Hot Toddies, A Cold Weather Classic


This warm, soothing drink has long been revered as a cure for the common cold. Whether or not you place any faith in this home remedy, why not enjoy (and share) a good Hot Toddy while healthy? The name may be derived from a line in a 1721 poem by Allan Ramsey, called “The Morning Interview” in which he recalls a tea party. He describes how each costly element of this party came from exotic sources: the table from Japan, the tea from China, the sugar from the West Indies. He then notes: “Scotia does no such costly tribute bring, Only some kettles full of Todian Spring.” The Todian Spring refers to “Tod’s Well,” which supplied the water to Edinburgh, Scotland where this tea party took place. Another theory is that the name comes from the fermented Indian palm sap liquor of the same name, but nobody is truly sure of the derivation. The Hot Toddy, that wonderful, heartwarming drink that is sheer perfection on a cold or rainy day, is believed to have been developed in Scotland as a way to make the taste of smoky, peaty Scotch more palatable to women. I, however, enjoy playing up on that wonderful smokiness found particularly in certain single malts such as Ardbeg from the Isle of Islay, a periodic favorite of mine. As you experiment with Hot Toddies and discover your own personal style, perhaps you’ll consider sharing it with us on our Facebook page.

  • A Hot Toddy is a simple yet eminently flexible drink. All that is required is a spirit, a sweetener and a hot base.
  • The spirit was originally Scotch, but is often today bourbon or whatever alcohol inspires the creator.
  • The sweetener was originally a raw sugar, but honey became the most common form of sweetener in the modern Hot Toddy.
  • The base is most commonly hot water or tea, but can be cider or even coffee.
  • Although not part of the original formula, a source of acid may be included. Lemon is most common, although according to Jerry Thomas, the father of the modern bartending guide, Toddy with a lemon (or other citrus) peel is referred to as a “Whiskey Skin.”

With these basic elements as your inspiration and roadmap, the limit is only that of your imagination and the ingredients at hand. If you decide to serve and enjoy your creation cold rather than hot, then you have just invented a “Sling.” Regardless of the terminology, these tea-based drinks should be the source of much enjoyment for you and your guests. David Wondrich, the esteemed cocktail historian stated: “Under the proper circumstances, a Hot Toddy — particularly one constructed on a foundation of good Highland Malt Whiskey — is one of the clearest signs I know that there is a providential plan to the universe.” On a cold, wet, windy night, I couldn’t agree more. When you want your tea to be HOT! If you are making hot drinks with added ingredients that are room temperature or chilled, you may want to make sure that your tea is as hot as possible before adding it to the drink. Even when you take the time to properly pre-heat your teapot before steeping your tea, a certain amount of cooling will still occur during the steep time. There are a variety of tea cozies and assorted products to help you maintain heat, but this little trick requires no added paraphernalia, no matter how much fun it may be to collect. I often steep my teas to taste, so this will only work well for teas that you have steeped before and are confident of the required steep time. If you KNOW for instance that your favorite Assam will be perfect in 4 minutes, then start your steep with the proper temperature water in your preheated steeping vessel but with 1/3 less water than you would normally use for the amount of measured tea. When you are approaching the end of your steep time, add the additional water at the proper steep temperature, in this case just off the full boil at 212. You will instantly boost back your temperature. Stir the leaves and strain as usual. Then finish making your Hot Toddies with confidence that they will arrive to your guests steaming hot.

Hot Buttered Rum

I enjoy a nice malty Assam for this Toddy, but any full-bodied black tea will give you excellent results. The ‘Butter Batter’ should be made several hours beforehand, ideally the night before, so plan accordingly. The amount that you use can be varied depending on how decadent you are feeling. Be sure to make extra since it holds for weeks in the freezer, allowing you to have a spontaneous treat for one or for a crowd that takes no longer than steeping a fresh pot of tea.

  • 5 ounces freshly steeped black tea
  • 2 tablespoons Hot Buttered Rum Batter, or to taste
  • 1.5 ounces dark rum, or to taste
  • Fresh nutmeg to garnish

Place the Hot Buttered Rum Batter in the bottom of a pre-heated mug or glass. Add the rum. Pour very hot, freshly steeped black tea over the batter and rum. Stir. Garnish with freshly ground nutmeg and serve immediately.

Hot Buttered Rum Batter

  • 8 ounces butter
  • 6 ounces light brown sugar
  • 5 ounces confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon very finely ground Assam
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 cups vanilla ice cream, softened

Place the butter, tea and sugars into a small saucepan and melt over low heat. Stir until smooth. Stir in the spices and remove from the heat. Whisk in the softened ice cream until smooth. Transfer to a shallow plastic container, cover tightly and place in the freezer until needed.

Cinnamon Orange Tea

This simple and lovely Hot Toddy is the work of Nicole Kraft. She has created a wide range of Tea Cocktails and Hot Toddies some of which can be seen on When I asked her which was her personal favorite, she pointed me towards this drink, which of course I had to taste that very night! She states that Cinnamon and Orange go together like Comfort and Joy, and she may just be right.

  • 1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
  • 1/2 ounce Cinnamon Schnapps (she uses Goldschlager)
  • 6 ounces hot brewed Ceylon tea
  • Cinnamon stick for garnish
  • Orange slice or zest for garnish

In a mug, brandy snifter or other glassware, combine the Grand Marnier and Cinnamon Schnapps. Add freshly steeped hot tea. Garnish and serve immediately.


About Author

Cynthia Gold, Tea Sommelier, has discovered her true passion for tea after taking exciting journeys into the tea fields of China and Sri Lanka, where she uncovered the pure beauty of tea culture. Cynthia strives to bring "a culinary approach to tea" to the United States.

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