Maker's Series No. 004 Astoriamaro
The story behind Astoriamaro, the creative mashup between the shakers of Bull in China and Smith Teamaker. The limited edition product proved to be so well-loved that we've given it a new name in Astoria's Amaro and a new home in our permanent collection.
I am excited to meet up with Daniel, Lucas and Katie- the Bull in China team. I am a large fan of their products and I deeply respect their talents. Their barware is beautiful; simple and elegant and of an old world style—a style I appreciate. And, like all of our guest makers to date, they are inspirational, creative and a joy to work with.
We discussed the function of our beverage—wanting a touch of caffeine and deep and complex flavors that can be condensed or stretched and adapted to different executions. A tea that can play a major or supporting role in cocktails as well as more café-style drinks. We also discussed the aromas of Portland- the soft floral notes of summer and fresh herbs, among others.
We raided our pantry and started creating some concept recipes. The first few were interesting but lacked complexity. The idea of an amaro-like flavor came from somewhere, to be honest, I don’t remember. It stuck and we focused on this direction.
Lucas and Daniel are no strangers to amaro but I needed an education. We found ourselves at the Bit House Saloon and tasted our way through their selection of amari. The guys guided me through a tasting of a full range of flavor and quality, from great ones to some that were, quite frankly, less enjoyable. I was most impressed by Montenegro—the deep rose and vanilla and balanced complexity is absolutely delicious. We left the bar inspired and excited and from there, we started to slowly develop a recipe.
Ingredients and the building of flavor
Sometime in the very beginning we discussed the lightly caffeinated cascara, the hull of the coffee cherry, and a specific lot that Water Avenue Coffee Company had available. Samples were provided and cupping results were great. This became the starting point for a formula and provided us with the desired level of caffeine.
Cascara is similar physically to a large rose hip or half of a pistachio shell. When steeped like a tea, the liquor is pink to soft red, with soft floral and fruity character and delicate coffee flavor. The particle size was too large for a rich experience; I contacted a mill to cut and sift the material to a more proper size for this application—giving us a deeper expression and more color in the cup.
Still, the flavor of the cascara alone was too light: we wanted more depth to enhance the roasted or coffee elements. Chicory root provided this complexity and pushed the experience darker and thicker.
Vanilla. Like always, I opted to hand cut bourbon vanilla beans verses using extracts or flavors. There is nothing better than real vanilla. The floral and creamy indulgence centered the cascara and chicory.
Rose. We also needed rose and softer floral undertones. Pink rose from Morocco has an almost spicy nose while being a softer fragrance, not as perfumed. Combined with osmanthus blossoms from China, the flavor is sweeter, fruitier and fuller.
I added orange peel to build on the fruity character of the cascara and the floral combination of ingredients. This also added bitter components and peel-y notes- perfect for our tea amaro.
The blend was coming together but it needed sweetness, a honey character, and a touch of spice. We built the sweetness by incorporating sweet blackberry leaves harvested in eastern Europe. This variety of blackberry provides a sweet and herbaceous liquor. When combined with honeybush from South Africa and a very small amount of cassia from Sumatra, you get an intricate sweetness with layers of fruit and honeysuckle.
Although already tasting good, the blend needed one more ingredient for a greater depth of bitter components and fruit to contrast the floral and roasted character: bitters. Making bitters is a lot like making tea in many ways, but the biggest difference is using alcohol extraction instead of water. Every ingredient has different elements that are extracted via water verses alcohol and some experiences are simply not supported by both. To obtain the desired concentrated bitter elements, I needed to create a custom bitter flavor to add to the tea.
Lucas introduced me to Cindy with the Portland Bitters Project and I sampled three of their recipes. All of them were fantastic products, however, the Aviation bitters caught my attention. Distinct lavender notes complemented our blend and brought me back to our original discussion of Portland in the summer and the aroma of lavender.
I ended up mixing the bitters with a French peach skin natural flavor—adding to our fruit complexity while solving the problem of applying bitters to dry tea. I needed more volume to spread the bitters out evenly across the blend. Without an even distribution, you can create “hot spots” that can lead to inconsistencies and an unbalanced flavor.
I tested many recipes; each time manipulating the flavor by adjusting a few percentage points here and there, while also challenging each ingredient’s inclusion. Often, less is better and by removing one ingredient, you can add more of another. Slowly and small shift by small shift, I landed on the final recipe and deemed Maker’s Series 004 ready to be released.
I am very proud of this blend and I am continually impressed with its complexity and versatility. On its own, it is a deep reflection of floral and fruity flavors with dark roasted elements, as well as a bright citrus character. If sweetened, more vanilla and creamy elements become present. When fresh lemon or citrus is added, more of the fruit complexity is brought out. It is delicious mixed with dairy—creating an almost cookie like flavor, reminding me of snickerdoodles.
Toward the end of the development and testing phase, Lucas had a baby girl and named her Astoria. She is adorable and we all basked and celebrated in Lucas’s new love and happiness. It seemed fitting to name our blend after his new daughter and thus, Astoriamaro was born.
The Bull in China team was absolutely fantastic—inspiring, fun, creative and focused and it was an honor to work with them. I am excited to share this tea with Smith customers. The recipes included within the carton offer a wide range of drink options, sure to complement many occasions as we draw an end to summer and welcome the fall. I hope you enjoy. Ciao!
Notes by Lucas and Daniel from Bull in China
"The first time I laid eyes on a Maker's Series box, I knew I wanted to create one someday. I remember when I first spoke with Tony, and we discussed the first inspiration, which was the aromatics you encounter on a walk on a Portland summer day. Lavender, Rosemary, Honeysuckle… it was awesome. The amaro idea came after, and we knew we wanted to make something that deserved a spot on any back bar. It was amazing tasting all of the stages, and training my palate to pick up the subtle differences in steep times, minuscule differences in the blend, etc. The insane attention to every little detail was refreshing to see, and be a part of.
It was also really inspiring to be surrounded by so much passion for the product. The hardest part was realizing that the blend was exactly how we wanted it to taste, and walking away. Coming into this not knowing traditional tea methods and technique was fun as well, because we didn’t know what rules we were breaking in tea tradition with our ideas. I think that was my favorite part."
-Lucas Plant, co-founder and shaker of Bull in China
"I was so excited to work with Tony Tellin on developing a signature tea. Balancing unusual flavor combinations is something I very much enjoy about cocktail bartending, and it was a pleasure having such a talented core group to work with.
Bull in China set out to merge Tony's world of tea with our world of bartending. One way we did that was to set up an amari tasting at one of our favorite Portland bars, Bit House. There, we all sat and tasted through about 30 different styles. We pinpointed what we liked and didn't like, and brought those flavors, still lingering on our palates back to the lab at smith to expand and hone the flavor profile of our tea. The end result is a representation of our beautiful city, and the flavors that so many of its bartenders love."
-Daniel Osborne, co-founder and shaker of Bull in China