My idea for this iced tea-slash-mocktail has been brewing ever since one of our readers suggested pu-erh as a possible non-alcoholic alternative to bourbon. (Thanks, missjulia!) Bourbon is my favorite liquor, but my partner is allergic to alcohol, so it seemed a fun challenge to create something we'd both enjoy. And pu-erh turned out to be the perfect ingredient.
Traditional to Yunnan province, China, pu-erh is an aged and fermented tea with a smooth, earthy flavor. In this drink, it provides a woodsy base, which is balanced and brighted with bittersweet marmalade, lemon juice, and fresh ginger. Though I call it an iced tea, it has the not-too-sweet richness and complexity of a brown liquor cocktail. Made in a shaker, it's something I'd sip on a special occasion rather than with a meal. (Note that pu-erh contains caffeine, so it's not ideal for everyone later in the day.)
Different varieties of pu-erh can get quite rare and expensive, but if you're looking for a more accessible tea, I recommend Emperor's Pu-Erh from Numi (see below). It's available in tea bags, looseleaf, and brick form at the Numi website and well-stocked markets like Whole Foods.
Is it iced tea season yet where you live? Even if it isn't, this drink serves as a good bridge from spring to summer, with its smoky, spicy, citrusy notes courtesy of this very special tea, a spoonful of marmalade, and a hit of fresh ginger.