Tea Punch Gave the World Cocktails

Tea is the second most popular drink in the world (after water) because it makes water tasty. Europeans drink it hot, or at least warm, while Americans tend to serve it on ice, with lots of sugar. I just found out that dichotomy was started with a drink called tea punch. Tea punch began with the East India Company, possibly because beer and wine were hard to find at far-flung outposts across the globe. Straight liquor is easy to transport, but hard to use as a thirst-quenching drink, so the British mixed available liquor with tea in large bowls to create the first cocktail. This punch became very popular onboard ships, at ports, and then around the world. A drink called naval punch was recorded as made of "One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, and four of weak." This is still the basic recipe for many cocktails, with citrus juice, sugar, liquor, and a mixer such as tea or tonic water. The addition of citrus juice for sailors makes sense, as it prevented scurvy, with sugar covering the sourness. Tea punch took on different flavors and customs depending on the region.

Tea punch died out with the rise of individual mixed drinks, leaving the punch bowl idle except for children's parties and special events, where they now hold a combination of fruit juice and soda. Tea is still very popular, but is rarely mixed with liquor. Still, if you want to try some tea punch, you'll find a recipe at Atlas Obscura, along with the story of how and why we make punch.

(Image source: Royal Collection)


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