Quinine Syrup

The other day at lunch, my friend Anna was telling me about someone she knew who roasted his own coffee beans at home. I made a joke about how ridiculous that was and then remembered that I had a vat of quinine syrup brewing in my fridge—who am I to judge?

This is the perfect recipe for those of you with some extra cinchona bark lying around. I know that demographic is probably an even smaller percentage of the population than those roasting their own coffee. But, nevermind all of that, this recipe is magic—witchcraft even. And, outside of finding yourself some cinchona bark, this is a pretty straightforward process, though it does take several days.

To the one person who is still reading these words: the searching for unusual ingredients and tending to the cauldron of potion for several days is all worth it when you are sipping your homemade quinine syrup combined with sparkling water. Homemade tonic water is good. The syrup is even better with some gin and soda.

There is something so awesome and confidence building about recipes where an odd mix of ingredients become something familiar that you never imagined you would be able to make at home. Of course you might not want to make your own quinine syrup every day, but you need to try it once! It is fun. It will last you all summer, and imagine how friends of friends will make fun of the foodie who makes his own quinine syrup.

Cinchona bark is pretty difficult to find, you’ll likely need to turn to the internet and even then it might be a struggle. I don’t know why, but we happened to have some in a drawer. Probably something Bryan was curious about, he’s like that.

Cinchona is the bark of a shrub native to Peru. It has long been used for is medicinal purposes: to cure pain, ease fever and relax muscles. Most famously, because of the quinine contained in the bark, it was used to prevent malaria. The bark is very bitter and needs to be tempered with other botanicals and sugar to make it palatable.

Quinine Syrup (via Tony Cecchini and the NYTimes)

  • 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.

62 comments to “Quinine Syrup”

  1. Ooooh, you’re going to be hearing from all the coffee geeks!

    Best gift I ever gave my husband was his coffee roaster. I don’t drink coffee but to him there is no comparison between store bought and what he roasts. He has to drink decaf, and has a far greater selection by ordering the green beans online. If you’re going to be a foodie, better think about getting that roaster!

  2. Wow, this is a combination of some amazing flavors. I’ve never used cinchona, but I may try to hunt some down to try this!

  3. You definitely aren’t alone, my friend! We made tonic syrup about 2 months ago from a similar recipe and my husband has been using it ever since! I, for one, usually don’t like the bitterness of tonic water, but this was much better and I even enjoyed a gin/tonic or two (three?) myself. Next time, we’ll give this variation a try too (ours didn’t have lavender, and we used agave nectar instead of simple syrup). nice work!

    oh, and I still can’t believe you had cinchona in your drawer…. that’s crazy!

  4. Tim, this is excellent. I am now tempted to go PURCHASE those assorted ingredients that I don’t have on hand, which would be several though not all of them. In other words, I don’t think anyone here will find you ridiculous. (:

  5. Ah, I had been WAITING for the post on the infamous quinine syrup! And here it is, and looking more lovely and tasty than I could have imagined. Finally, a use for all that cinchona bark I had sitting around in my kitchen.

    Also: on the spectrum of obsessive foodie-ness, I think roasting one’s own coffee beans is WAY less strange than making homemade quinine syrup. But maybe I’m just saying that because I’m seriously considering purchasing the FreshRoast 5000, and the Coffee and Tea Exchange across the street from me has green coffee beans for sale. It would be so easy…

    At any rate, nice work! Have a gin and tonic (or five) and enjoy what has finally become a real Chicago summer!

  6. O synchronicity. I just yesterday received my shipment of John’s Premium Tonic Syrup, just last evening mixed up my first premium gin and tonic. It was delicious, but I couldn’t help thinking (looking at those tiny little $6.99 bottles) ‘it can’t be that hard to make this stuff yourself’. Et voila…today you supply the recipe. Thank you, thank you!

  7. Haha, this made me crack up when I read it! We are in the process of roasting our own coffee beans to sell in the Chicago area (let me know if you want to try them–I’d be happy to mail you some!) and it does seem totally crazy sometimes. Who are we, seriously?? What are we doing? Did we really just build an entire roaster out of a gas grill? Oh the things we do for good drinks. :)

    I love the idea of making quinine syrup, so awesome! I never would have thought to make my own, but it looks really great and I’m sure it tastes great too. Maybe this will have to be our next feat!

  8. WAY better than anti-malarials. Pure genius. And an even greater excuse to have gin and tonics for breakfast when travelling!.Thank you! :-P

  9. Three cheers for you guys! I love it when bloggers step off the beaten path with a okay-we-use-this-but-you-might-not-it’s-weird-and-it’s-great posts. This stuff sounds wonderful, even for someone who’s not a G&T addict.

    “…the perfect recipe for someone with some cinchona bark lying around.” HA! Ken

  10. I come from a family of dedicated gin&tonic tipplers. At 8 years old I was schooled in the ways of gin&tonic mixing while out on camping trips so that I could bartend once the elders got too pickled. This is probably the greatest gift I could make them. Bottles of homemade quinine syrup? I’d probably win greatest granddaughter/daughter/niece of all time status. This is really fun, thanks a lot.

    I’m currently in the process of making my own rhubarb bitters and ginger syrup, so I’m kinda on a mixology roll right now anyway :)

  11. Tim, this sounds incredible. I’ve been thinking about playing with gin-and-tonic-like flavours in dessert for ages, but finding something tonic-flavoured has been a stumbling block. I have a feeling that this syrup is going to lead to great things…Thanks for sharing!

  12. Colleen- this recipe is perfect for you!
    Katie- I have been thinking about this and desserts a lot. I kind of want to try it with blueberries. A blueberry tonic sorbet?
    Thanks for the fun comments, everyone.

  13. I’ve kind of always wanted to be able to call out for a tonic like a character in a BBC movie. “Tonic! I need a tonic!”
    It would certainly make more sense to do that if I had some at hand.

  14. This is so great. I doubt there are many who would write about making their own quinine syrup. It looks far more appealing than standard tonic and i would love to have some of this to add to my gin.
    Am so impressed you had some of this cinchona bark lying around….a true pro! x

  15. I don’t know about cinchona bark, but I’ll try anything with lemongrass. I just love that fresh flavor.

  16. Another reason you truly deserve the Saveur award. I love this post and all the comments.

  17. I loved reading this recipe with its list of gorgeous ingredients….I have never heard of this syrup before but with these flavours it’s sure to be magic!

  18. Hilarious. And inspiring.

  19. Jan Canyon says:

    June 19th, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    This sounds fun and weirdly intriguing. Now, I want to remind you, the elderberries are blooming. Time for a drive in the country, eh?

  20. Jan Canyon says:

    June 19th, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Oh, and for the coffee geeks, my ex was roasting his own in our kitchen 20 years ago! LOL I think he has moved on to becoming a tea and wine geek now.

  21. Witchcraft indeed! AWESOME witchcraft!

  22. Thank you for reading my mind and sending this gift to me. Quinine is on!

  23. Fantastic! After making shrubs last week I have been pondering spice and aromatic simple syrups. Looking forward to concocting my own witchy brew…

  24. There IS something awesome and confidence building about recipes like this.

    I was playing around with lacto-fermentation last week, puttering around in the kitchen, and making fun of the bacon obsession. I was quickly put in my place :)

  25. Gin & Tonics are my absolute favorite summer drinks. Well, really, anytime of year drinks. I was schooled in making them when I was a wee lass by my Grandparents. I think its brilliant that you made this at home! I am a little intimidated by the ingredients, but I think it would make an awesome Xmas gift for fellow G&T drinkers. Maybe I will brew a pot this fall/winter.

  26. and this is why yours is my favorite food blog! I never know what I will find here, and I am always super duper excited about it. cheers!

  27. Thanks, everyone for the great comments here. I am enjoying the conversation. Who knew so many of you were taught to mix drinks as children? I love it!

  28. Tim…you’re on the right track with the blueberry tonic sorbet. I recently had a blueberry (gin) martini with a touch of maple syrup…really really nice. It made me think of a gin and tonic with a few muddled berries…could be nice.

  29. The photos in this post are just stunning. After sipping a g&t with housemade tonic at Boot and Shoe Service in Oakland, CA a few years ago, I learned how to make my own tonic with the help of some crafty/foodie friends. We drink them pretty much non-stop when it’s hot! Thanks for making me feel like less of a freak. : )

    I just brewed a fresh batch today before seeing your post. I will definitely try this variation next time – the grapefruit, cardamom and lavender sound amazing! (I add lemon verbena to mine: http://www.bojongourmet.com/2010/07/tonic-water.html)

    I finally found a mail-order source for quinine from a place called Lhasa Karnak in Berkeley, but you have to call them for pricing and such: http://www.herb-inc.com/order.html

    Cheers!

  30. Loved the blog-This may help us as we are on the great search for that great India tonic that is used in Europe for their g and t’s. Not so sweet-actually bracing, on a warm sunny afternoon. We have ordered John’s Syrup but it too, is a tad sweeter.Now my search will be on for cinchona bark! Oh-and with blueberries-sublime!

  31. wait a doggone second…more details on the powdering of the bark, please. This bartender is making this pronto!

  32. Hey Jack- The cinchona bark comes in small pieces (see photo #1). You need to grind it to a powder (see photo #3). I used a coffee grinder, which worked well. Give it a try!

  33. Tim, where did you get YOUR cinchona bark? Do y’all have cinchona trees growing in the parks in Chicago?! I’ll check out Alanna’s recommendation of Lhasa Karnak next time I’m up in Berkeley (really, if any place has it, OF COURSE it’s an herb shop in Berkeley, right?!)

  34. Emma, Yes, on a dewy morning I harvested it in a nearby field. Joking! It was in the drawer. Bryan says he ordered it online but it is no longer sold where he bought. There is some available on Amazon by the pound. Maybe you could talk friends into going in on it with you?

  35. Never fear! I have already wrangled up several friends who are keen on embarking on this quinine-seeking expedition with me. I will report back when I return from the foraging the wilds of Berkeley.

  36. Stephanie says:

    June 26th, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Too funny, as we both roast our own coffee and have just finished off the tonic we made last summer! For what it’s worth, we did find powdered cinchona bark – of course I can’t remember where we got it, somewhere online though by googling for it. And just a word of warning – once you’ve had a G&T w/ this, one w/ commercial tonic will taste WAY too sweet.

  37. Elizabeth says:

    June 27th, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    This is an amazing post–and beautifully written too! Love this so much–hope I get my ass in gear to make it! xxx

  38. Love the idea of having this on hand this summer. Very Huck Finn (or really Aunt Polly). Now I just have to find the bark:)

  39. Tim, thank you for posting this! I’ve loved your blog for quite a while now and this post really takes it to the next level. I started a batch earlier this week and was finally able to taste the final product last night. Amazing! The flavor is beautifully complex and balanced. None of the individual ingredients stood out to me, they all played nicely together. I did decrease the simple syrup amount by about 25% as I thought it was a little too sweet. Looking forward to a drink tonight to kick off the weekend. Thanks again!

  40. Hey Todd,
    Thanks for checking in, and for the support. Yeah, I went back and forth on the sweetness. I initially thought maybe too sweet, but then I liked it in the gin and tonic. Glad you adjusted it. On my next go I want to try playing around with proportions a little and see what happens. Anyway, happy drinking…

  41. I’m just sipping my first G&T with my homemade syrup. Oh. My.

    I made a few tweaks: after looking around at recipes, I opted to soak the cinchona powder in vodka overnight (grain alcohol was recommended, but I can’t get it here in Vermont). And I used juniper berries and coriander seed instead of allspice. The result is just as bitter as I’d hoped (so far no tonic or quinine syrup has quite satisfied in that regard), but also bright, citrusy, and floral (and not too sweet).

    Any interest in swapping a small sample for comparison?

  42. Not sure whether I’d actually ever get around to tracking down cinchona to make this, but I love knowing that if I did, I could! I don’t think it’s all that weird, either, especially given the recent uptick in the craft cocktail movement. I have friends that make their own bitters, why not quinine syrup?

    P.S. Your lead photo is just beautiful.

  43. I made this for our 4th of July get-together with another couple. My husband was skeptical and not sure he wanted to waste his special gin on an unknown, but he and the other G&T drinkers loved it. Thanks

  44. The amazing Kalustyan’s in New York carries cinchona bark, and it’s available by mail order on their website. In the store (it’s up on the second floor) they have it available as chunks of bark or already ground to a fine powder (looks like cinnamon) for the same price.

  45. Thanks, Brian!

  46. Tim — I apparently had a deprived childhood, as I was not taught how to make a good G&T with homemade quinine syrup. Alas :( But now I have you! After I make the syrup, what would the G&T recipe be?

    P.S. Your blog is seriously beautiful, well-written, fun, and easily my favorite foodie blog. Thank you for all your hard work.

  47. Hey Jen- Well, I don’t know my exact proportions but I fill a glass with ice, squeeze a wedge of lime into glass and throw in the wedge for good measure. Then I add some gin and quinine syrup and fill the glass with soda/sparkling water. You’ll have to play around with your own proportions, but that is the general idea. Cheers!

  48. How wonderfully odd – thanks for sharing! If the “zombie apocalypse” ever happens we are all set with malaria prevention.

  49. This looks incredible and I will definately be trying it. I have made tonic syrup several times and there’s no going back, but I’ve never added lavender. And I love lavender. Perfect!

    PS thanks for the poppy seed cake.

  50. Thank you for sharing this recipe, this dish caught my eye I have included it in my June Recipe Roundup at This American Bite.

  51. Alas cinchona bark seems to be prohibited in Australia, otherwise I’d be on to this in a flash!

  52. This is amazing! I have been getting compliments left and right on this syrup, and I am about to make another batch because it is gone! Such a surprising and fantastic combination of flavors. Love it. Thank you, Tim.

  53. Thanks so much for this- I’m going to make a batch as a birthday gift for a vodka&tonic lover.

    I apologize if I’m oblivious, but I didn’t see anything here or in the original NYTimes post about how long this keeps (refrigerated, I assume)- any guess?
    Thanks again!

  54. Hey Tess- I haven’t tested, but for months in the fridge for sure. Nothing to cause quick spoilage here. Mine is always used within a few weeks.

  55. Love the recipe too never thought of adding other flavors, but just made some grapefruit and blood orange shrub for which the peels had to laboriously de-pithed. Good thing I saved them so I can use them in this.

    Just picked up some Cinchona bark at the local apothecary, alas it wasn’t powdered. I only have one coffee grinder and don’t want to clean it of coffee flavors. I was thinking of pounding the bark with a hammer inside a bag and doing the decoction with it that way. Do you think it will give enough flavor to the syrup? Plus I’m thinking it will filter out faster if unpowdered.

    PS I will send you some weight measurements if I get a good tasting batch. It would be better to know the flavorings by weight to make each batch more consistent regardless of their form or size of pieces. Thanks so much

  56. I’m really enjoying your site. After you make the quinine syrup let it
    glow in the dark with a black light. Really! Saw that on another food
    blog last year and made glow in the dark jello with tonic water.

  57. I like making my own tonic. But only for myself. I want to serve it to my customers, but how am I supposed to know how much quinine is in my solution?

    The FDA has regulated limit. But there doesn’t seem to be any easy ways to measure this.

    Does anyone have any clues?

    Thanks…

  58. awesome recipe! thanks for sharing, but i am wondering how you mix your gin tonic with that? how many parts quinine sirup/water/gin. what do you suggest? looking forward hearing from you! flo.

  59. Hi Flo- It is totally up to you and your taste. I would play around a bit. I usually do 1 part gin to 2-3 parts sparkling water and then add a small amount of the syrup to taste.

  60. Made this for gifting to the other writers with whom I work this holiday season. I used rich syrup that I’d cooked orange peel in for my traditional candied orange peel. Delicious!

  61. Great post! So I have 2 cinchona bark maintenance questions. I’m gonna be trying to make some Barolo Chinato, so I’ll be infusing a grain alcohol with the bark. 1. Do I need to thoroughly wash the bark? And 2. How long will the bark leftover keep for? I found some from Honduras on eBay but I don’t need the full pound of it! How good does it keep in my drawer? Thanks!

  62. Hey Jonathan, I am not the expert you were hoping I would be. I’ve only worked with it a couple of times. 1. I did not wash my bark- but it looked “clean” and so it never crossed my mind. 2. I think it will keep indefinitely, as long as it is dry and airtight. I made this with bark that had probably been in my kitchen for a year or more and it was still fine. I will use the same bark the next time I make this.

What do you think?