linda villano, tea, tea blog, punch, punch origin, punch bowl
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PUNCH IT UP by Linda Villano

Sunday, December 14th 2014 @ 8:29 PM

‘Tis the Season of parties and festivities! Including an historic Punch recipe at your next gathering would be a great way to cheer guests while introducing them to yet another bit of tea lore. The punch bowl, like a communal watering hole, attracts a crowd without fail ~ it becomes the holiday centerpiece.  Who can resist the big, shiny vessel filled with colorful liquid and those adorable little cups? 


The word punch might be derived from the Hindi word paanch (from Sanskrit पञ्चन् páñcan) meaning five. Also the name of a traditional Indian drink, punch was originally made with five ingredients: tea, arrack, sugar, lemons, water (some references include spices).  Arrack was a Hindi umbrella term for distilled spirits.


Another possible origin of the word could reference the vessel that held the potent potion. “In the seventeenth century the word would have been pronounced not, as now to rhyme with lunch, but with a short ‘oo' sound, 'poonch', and this is not really consistent with a borrowing from Hindi panch; so it has been speculated that it is short for puncheon, a large cask from which the drink might have been served. The classic simplicity of the original type did not survive long; and assortment of variations was soon dreamed up, including punch made with tea, with milk (this enjoyed a wave of popularity in the early eighteenth century), and without any alcohol.” An A to Z of Food and Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 272-3)


The English created their own version of the puncheon.  An early rendition, which was quite fashionable in the late 1600’s to early 1700’s, was called a Montheith (a term for a fashionable man who sported a scalloped coat). The scalloped edges of the bowl allowed for easy resting of the ladle and wine glasses which were placed cup part facing inwards, stem and foot out ~ no doubt for the easy taking of eager participants.



As with Tea, Sugar, Spices and other goodies we enjoy today in the West, punch was first brought to England by sailors and officers of the British East India Company in the early 17th century and it wasn’t too long before variations of the perfect party potion was being enjoyed in Europe and eventually North America.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art Collection.              
Punch bowl
, ca. 1751 New York City Silver; Overall 4 3/8 x 9 15/16 in. (11.1 x 25.2 cm) Inscription: This, Plate Won By a Horse, CalD, OLD Tenor Belonging To Lewis Moris, Junr, Octobr, Ye, 11, 1751 [engraved image of horse and jockey]


Rum, the most popular distilled liquor during Colonial American times, was one of the main ingredients in what one writer of the day described as "a very good, pleasant and healthful drink, punch. A popular beverage, punch was considered as genteel as imported tea. It was routinely served at every conceivable tavern event from political gatherings to the meetings of men's clubs, before and after a meal, or during an eventing's activities...punch was a combination of then luxurious ingredients. The drink was made using the rinds and juice of imported lemons, limes, and even oranges, commonly mixed with rum, and white or brown sugar. In some taverns, customers paid extra for the inclusion of sugar and fruit in their drinks. Lime punch was the most popular version of the drink, and the beverage was aptly described as "Sower punch."...Punch was also made with eggs and milk...Like some other beverages, punch was served warm and sold in taverns by the bowl. A quart of the mix would fill about half a large punch bowl. Tavern inventories indicate that both delft...and china...punch bowls, in large and small sizes, were used. Since delft was widely available and inexepensive, most tavern keepers kept only a modest supply of punch bowls on hand...That punch had a special place in the tavern is also evident from the number of silver punch strainers, punch ladles, punch spoons, and even in one case, silver punch bowls found among the stocks of taverns in centers like New York, Boston, Charlestown, Philadelphia, and Williamsburg. With those exceptions, silver rarely appears in 18th-century tavern inventories." ---Early American Taverns: For the Entertainment of Friends and Strangers, Kym S. Rice [Regnery Gateway:Chicago] 1983 (p. 94-95)



Following are a few authentic punch recipes as they were written:


Tea Punch
Make a pint and a half of very strong tea in the usual manner; strain it, and pour it boiling on one pound and a half of loaf sugar. Add half a pint of very rich cream, and then stir in gradually a bottle of claret or of champagne. You may heat it to the boiling point, and serve it so, or you may send it round entirely cold, in glass cups."             
Source: Kentucky Housewife, Lettice Bryan, 1839 edition (p. 407)





Daniel Webster's Punch
Massachusetts senator Daniel Webster was one of the more outspoken statesmen of the mid-19th century but his legacy seems to
be his own recipe for Punch.


Prep time: 3 hours   
Total time: 3 hours            
Serves: 25




750 ml bottle Jamaican rum


750 ml bottle cognac


750 ml bottle oloroso sherry


750 ml bottle Bordeaux wine


bottle Brut champagne


pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch slices


pint fresh strawberries, hulled




cups sugar


pint lemon juice


pint black tea (2 teaspoons loose black tea or two teabags, steeped for 10 minutes)


Using a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler, peel lemons, trying to get as little of the white pith as possible. Muddle the peels with two cups of sugar and let sit for two hours to let the sugar wick out the lemon oil. Add 1 pint lemon juice and 1 pint black tea. Stir to dissolve sugar and strain into sealable 6-quart jug. Add cognac, oloroso sherry, rum, Bordeaux, pineapple and strawberries. Taste for sweetness, add more sugar if necessary, and refrigerate for one hour. To serve, pour into a 2-gallon bowl three-quarters full of ice cubes. Top off with a bottle of chilled Brut champagne.                 
Source: Steward + Barkeeper’s Manual,1869. Adapted from David Wondrich’s “Punch’’




Located between the Schuykill and Delaware rivers, Schuykill (now Pennsylvania) was at one time its own colony and later a sovereign state. The colony was a die-hard fishing community where all local activities took place at a club which was aptly named The Schuylkill Fishing Company. Still in existence, it is arguably the oldest organized club in the English-speaking part of the world. The first recipe for Fish House Punch dates back to 1732 and has over time seen many variations. The following, dated 1893, is from a book entitled Beverages and Sandwiches For Your Husband’s Friends by One Who Knows (according to Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, by Ted Haigh).



2 quarts Jamaica rum

1 quart brandy

1/2 pint peach brandy

1/2 pint Maraschino liqueur

1 quart fresh-brewed green tea

1 pint fresh lemon juice

1 pound sugar


Stir ingredients together in a large pot with a lid. Let brew (they advise for 2 days). When ready, pour over ice in a punch bowl and stir in a bottle of Champagne.



Charles Dickens is known to have prepared punch for his guests regularly. How appropriate as he and his “The Christmas Carol” story are synonymous with this time of year. One would be hard-pressed to find a single individual with Western world roots that isn’t familiar with Tiny Tim and Scrooge!



Happy Holiday Season Folks! May all your days be Merry and Bright.

~ Linda Villano, SerendipiTea

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© All content and images are copyright of author.
LINDA VILLANO co-founded in 1995 with Tomislav Podreka. With a passion for all things Tea, she oversees all aspects of the business; including client consulting, concept and design, staff training, sourcing and product development (recipe creations). Having grown up in a family of restaurateurs and chefs, she considers her role as a purveyor of premium teas & tisanes a natural continuation of her family’s culinary tradition.   Linda is a published illustrator and writer. Her illustrations appear in Tomislav Podreka’s book, SerendipiTea: a guide to the varieties, origins and rituals of tea, and she writes articles about tea for trade publications.

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