In 2009, Jacob Kocemba, head sommelier at the Michelin-starred restaurant Hermann in Copenhagen, faced a challenge. He needed the right wine pairing for a new wild forest strawberry dessert, and despite the fact that Jacob had a cellar containing over 1,700 wines and had himself tasted thousands of others, he couldn’t think of a single wine which would work. Then he had a brainwave: what was needed was a tea-based drink, which proved to be absolutely the right choice. Diners loved it and even started asking for bottles to take home for other occasions. Jacob went on developing his ideas and in 2017 the Copenhagen Sparkling Tea Company was born, one of the pioneers of a new generation of not-wine drinks using tea.
Speaking with Jacob, I realise what a rich variety he had found in tea, ranging as it does from black to green to white to oolong, to the flavours of Lady or Earl Grey or rooibos. He builds up each of his creations with typically ten layers of flavour from different teas, balanced with lemon juice, complemented with hibiscus, lemon grass or jasmine and built on a foundation of either grape must in the non-alcoholic versions or Riesling wine for those with a 5% alcohol content. Quality and a complex and harmonious taste are Jacob’s watchwords and every batch is hand made from the best organic ingredients, each individually blended to ensure the result is just right while allowing for the shifting flavours of the teas which change with the seasons. Finally, Jacob has invented his own multi-stage carbonation process which brings the bottle pressure up to the same 5 bars as are found in Champagne, giving a perfect sparkle. And these drinks are complex living products; like a good red wine, they age as the teas continue to oxidise in the bottles.
The only downside of this meticulous and complex production is that the drinks are expensive, retailing at around £17 per bottle. As we have learnt with other new generation drinks, this is not about luxury marketing but reflects the true costs and the challenges of making low/lower alcoholic drinks which cannot rely on the preserving effects of ethanol to ensure their shelf-life. For many Light Drinkers this price may be unaffordable except as an occasional treat. We must hope that soon producers will find a way to produce these drinks at more moderate price so that they can enter the mainstream.
Meanwhile over 70 Michelin starred restaurants now stock Jacob’s works and I highly recommend you treat yourself to at least one. His favourite is the Röd – he enjoys the pleasure of the lower 5% ABV, which is perfect for relaxed socialising whilst not overwhelming the teas. There are layers of umami tastes and a hint of smokiness basking in delicious flavours of hibiscus, strawberries and apricot. It’s my favourite too (we gave it a perfect 5 star rating) for all the reasons Jacob gives but also because I am truly excited by this whole new category of drinks, in which the teas allow gifted drink makers to produce something with all the taste satisfaction of a proper Champagne but at a pleasantly lower ABV, which if found in a pure wine would invariably be much less dry and crisp. Try one and you’ll be tasting the future.