As Indian summer slides headlong into fall (although not without a fight as the last gasps of summer have become blisteringly hot where I live) and the complexion of fruits at the farmers’ markets turn to ocher, deep orange, and dark and inky purple, I reach for grapes of all hues, which are returning to the market in earnest. Among these, I seek the Muscat variety, delicately green, edged with pink or purple, distinguished by both their visual beauty and fruity perfume.
Now, too, tea is more apt to be enjoyed hot, and not on its own, in a glass as the cooler weather returns. For these times, and in preparation for the shortening days of winter ahead, my tea-based cocktail of choice involves a winey Assam, brewed a bit strong, a puree of grapes, a touch of sugar and a splash of good brandy (Cognac if I’m feeling reckless and flush). Unlike most tea toddies, this drink uses not just the juice of the grape, but also spice or lemon, and is spiked with brandy (malt whiskeys would work well here too).
It’s fitting that an Indian tea would be used here as the word “toddy” itself refers to the fermented sap of the palm tree, known as tadi. Toddy shops with palm-thatched roofs dot the roads of many rural – and even urban – towns throughout southwestern India today, filling the coffers of the Kerala state’s government with its monopoly on the sale of alcohol. Though pegged at a mere 8% in palm toddy, it is alcohol – not theine – that fuels these shops, which also serve spicy Keralan curries and snacks.
Forty proof spikes my version. The fruited-tea flavor serves as a backdrop to the Cognac with its warming and soothing personality.
Here’s the recipe:
Good Tea Toddy
4 grams of winey Assam (or other premium whole leaf Indian black tea) brewed in 8 ounces of water
2 ounces Muscat (or other flavorful variety) grapes
1 t. granulated sugar
1 ounce brandy
Brew the tea and set aside. In a small blender, process the grapes, sugar and the brewed tea. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve, pressing hard on the solids. Reserve the liquid; discard the solids. Allow the mixture to settle.
When ready to serve, rewarm the liquid as desired. Pour into a heatproof tumbler. Stir in brandy and serve.