Skip to content Skip to footer

I’m into liquids this week, what can I say?

I’m not a big alcohol drinker as you know, seeing as it makes me rather pink in the face. However. I can appreciate alcohol produced on a truly craft level. For example, I’m mildly obsessed with this certain secret whiskey that I’m going to tell you about in my book soon.

Furthermore, I was out for a friend’s birthday the other evening, and the menu touted “homemade tonic water.” I had to know more.

They mixed it into some clear alcoholic liquid and it boggled my mind. The truth is, they could have mixed it into some lemonade and seltzer water and it still would have boggled my mind. It was all about the non-alcoholic tonic baby.

I want to teach you how to make it. Because we should all have tonic water in our repertoire. Chicken wings and tonic water. And a bed roll. That’s what we need in life.

These are some of the ingredients to gather. Minus the orange. I rejected the orange upon second thought.

There are some tricky ingredients here. But that’s what the WWW is for. Here’s one spot to buy the cinchona powder. Or if you’re like me and you happen to live in a hippie dippie neighborhood like… say… Berkeley, there will be a mystical herb store right on the corner with a very stern woman behind the counter. And she will serve forth cinchona bark. And tell you that they don’t offer it in powder form. And stare at you blankly. And sternly.

I’m just saying that could happen. Not that I would know. It’s just a coincidence that I have bark here… and if you have bark like me rather than bark powder, just grind it in a coffee grinder. And if you don’t have a coffee grinder, just use it as is and all will be well. Promise.

This is the bark of a cinchona tree and when in powder it is called “quinine powder.” That’s the term you most often hear with tonic water — quinine.

Lemon grass is everywhere in Asian grocery stores and markets. I’ve even seen it in Whole Foods and a few other spots. It’s not something that you notice unless you’re looking for it. But it’s there. Or ask them to get some in for you. Usually you can sweet talk the food buyer over the phone.

You want to bang on the lemon grass with the back of a knife first to help release the flavor.

Then you cut it into beautiful rings.

All of those ingredients simmer together in water and reduce by at least half, until thick and a bit syrupy.

Then you strain a first time to get the larger pieces out.

Then you strain a second time through cheesecloth. Don’t use a coffee filter the way I did unless you have a lot of…

… patience. I do not. I want to taste immediately. I wait for no tonic water. Plus I think some barky sediment gives it that rustic quality I’m going for.

And that’s when you mix your syrup with your seltzer water. And then with your clear alcoholic liquid or your lemonade. The color will be brown not clear like the tonic water you see in the store. And it will have a nice barky flavor. My suggested ratios are below…

Give it a try sometime!

“Homemade Tonic Water”

Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time45 minutes
Total Time50 minutes
Servings: 1 cup tonic syrup


  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup chopped lemon grass about 2 stalks
  • 1 cup raw sugar evaporated cane juice, or white sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup powdered cinchona bark (1/8 cup for a less "barky" flavor)
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon allspice powder
  • 1 bottle seltzer water


  • Combine all of the ingredients except the seltzer water in a pot and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat and let the liquid simmer for about 45 minutes until reduced and slightly thickened.
  • Strain the liquid though a fine strainer and discard the solids. Then pass the liquid through some cheesecloth into a storage container.
  • To use the syrup mix it with the seltzer water in a ratio of 3:1. Then combine it with gin, vodka, or whatever you please in a ratio of about 4:1 or whatever suits your taste. Garnish with a lime and squeeze some of that juice in there to finish.


  • Gabi
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    I find when I am making other spice-infused, simmered beverages (like delicious holiday party mulled wine) that whole spices are much better than ground at imparting flavor, so I was a little surprised to see you using allspice powder and grinding the bark. What are your thoughts on powdered vs. ground?

    • Georgia
      Posted June 1, 2010 at 7:13 pm

      Hi Gabi, I have a tendency to use what I have rather than buy new… it's the resourceful old lady in me. It's all about freshness, and it's true that grinding your own spices is usually the freshest option, but in this case there wasn't enough in there to make a big difference. But if you have them in whole form, definitely go for it!

  • Jason
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    Thank you for that, I can't wait to try it, I love tonic water and the idea of makin' ma own is bringing me closer to, well, my drink.

  • John
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    Hey all, nice recipe. If you are too lazy to make your own I have a similar recipe available at Please check it out and thank you for your time, John

    • Carol
      Posted November 8, 2015 at 2:17 pm

      Nice try, John. Contains:
      citric acid: origin from CORN: GMO.
      Agave syrup: not really as healthy as they thought it was!
      So, won’t be buying this, lazy or not.
      Sorry, don’t mean to sound bitchy, but I want FRESH, and organic ingredients, no GMO’s, or unhealthy sweeteners.

      As long as I can source the cinchona bark, I’m good to go on a homemade recipe!!!

  • Greg
    Posted June 2, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    You have NO idea how hard it is to find cinchona bark around here! I looked at local spice shops, hippy dippy herb shops, health stores, major chains, independent stores, and stopped short of visiting the area yerberias only because I don't know Spanish. One online source is out of stock until, they hope, the end of this week.

    That said, if i had just used the source you have linked on your Favorite Things page from the get-go, I'd be looking forward to a gin and homemade tonic in an hour.

    On the bright side of things, I have bacon curing in my refrigerator as we speak. :^)

    • Georgia
      Posted June 3, 2010 at 1:27 am

      Haha, you crack me up. I feel a little guilty for promoting an ingredient that is so hard to find. Maybe next I'll post about how to grow and grind your own cinchona bark…

      I'm thrilled about the bacon though! Just thrilled.

      • @PIOGreg
        Posted June 3, 2010 at 10:19 am

        Heh! I have two online orders that are due to arrive and shower me in an embarrassment of riches in powdered cinchona bark within the week, so don't feel too guilty!

        You should be thrilled about the bacon: It was your pics and blog entry that inspired me to try. In fact, I'm on a bit of a home-ec spree right now. I recently bought some canning supplies to learn canning basics, like with tomatoes, and I already know my first pickling venture will be with asparagus. I'll also put up some peaches from the local peach farm. I want to graduate to pressure canning so I can do the low-acid food and meatstuffs.

        This time next year, I may have a bona fide garden, with my own veggies being preserved.

        • Georgia
          Posted June 4, 2010 at 1:07 am

          Rawk! Music to my ears…

  • Mike
    Posted July 25, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    Hey! I live in berkeley. Where did you go? Lhasa Karnak?

    • Post Author
      Posted July 26, 2010 at 7:48 pm

      I think it was somewhere on Telegraph off of University… I don't think that was it though. They have two locations, one in Oakland and one near the Berkeley campus. The one near the campus has it.

  • Jason
    Posted August 6, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Just a quick tip…

    If you heat all of the ingredients BESIDES the cane sugar, strain out the bulk ingredients after boiling, and THEN add the cane sugar on a quick reheat, it will save you a heck of a lot of pain when straining! The sugar is what makes it difficult and time consuming to get through those coffee filters! Great recipe though, I’m on my 20 minute simmer just waiting for a taste!

  • naser jawad
    Posted February 1, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    hi Georgia ,i am PhD. student from Iraq and i would like to help me about some thing in my research .
    is the eggplant contains quinine or not

    • diana pereyda
      Posted May 22, 2014 at 8:38 am

      Sounds like fun and wonderful for you, with or without the alcohol. Thank You

    Posted July 3, 2017 at 8:45 am

    If I had my life to live over… I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.

Leave a comment

Recipe Rating

Let's stay in touch! Join my mailing list.