The market is awash with non-alcoholic “spirits”. The choice of 0 per cent abv beers is huge. But if you’re a wine drinker looking for a teetotal alternative, the situation is still pretty dire. I always advise people to give non-alcoholic wine a miss and drink really good tea instead. Because proper single-estate tea can offer as much nuance, flavour and provenance as any grand cru.
Saicho is a new trio of sparkling teas that speak the language of wine (£8.99 for 50cl). Cold-brewed and only very lightly sweetened with grape juice, they have a transparency and a subtlety that’s nothing like the saccharine iced teas you get in vending machines. The champagne-like Saicho Jasmine – made with green tea from the mountains of China’s Fujian province – is delicate and floral. Saicho Darjeeling – made with leaves from 19th-century tea gardens – is more autumnal, with notes of hay and stone fruit. Perhaps most interesting of all is Hojicha, a type of roasted green tea from Japan. It has an earthy, almost nori-like savouriness and a structure more like a red wine. They are all excellent with food, and very much at home in a wine glass.
Like a lot of good inventions, Saicho was originally born of frustration. “My husband Charlie and I were enjoying a delicious meal at a restaurant,” says Saicho’s teetotal co-creator Natalie Winkworth-Smith. “The waiter came and described the plate of food in front of us, followed by the sommelier, who described the wine to Charlie: the country of origin, the terroir, the production techniques and why it paired well with the food. Meanwhile, I sat with the same glass of water throughout the meal, missing out on the full experience.” Having been born and raised in Hong Kong, Natalie was well aware of tea’s versatility and variety, and it wasn’t long before the pair – who met while doing PhDs in food science – began cooking up the idea for a sparkling tea.
As demand for sophisticated non-alcoholic drinks grows, I expect we’ll see a lot more products riffing on tea and, indeed, coffee. Good Koffee’s Social Coffee Tonik is a great new organic coffee and gentian mixer that you can drink with soda water or tonic (£24.95 for 50cl). Inspired by a drink its creator had at a café in Vietnam, this espresso-coloured syrup combines the roasty richness of coffee with an almost amaro-like bitterness. There are two varieties, one spiced with black cardamom, the other with saffron. I particularly liked the smoky cardamom version with tonic water, ice and a lemon twist. (It also makes a mean White Russian, if you’re drinking.) All the coffee for these mixers is sourced from the women-only co-op Café Femenino, a social enterprise that combats poverty among female coffee farmers in nine countries. So you’ll wake up with a clear head – and a clear conscience.