Make Your Own Tonic Water

This recipe comes from The New York Times by way of the ever-resourceful reader Naomi. It’s fascinating stuff…if only I can figure out where to get cinchona tree bark!

4 cups water
1/4 cup (1 ounce/20 grams) cinchona bark, powdered (use a coffee grinder)
1/4 cup citric acid, also known as lemon salt
3 limes, only the peeled zests
3 lemons, only the peeled zests
1 grapefruit, only the peeled zests
1 cup chopped lemongrass (3-4 stalks)
9 whole allspice berries
6 whole cardamom pods
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon lavender
3-4 cups rich simple syrup (by volume, two parts sugar to one of boiling water, stirred to dissolve)

In a covered saucepan, bring all ingredients except the simple syrup to a boil and reduce heat immediately; simmer on low for a half hour, then remove from heat and allow to cool fully. Transfer to a carafe or jar and chill for two days. Strain through a superfine chinois or cheesecloth, or by using a plunger press coffee maker. Return to the carafe and refrigerate for a day or two, allowing sediment to accumulate on bottom. When the layer of sediment seems stable, gently decant off the clearer liquid without disturbing the sediment “mud.” It should be about 3 cups at this point (I was closer to 2 1/2); add to this liquid an equal measure of simple syrup, mixing well. Funnel into a clean, cappable bottle and refrigerate. Makes roughly 6 cups or 1.5 liters.

15 thoughts on “Make Your Own Tonic Water”

  1. Wow! That was unexpected. Glad to be of service (now if I can find that cinchona too).

  2. OH! Tonic water. I am loving your liquid pastry excursion! Earlier this year I added a soda siphon to my kitchen toolbox. I use it daily. My inspiration stemmed from the want of a tonic water that was not full of sugar, and had great refreshing flavors. Mass produced tonic waters are quite lacking fresh clean flavors.
    I have made a few batches of tonic syrup with great success. I left the sugar (simple syrup) out completely a batch or two, so it can be sweetened to taste, or with a sweetener of the users choice.
    While the want of a soda siphon came from the want for an enticing tonic water I find my self mixing seltzer with all types of things. Seltzer, crushed strawberries and a tad of sugar is simply refreshing!
    Thanks for diving into the carbonated water pool.

  3. I’ve made this recipe and it’s really good, but I think it could be better. I found that simmering the fruit zest gave the tonic a ‘cooked’ flavor instead of a fresh zest flavor. It’s on my summer to-do list to try a cold brewed version.

    Like Kathy, I find most commercial tonic waters much too sweet. But, Fever Tree Light Tonic (light in that it has very little sugar not fake sugar) is delicious.

    BTW Penn Herb Co. is a great, and economical, source of Cinchona Bark.

    p.s. always love your posts! 🙂

  4. When I was in Cameroon and all the big-bellied white residents (who managed to live a very colonial life despite the country being under black rule) sat around drinking down gin and tonics, someone told me, “Well, the tonic is supposed to be good against malaria.”

  5. This looks great! I love tonic that is not too sweet. Cinchona is an herbal anti-malarial and also effective when taken right away for fever blisters. It is also used in Ayervedic medicine. Here in Albuquerque, I can get it at our food co-op, or Wild Oats, or local herb store. In a random note, about 15 years ago, there were computer games called Oregon Trail and Amazon Trail. In Amazon Trail, one started at the coast and had to travel all the way to the mouth of the Amazon, avoiding exciting dangers and capturing and hunting things to trade for survival things and CINCHONA! The goal was to get the cinchona up to the King of the Incas to be used to cure malaria.

    1. Sounds like a good game!

      I had no idea there were any Wild Oats stores left. I thought Whole Foods closed them all.

      – Joe

  6. Hi Joe
    I’m not sure if you’re done with this terrific bubbly side-trip, but if you aren’t, can you think of any way to make something that tastes like San Pellegrino at home? I spend a fortune on the stuff, and then there is the whole issue of shipping heavy boxes of water all the way from Italy, which is a bit problematic, carbon-footprint-wise. I know a bunch of hip urban restaurants have started to make their own — artisanal water!! — but I have no idea how.

    1. You response, she iz on ze blog monsieur! Have a great 4th of July weekend!

      – Joe

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