Thousands of years ago, a few leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant may have fallen into a cup of boiling water, forever igniting a human love affair with tea. Originating in China, tea established itself in Europe in the 1600s and has been wildly popular ever since. The high value put on tea led England to tax it heavily and smuggling & crime followed as people desired to get it reasonably. The Boston tea party in the colonies was just 2 years before our war of independence. For the 4th of July holiday, I decided to honor our centuries-long love affair by showcasing a drink made with tea-infused vodka. 

A tea clipper: Ariel and Taeping, Jack Spurling

In the 18oo’s, clipper ships transported tea around the world. The race of 1866 was notable because even as the clippers raced against each other, a larger steam ship that could carry much greater quantities of tea completed the fastest-ever passage to China, shaving a month off what the clippers could do.

Various cultures have developed their own rituals around tea. In Japan the “way of tea” is a cultural and ceremonial ritual. Tea in England is served around 4 in the afternoon and often contains scones & clotted cream, tea sandwiches & cakes. In Texas, iced tea is a year-round staple and is offered sweet or unsweetened.

Organic Green Matcha Tea in a Bowl

Many tea companies began centuries ago, such as: Taylors of Harrogate, Twinings, PG Tips, Tetley, Barry’s, and Lipton. One of my favorites, and the tea I buy for the office, is the Canadian brand Red Rose, which I have been drinking for years. When I first started buying the tea each box would have a figurine in it. They slowly stopped the practice, and I can’t find them any more. In the 1950s many brands included cards with their tea to advertise different things, build brand loyalty & create something collectible.

Wade Whimsies for Red Rose tea


1960s Red Rose animal tea cards

Brooke Bond collectible tea cards

Strong feelings emerge when you get between people and their tea, and preceding our war for independence was the Boston tea party. In 1773, Parliament granted the British East India Company a monopoly on tea sales to the American colonies. Following a series of other taxes imposed on the colonists on products such as glass, lead, oil, paint and paper, the tea act was the “final straw” resulting in the tea being thrown overboard into the harbor. 

I always thought that the term ‘teetotaler’ referred to people who replace alcohol with tea. However, tea seems to have nothing to do with the term. The origin story is disputed, but most people agree that it likely started in England in the early 19th century.

I found countless names and descriptions of this drink, as well as many different ways to make it. I wanted to make my own infusion & lemonade, so I could control the amount of sugar, but commercial versions are also available. Essentially, you just add the tea to the vodka and steep it until desired strength and color. You could also reduce strong tea and skip the infusion altogether.

    • 3-4 tea bags
    • 1 cup boiling water
    • 8 fresh mint or basil sprigs
    • 4 cups lemonade or fresh lemon from 4 lemons sweetened as you like (I used honey)
    • 1/2+ cup vodka to taste
    • Ice cubes
    • lemon slices
Add tea bags to vodka in a glass or food-safe vessel. Tear mint or basil sprigs and put in large pitcher and muddle with wooden spoon. Put in the ice, and pour in the lemonade & vodka to taste. Enjoy!