This is an interesting recipe, in a very unusual vein for me.
Homemade tonic water.
I hate tonic water. I really despise the stuff. But like a lot of
people, I have some strange twitchy muscle ticks, in my legs and my
eyelids. A few years ago, I was talking to my opthamologist about the
eyelid twitch thing, and he said that while there was a prescription
drug that he could give me for it, he’d found that most people got
more relief from just drinking tonic water. The quinine that gives it
its distinctive bitter taste works better than the prescription. So I
gave it a try. It didn’t actually do a whole lot for my eyelid thing,
but it did wonders for my twitchy legs at bedtime. So ever since, I’ve
forced myself to drink the stuff.
Then a few weeks ago, I saw a link to a recipe for homemade tonic
water. I decided to give it a try. I couldn’t get exactly the
ingredients that were suggested, so I add libbed a bit. The end result
was fantastic. It’s got a strong bitter quinine bite, but
it’s also got a wonderful flavor in addition to the quinine. This
variation is particularly good mixed with a nice white rum or cachaca.
If you leave out the cardamom, it’s great with bourbon. (I know gin is
the traditional addition, but I just don’t like the taste of gin.)
With this, for the first time, I can easily imagine drinking
tonic water even if it didn’t have any useful medicinal qualities.
Here’s my recipe.
- 1/8 cup powdered chinchona bark.
- Zest and juice of one orange.
- Zest and juice of one lemon.
- Zest and juice of one lime.
- 1/2 tsp allspice berries.
- 1/2 tsp cardamom pods.
- 2 cups water.
- Pinch salt.
- Agave syrup; about 1 1/2 cups.
- Seltzer water.
- Put the water in a pot on high heat. Add all of fruit and
- When it comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let it cook
for about 20 minutes.
- Let it cool. Strain it through a paper coffee filter. (This
takes a long time, but if you don’t use the paper filter, a lot of
the chinchona powder will stay in, and you don’t want to get a
mouthful of it; it’s incredibly bitter.)
- Add water to bring the volume back up to two cups.
You’ve now got the basic concentrate for tonic water. You can
either mix the agave in now, or you can do it when you make a glass
of tonic. It’s less work to just add the syrup now, but the
concentrate will keep longer if you don’t. I don’t mix them.
To make the tonic, mix together two tablespoons of concentrate
(more if you like it extra bitter), and about 1 1/2 tablespoons of
agave syrup. Then add one cup of seltzer water.
You can use a basic sugar syrup instead of the agave; the standard
bar mix simple syrup substitutes with roughly the same quantity. But I
think that the agave is better. Agave has a slighly different
mouthfeel than cane sugar, and I think that it sweetens and smooths
out the tonic without cutting too much of the bitterness. Cane sugar
to me either doesn’t taste sweet enough, or kills the edge of the
To make a killer rum&tonic, take a nice light rum or cachaca
(Cachaca is a brazilian liquor made from sugar cane juice, rather than
from molasses; it tastes like a mild rum with a bit of grassiness),
and mix it, 1 part rum to 3 parts tonic, and serve over ice.
The one problem with this recipe is that Chinchona bark is kind
of hard to find. The most common source of it is flaky herbal medicine
stores. But some of the really large online spice shops have it. I
bought a bunch from a place called “Tenzing Momo”. They definitely
qualify as “flaky herbal medicine store”, but they also carry a really
good selection of cooking herbs and spices. Chinchona is sold by the
ounce; one ounce is about 1/4 cup.