently quaffable and delicious summertime beverage. Whether you make it with or without the booze is up to you, but the main elements are properly brewed tea (I like black teas for the base) enhanced by what seems like an orchard-full of sliced and pitted stone fruits, such as peaches, plums, and nectarines, and zested up with some slices of citrus fruit (mainly oranges with an accent of lemon or lime). I like to think of it as a kind of sangria based on tea rather than wine. Iced or hot depends on the current weather. I find that Chinese black teas, such as Keemun and Yunnan, add a nice round, slightly smoky note to the drink. If you wish to spike your version as I do, a medium-dry champagne and a small slug of good Cognac would be my choice of alcohol right about now.
To sweeten the drink, you will need some simple syrup on hand (equal parts of granulated sugar and water brought to the boil so that the sugar is fully dissolved). This can be prepared in advance and allowed to chill before using.
Here’s a rough recipe for the punch:
Yield: Serves 6 in tall glasses, half filled with ice.
1 quart brewed black tea (best cold brewed by steeping tea leaves in good filtered water overnight in the refrigerator) at the rate of 4 grams of tea per 2 cups of water
2 large red-fleshed plums, pitted and sliced (Satsuma and Elephant Heart are two varieties that come to mind)
2 large highly aromatic yellow-fleshed peaches, pitted and sliced (or 1 peach and 1 nectarine, as desired)
3 oranges, thinly sliced
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 lime, thinly sliced
Use the following as your taste and glass size dictate:
2 cups (approximate) medium-dry champagne, chilled
¼ cup (approximate) Cognac
Simple syrup to taste
Garnishes: A few additional fruits as used above, sliced and pitted
Brew the tea. Add the fruits and allow the mixture to steep overnight. The next day, pour the mixture through a fine meshed sieve, pressing hard on the solids, and then divide the resulting liquid into 6 glasses, each half filled with ice cubes. Top off each glass with champagne, Cognac, and simple syrup to taste. Garnish with a few slices of freshly cut stone fruit and slivers of orange, lemon, and lime, as desired.