Let’s face it: Blue is hardly Mother Nature’s favorite when it comes to plate and palate. In fact, blue tints are often a signal to steer clear of foods. Even blueberries aren’t truly blue. And they can’t color cocktails a vibrant shade of indigo.
But butterfly pea flower can. The oddly named plant with sapphire petals has long been used to tint food and drinks in Southeast Asia, and tea made from the flower has been credited with health benefits, from anxiety reduction to antioxidant power. Despite its dramatic hue, the flavor is subtle—earthy, woody, and reminiscent of green tea. In fact, in Thailand and Malaysia butterfly pea flower tea, which is caffeine-free, is as common as chamomile is here. Visit a hotel or spa in those parts and you may be welcomed with nam dok anchan—a bluish-purple tea sweetened with honey and lemon.
Butterfly pea flower is now drawing attention from mixologists in the U.S., who appreciate its remarkable chameleon-like properties: The color morphs into a rainbow of shades—from bright cerulean to dusky pink—based on the pH or chemical makeup of other ingredients it’s mixed with. Add plain water and it remains indigo-hued. Add acid (in the form of lemon or another citrus) or alkaline (hibiscus, for example) and the color varies from deep lavender to tie-dye pink.
Mixologists either infuse gin or vodka with butterfly pea flower tea leaves by hand or purchase infused liquor, such as Empress 1908 Gin. Another option is to add a few drops of Wild Hibiscus Flower Co.’s concentrated extract B’lure. For an even more dazzling effect, freeze B’lure into ice cubes (2–3 drops per cube). Served cubed or crushed, the ice will gradually change the color of your cocktail as it melts . . . giving you ample incentive to sip slowly and savor your drink.
—By Jeanne O’Brien Coffey
Created by Peter Hunt, Master Distiller and President, Empress 1908 Gin
• 2 oz. Empress 1908 Gin
• soda water
Directions: Muddle cucumber, mint, and basil. Add ice and Empress 1908 Gin. Shake, single strain into a glass with fresh ice, and top with soda water. Garnish with cucumber ribbon and more basil.