Skip to main content
cocktail culture

The TIFF Teani, served at the Library Bar at Toronto?s Fairmont Royal York, features chilled organic jasmine tea and pear vodka, served in fine bone china.

Here's a trend that would make make F. Scott Fitzgerald giggle into his bathtub gin.

Mixed drinks in teacups, inspired by Prohibition and the 1920s parties of drunken debauchery that erupted in this failed experiment's wake, are the latest craze to sweep the bar scene, attracting hipsters who previously wouldn't have been caught dead holding grandmother's fine china.

"It's the newest way to drink a cocktail," says Toronto bartender Brock Shepherd, owner of Burger Bar in Kensington Market, where a teacup cocktail is part of the fall menu.

"As mixologists, we're always looking to create something new, and looking to the past is often the best way to do it."

Popular during Prohibition when the daintiness of a receptacle embossed with a damask design was used to camouflage the illicit brew inside, teacup cocktails hark back to an era when speakeasies, lubricated with bootleg booze and jazz, represented the height of cool.

"Prohibition is making a huge comeback, and not just here but around the world," says Clinton Pattemore, an instructor at the Toronto Institute of Bartending.

"Ironically the rediscovery of Prohibition is jump-starting cocktail culture," he says, "because a lot of cocktail culture is about understanding where it all started and what the original cocktails were like."

Valerie Murray, events co-ordinator for Victoria Spirits, a Canadian gin brand headquartered in British Columbia, says that Prohibition is driving mixologists in creative new directions, "often making their own bitters and their own syrups from scratch."

"Some of the new bartenders find inspiration in that and while the teacup thing is a fun accessory, evoking the naughtiness of Prohibition, it's what's in the teacups that's getting people excited," she says.

This summer, Victoria Sprits sponsored a cocktail competition during which Prohibition emerged as a dominant theme.

"Perhaps it was the portrait of young Queen Victoria on our bottle or gin's English roots, but a number of mixologists used teacups," creative director Mia Hunt says.

Among them was Robert Montgomery, a bartender at the Miller Tavern in Toronto, who believes that teacup cocktails, as well as being nostalgic, are taking cocktail culture in a new direction.

"The current trend in glassware is getting smaller while the drinks are getting stronger," Mr. Montgomery says.

"There's also a backlash right now directed against cold vodka drinks toward warm, dark spirit concoctions that are perfect for our climate. Teacups offer a playful presentation of that theme, with no one being the wiser as to what you're actually drinking."

Some of the new teacup cocktails, naturally enough, are being made with real tea, which Ms. Hunt says combines well with alcohol.

"We love making tea cocktails with our gin because tea can really make the botanicals in gin shine," she says.

"We usually play around with two different methods, either directly infusing the tea leaves in the spirit or using strongly brewed tea as a mix. Earl Grey, we find, works best."

Inside the Library Bar at the Fairmont Royal York, it's jasmine tea spicing up a new teacup cocktail launched last week to coincide with this year's opening of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Dubbed the TIFF Teani, the new drink features chilled organic jasmine tea with pear vodka, Galliano, freshly squeezed lemon juice and a dash of simple syrup.

Served on the rocks in fine china with lemon zest and a scone, the drink is meant to give the words high tea a whole new meaning.

"You might call this our crossover drink because it is served in cups from our Royal Elfleda fine bone china collection, which is our finest tea china and usually used during our traditional tea service," says Brian Weston, manager of the hotel's Library Bar and creator of the cocktail.

"We wanted our guests to enjoy a tipple with their tea."

TIFF Teani recipe

2 ounces chilled Fairmont organic jasmine tea

1 ounce pear vodka

½ ounce Galliano

dash freshly squeezed lemon juice

dash simple syrup

Garnish with fresh lemon zest and a fresh mint sprig.

Gently stirred and served on the rocks in fine china.