Behind Maker's Series 007: Olympia Royale
The story behind Olympia Royale, an alcohol-free tea liqueur and completely new culinary creation, as told by Head Teamaker Tony Tellin. The Olympia Royale tea concentrate is the culmination of our epic link-up with kindred spirit Elias Cairo of Olympia Provisions, who makes some of the world’s best charcuterie, the old-world way. Buy it now.
A Collaboration 9 Years in the Making
I’ve wanted to work with Elias Cairo, founder/salumist of Olympia Provisions, ever since we both spoke at the Food Inspiration Days in Holland last year. While his company has been a Smith Teamaker neighbor since we launched in 2009, it was that quality time together half way across the world when I came to truly understand the breadth of his experiences—his old-world training and hand-crafted spirit. I am inspired by his story, his products and how he moves throughout this world. He embodies what it means to be a maker, so I knew he had to be Maker No. 007.
When we returned from Holland, I wasted no time in meeting up with Elias to start focusing on what we wanted to share with the world as part of Maker’s Series No. 007. We met at Olympia Provisions’ southeast Portland headquarters—interestingly enough, in the old Tazo building to which I once called home—and talked tea, ingredients and concepts. We discussed many paths. We knew we wanted to make something for the summer that would be a great companion for picnics and backyard entertaining. We wanted something refreshing, lively and unique. Something that spoke to Elias and tipped our hats to that iconic British number 007 or "double-0-seven" (hello, James Bond). On the way out of his office that day, Elias brought up Pimm’s, an iconic British liqueur. We didn’t elaborate too much on this idea, but as I walked back to Smith that day, I thought more on this concept and picked up a bottle later that afternoon.
An Iconic British Liqueur, Revisited
It had been years, perhaps a decade or more, since I had a Pimm’s cup. Last time I can remember I was at the cricket club in Kolkata, India. Out of the bottle it is a typical gin-based liqueur—bittersweet and with a concentrated herbal presence and solid orange top notes. What went through my mind after that first sip? This could be fun and one hell of a challenge. It checked every box of what we wanted to accomplish with this product: it is unique, it speaks to summer picnics, backyard entertaining and epic spreads of charcuterie, cheese and small bites. Plus, it speaks to a British-theme in an eclectic way. Yes, I thought, let's walk down this path. Let’s make our tea-interpretation of Pimm’s.
Formulating the Blend
The original Pimm’s is an alcohol-based liqueur, so creating a tea that could replicate this experience would be difficult. Water extraction just doesn’t yield the same results as something distilled or extracted with alcohol, and making something that has the same mouthfeel and character of a hard beverage is an exceptional challenge. Not one to back down, we quickly started experimenting with various concepts and never looked back.
I knew this would have to be a liquid product to deliver the experience I was looking for, which was exciting. This would be something completely new and we could present the product to customers in a similar way to that of a liqueur—in a 750-ml bottle.
I soon started brewing different teas and ingredients to determine how best to build up this complex flavor profile. In a way, the bitter elements and the lofty orange notes would be the easiest to create. I first started tasting different bitter ingredients and types of orange peel. I found that artichoke leaf provided the assertive bitter I was looking for and fresh orange zest provided those bright top notes—check and check.
The harder portion of this mission was creating depth, body and structure, while mimicking the presence of alcohol. From a production side, we needed acidity to make this product shelf stable, which meant packing liquid into the bottle above 195 degrees with a pH well below 4.6. I knew vinegar could be the answer here, but being such a potent ingredient, I didn’t want vinegar to overshadow everything else. I soon reached for an aged balsamic, which has dark and intense flavors similar to the tightly wound character of a liqueur. I liked how it interacted with the orange and bitter elements. In the end, we landed on a mix of aged balsamic and classic white vinegar to add just the right amount character and mouthfeel. These ingredients stretched the other flavors while adding to the base and top notes. At this point, the concept started to take shape, but we still had a long way to go.
It still needed center and complexity, some heat and burn to simulate the ethanol. It needed some gin like character and the color needed work. Inspired by the results so far, I continued to brew up different batches with many different approaches.
I found that a small amount of black pepper brought in a nice floral, salty and sharp bite. Paired alongside Szechuan peppercorns for a numbing heat, we were able to get close to the feeling of the ethanol.
From there, I blended in Angelica root and juniper berries to give subtle gin like characters. Juniper is one of my favorite aromas and I loved how this played with the orange zest and aged vinegar. It still needed some color and the center was still thinner than desired. Reaching back to a previous life where I made an herbal orange flavored tea, I incorporated blackberry leaf into the blend. This filled out the middle of the flavor nicely, supported the orange character and bridged the higher aromatics with the dense and round flavors of the balsamic. A small amount of rooibos added red tones and a richer and smooth middle. Rooibos combined with saffron tipped the color from browner tones to a nice red hue—a natural way to influence color. I added a very small amount of star anise to provide a bright and sharp bite, which complements the other spices. And lastly, a touch of lemon myrtle for just enough citrus character to bolster the orange zest. Its brightness lifted the juniper aroma and tied the whole experience together.
By now, the ingredients were working and the flavor profile started taking shape. We made a few more test batches, fine tuning the ratios, recipe, steeping times and temperatures. This needed to be such a concentrated experience compared to a traditional tea that finding the right extractions for each ingredient was essential.
I shared the final prototype with Elias and Jess, Olympia Provisions’ wine director who was just named as one of Food & Wine Magazine's Best Sommelier’s in the country. The power duo sat in our lab and we tasted the product by itself as well as mixed with crushed cucumber, mint and topped with 7-up. The feedback was great. Just a few more slight adjustments to make.
In the end, Olympia Royale was born—probably the most unique and delicious expression of tea Smith Teamaker has made to date. We started planning for production and broke out some salami and had ourselves a little picnic to celebrate. Lucky for us our neighbor knows a thing or two about charcuterie.
The result is a classic bittersweet British inspired thirst-quencher, blending a host of herbs and botanicals, makes one incredible summer cocktail. Buy your bottle now and happy mixing.