You might drink tea throughout the day and keep dozens of varieties stashed in your cabinet. You might drink Cognac exclusively after dinner and display one prized bottle on your bar cart. You might pour a special type of tea or Cognac — or both — for a fancy occasion or holiday.
On the surface, tea and Cognac aren’t the most natural of pairings. And though it might seem like these two drinks share nothing in common, there’s a more interesting connection when you look a little closer. Just in time for Lunar New Year celebrations, we’re diving deeper into that backstory. You’ll find something surprising about each drink, whether you sip them together or apart.
Back to the start: from France to China
Like so many carefully crafted beverages, Cognac and tea have an intriguing origin story. Cognac is a tawny reflection of the French countryside, spanning from the edges of the Charente River in southwestern France to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Artisans have refined Cognac to become a liquid representation of their local terroir. Each of the six Cognac producing crus (growing regions) pays homage to the base of Cognac, ugni blanc grapes. The most famous crus are Grande Champagne and its neighbor, Petite Champagne. Their premium, chalky soils produce Cognacs, like Rémy Martin, that are renowned for their clarity of flavor. Rémy Martin is the only major Cognac house specializing exclusively in Cognac Fine Champagne, a blend from the most sought-after vineyards in the heart of the Cognac region of France: Petite and Grande Champagne.
Across the world in Asia, the story of tea is also one rich in geography. Although all teas originate from the same plant — a flowering beauty named camellia sinensis — its two types can be made into distinctly different styles. Camellia sinesis comes from the cool slopes at the edge of China and Burma, while its relative Camellia senesis assamica thrives in Assam, India. Most Chinese and Japanese teas, plus Darjeeling, come from the former strain, while pu-erh and assam tea are from the latter.
Craftsmanship to the next level
Both beverages are made with an extraordinary attention to detail. To be classified as a Cognac (and not a brandy), a spirit must first be double distilled. Makers use wild yeasts to ferment grapes, and only the “hearts” (the most aromatic sections of the distilled liquid) help create the final Cognac. During the aging process, distillers use oak barrels from France’s Limousin or Tronçais forests. Rémy Martin’s process is unique, as their barrels are made exclusively from trees grown in the exceptional Limousin forest that are more than a century old and that give the Cognac a vanilla-esque finish.
Since 1936, the boundaries of Cognac quality have been ensured by the AOC system, heavy on the nuances of the production. To earn the distinction as a “Fine Champagne Cognac,” Rémy Martin XO Fine Champagne Cognac features grapes from France’s Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne regions, with at least half of the grapes originating in Grande Champagne. This XO expression is a blend of up to 400 exceptional eaux-de-vie (“water of life,” or colorless brandy), selected for their aging potential. The eaux-de-vie, ultimately placed in Rémy Martin’s unique aging barrels, are as opulent as the name sounds. They carry aromas of late summer fruits combined with a range of floral scents, and notes of juicy plums, candied oranges, cinnamon, and hazelnuts.
Like Cognac, quality teas require excellent raw ingredients, then expert rituals of drying and fermenting leaves. Oxidation levels, heat, moisture: each of these factors shape the taste of tea in your cup. Just in the green tea category, some types are gently steamed, whereas others are pulverized into soft powder. The final shades of the brewed tea range anywhere from glassy jade to creamy pistachio, and the variations go on and on.
Oolong teas, which are a roasted bronze color not unlike Cognac, also range in style. Oxidation levels vary greatly (anywhere from 8 to 85 percent), but so do the tea leaves and how they’re handled. Flavorful oolongs tell stories about where they originate, too. The Wuyi mountains of Fujian, China, for example, birth teas like da hong pao (meaning “big red robe”) with a lingering sweetness and bold brick color. Tieguanyin (“goddess of mercy”) from Fujian’s Anxi region, on the other hand, has evolved recently to be gentler than other oolongs, with more floral notes akin to a green tea.
The rituals of consumption
The way we enjoy both Cognac and tea are just as thoughtful as the craftsmanship behind each. The tulip glasses used for Cognac have curves that help waft aromatics toward the drinker’s nose. The rituals of enjoying Cognac are also surprisingly versatile. Serve it neat as an aperitif, or add a drop of water to encourage a greater aroma. With a meal, try it over ice cubes to lighten the bite and showcase the spirit’s depths as the ice melts.
Similarly, the ways we drink and serve tea are just as important. Oolong teas are generally used in Chinese gongfu cha rituals: a dance of clay, water, and heat. Every step in the ritual holds a specific purpose: the teapots are warmed gently with hot water to ready the clay, and the leaves are rinsed to remove impurities before steeping. It’s a sensory, mindful experience, but one that’s steeped in an appreciation of the past. It’s centuries of knowledge distilled into a cup.
How to bring both together for any occasion, big or small? Any which way you want: together, the elegance of Cognac and tea can make any meal extraordinary. Begin your dinner with Cognac to kickstart your palate, and unwind with tea at the end. Go for a flight of teas, and follow it with a chilled Cognac as the last digestif. Or better yet, experiment with a new drink recipe.
Rémy Martin has created a series of cocktails featuring tea and Cognac (ironically, highlighting the “XO” variety for the Year of the Ox). And to level up the barware, the brand has created a custom Rémy Martin XO High Tea Set, available on ReserveBar, as a precious keepsake. Whatever your reason for opening a bottle of Cognac or brewing a cup of tea, you’ll find something to celebrate in the ritual. Here’s to a lucky year ahead.