The humble tea is a great cocktail ingredient, says mixologist Robert Schinkel

Robert Schinkel describes himself as a “cocktail” — his mother is an Indonesian and father, Dutch. “It’s no surprise that I specialise in mixology,” he adds with a smile. Robert Schinkel is in Hyderabad to train bartenders at the Dilmah tea bar at Radisson Blu in the art of tea mixology.

Like any other bartender, Robert started off mixing spirits, juices, spices and fruits to arrive at mocktails and cocktails. “I participated in several competitions and won quite a few. As I gained experience, I wanted to broaden my horizon and started mixing coffee before moving to tea. More bartenders today are learning tea mixology; this area is becoming less specialised,” says Robert, who is now the brand ambassador of tea mixology for Dilmah.

Four years ago, he enrolled in the Dilmah Tea Sommelier Competition in Europe, won the contest and was invited to visit the tea plantations in Sri Lanka. “I got to learn about tea tasting and grading. Tea is a great cocktail ingredient. When you use top quality tea and brew it right, you can make a great drink,” says Robert.

He points out how at least 80 per cent of tea drinkers do not brew it right. “I am excluding China, which has a 5000 year history of brewing, when I say this,” he adds. Citing the example of brewing green tea as opposed to black tea, he says, “Green tea is delicate. If you pour water at 100 degrees temperature, the green tea gets burnt. And if you brew this for three to five minutes, it gets bitter.”

Black tea, too, needs attention. The brewing time varies for high-grown, mid-grown and low-grown teas. To simplify the procedure, Robert uses sand clocks. A two-minute sand clock keeps time for delicate teas such as green, white, oolong and infusions. A three-minute sand clock helps for black tea. Want your brew stronger? Use a five-minute sand clock.

In the second step, the bartender has to pay attention to preference of his customers. “Tea mixing is done depending on whether you like your drink hot and sweet, hot and sour, sweet and sour and so on,” says Robert.

Tea and cheese

Robert feels that like wine, tea can be combined with cheese. “Tea has tannins and polyphenols like wine. In addition, tea is warm and enhances the melting and filming of the cheese on the palate,” he says.

In Holland, experts are working on a book of tea and cheese pairing. “We are a cheese country. For 30 different varieties of teas, we arrived at three different cheese pairings,” says Robert.

If tea can be combined with cheese, so can it be with food. This is where Robert’s lineage helps. He got acquainted to both European and Asian food cultures through his parents. Different varieties of tea, he says, can be combined with different cuisines — including main courses and desserts.

For instance, Robert works on tried and tested combinations.

Like mint and chocolate combination in your dessert? Try combining Moroccan mint tea with a chocolate dessert.

Almonds are usually served with goat cheese and honey. Robert served Almond-flavoured tea with feta cheese that has a honeyed core.

“Tea is one of the easiest beverages in the world to combine with food. Beyond taste, flavour and aroma, choose good quality tea,” he says. As a parting shot, he cites another reason to pair tea and food over wine and food, “You won’t have the problem of drinking and driving.”