As the weather warms, a tea-drinker's fancy turns not just to flavor but to refreshment. Luckily, unique and enchanting carbonated teas have begun to flow from top taps around the nation. Whether it's tea that's simply fizzed, or tea pre-infused with hops or other botanicals, these drinks are a far cry from bubble tea of the '90s. This is sparkling tea; artisan fizz at its finest.
"Tea is this really lovely base, and is something that I have always been a big fan of," says 2015 United States Barista Champion Charles Babinski, co-founder of Los Angeles' G&B and Go Get Em Tiger coffee shops. G&B's popular Fizzy Hoppy Tea infuses Citra hops into round, full-flavored Yunnan red tea. Babinski serves it on tap, carbonated and cool.
"It's daytime beer ... " - Charles Babinski, G&B Coffee
The genesis of the idea—which started while Babinski was tinkering with carbonating teas during his tenure at Intelligentsia's Venice, California cafe—actually came from IPAs. Babinski and partner Kyle Glanville were drawn to the clean, refreshing expressions of hops found in beers like Alpine Beer Company's Nelson and Three Floyds' Zombie Dust. "It's not like the super hopocalypse or whatever," stresses Babinski. "It's like, oh, this is kind of piney, or this is really complex, tropical. So the thought came of, let's try to do something that grasps these things."
"We think about tea in terms of simple flavors," continues Babinski. "Like a black tea tastes like that sort of oxidized, extracty black tea flavor, green tea tastes grassy. And in reality there are much more interesting qualities out there, whether it's something like a Dan Cong oolong, which is super aromatic with tropical fruits, or a Yunnan black tea, which is going to have this big jammy round peachy sweetness to it. The hoppy tea was born as a way to work with our interest in hop flavor, but also teas. Also, carbonating anything makes it better."
Kilogram Tea's Doug Palas, whose sparkling teas are available on a rotating basis at Intelligentsia's Wicker Park location in Chicago (Kilogram is an offshoot of Intelligentsia), has experimented with carbonating a wide variety of tea styles.
"The teas that I find best tend to be things that are pretty low astringency, with a good amount of amino acids," says Palas. "The globe-shaped oolongs work really well, white tea works really well, and certain Japanese green teas work quite well, as well as some China black teas."
As Western tea culture continues to remain firmly enmeshed with specialty coffee, it's no surprise that artisanal sparkling tea is being embraced by finer coffee shops from coast to coast, many of which are developing the drink for both tap service and ready-to-drink bottles. Look for a wider release of fizzed teas, both hopped and un-hopped, to come from cafes and coffee roasters above and below the Canadian border by summertime.
Where To Drink Fizzy Tea
Fizzy Hoppy Tea
G&B, Los Angeles
Cold-brewed tea and hot-brewed hops are carbonated here and served cold, revealing a sparkly, lively tea drink with great dimension. "It's daytime beer," says co-founder Charles Babinski. "It has all the best qualities of a beer without the alcohol ... which I guess is maybe the best quality for a lot of people."
Intelligentsia, Wicker Park, Chicago
Intelligentsia in Wicker Park offers rotating selections of sparkling Kilogram tea served on tap, cold-brewed and pressurized with CO2 onsite. Try sparkling renditions of Iron Goddess of Mercy, White Peony, Golden Needles, Turmeric Tonic, or whatever the house has selected.
Quaff the latest fruit-infused sparkly tea concoction or "composed drink" at this Louisville brunch-beer-hotel-cafe, like the Ginger Plum Tea Soda or a Hop and Green Tea Soda infused with Green Needles tea. Gralehaus uses Kilogram-brand teas, pairing flavors like green tea with fruit and citrus, for a refreshing fizz-buzz. Right now drop by to try the smoked Arnold Palmer featuring keemun mao feng tea with house-smoked lemonade and preserved lemon.
PublicUs, Las Vegas
This brand new Las Vegas restaurant and coffeehouse in Fremont serves a variety of in-season teas—some of them even brewed with hops—as well as a sparkling selection prepared on a Mastrad Purefizz soda maker. Currently, the shop is sparkling Gold Peony White Tea from San Francisco's Song Tea, but has "other iced teas that we're willing to sparkle if people so request," promises manager Cole McBride. Drop by now to sample McBride's Sparkling White Tea with optional yuzu float, pictured left. Also don't miss other curious creations which include booze-free coffee cocktails, such as the Mojito Mocha and The Engagement.