The End of Summer: Cold-Brew Teas That I’ve Enjoyed in the Heat

I’ve posted some images recently on my Instagram of my experiments in cold-brewing tea, and I’ve even teased on my YouTube channel that I would do a cold tea video sometime. But I’ve decided that to really do justice to my cold-brew adventures, I needed to devote a blog post to it. And stay tuned to the end, when I share a little recipe for one of my favorite summer iced tea drinks!

At its heart, cold-brewing tea is incredibly simple. You just put some tea leaves into some cold water, stick it in the fridge, and wait. I used this article from Serious Eats as my guide, specifically the author’s recommendation of about 10-12g of tea per quart of water. I tend to brew a pint of tea at a time, so that’s about 5-6g of tea per brewing.

Then I decided to go a little nuts and try brewing in sparkling water. I got some good-quality 500-ml bottles of sparkling mineral water from the store and experimented with green, black, and oolong teas. I haven’t tried white tea yet, but I imagine it would be pretty nice. Here’s what I’ve found so far.

Green Tea:

I started out with Rishi Sencha as my first experiment. I’d heard a lot about brewing Japanese green teas cold, and I thought it would be a good place to start. The Rishi sencha is a decent sencha, with a nicely balanced flavor profile of grassy and umami, but it’s also available in my local grocery store and not so expensive or difficult to get that I would worry about “wasting” it on an experiment. So I started there.

Cold-brewed, this sencha retains a lot of it’s interesting umami flavor, with a nice green undertone. It doesn’t have any bitterness or even really astringency, apart from a mild tartness that is quite pleasant. It’s very refreshing. It also shines in sparkling mineral water, as the minerality of the water offsets the umami. I could also see using this as the base in a gin-based tea cocktail, if I liked gin (or were indulging in hard liquor at the moment).

Black Tea:

I will admit, I only tried cold-brewing black tea because my husband made a nostalgic comment about Wawa peach iced tea and I wanted to see if I could make something better using cold-brew and homemade peach syrup (spoiler: I did; read on for the recipe at the end of this post). So I grabbed an old tin of Harney & Sons Darjeeling that my mother brought over for a tea party at my house. I chose the Darjeeling for two reasons. The first was the aforementioned rationale about not using teas I would miss if the experiment failed, and the other was that the Serious Eats article doesn’t seem to recommend cold-brewing black teas because their flavor profile is muted, so I thought if I went for a lighter black tea, rather than a big, punchy Assam, it might work better with the cold-brew method.

I was right about the tea. Despite the fact that I only brewed this to be sweetened, I tried a taste of it before adding sweetener and it’s fantastic. The infusion is a deceptively light color, but it has a lot of black tea flavor, without any dry-your-mouth-out tannins or unpleasant bitterness. It tastes like perfectly-steeped black tea. And it stands up quite well to the peach syrup, too. I also enjoyed it in sparkling water.

Oolong Tea:

Oolong is my favorite tea and one that seems well-suited to cold-brew, as it has a lot of complex flavors that seem like they would work well in a refreshing cold beverage. I only tried oolongs steeped in sparkling mineral water, though their charms would almost certainly translate to still water. The first one I tried was a Golden Lily oolong that is a “milk oolong” variety. I idly thought to make a sort of oolong cream soda. It worked well enough, but the green-ness of the tea made for a rather light cold-brew infusion.

But, wow, my next experiment did not disappoint. I found some old heavy-roast Tieguanyin in the back of my tea cabinet and thought, hey, why not chuck it in some fizzy water? I had thought to try it with my peach syrup. Well, the resulting brew was so lovely and complex — with notes of peaches, honey, flowers, and cream already — that I didn’t dare touch it with sweetener. This is my favorite yet and will likely become a new regular in my daily tea rotation. The absolute only thing I would ever add to it would be a shot of bourbon.

Cold-Brewed Peach Darjeeling Tea:

As promised, I’ve also come up with a recipe for peach iced tea using cold-brew. The first step is to steep 5g of Darjeeling tea in 16 oz. of water. Then, you’ll need to make the peach syrup by roughly chopping one fresh peach and putting it in a small saucepan with 1/2 cup of water. Let this simmer until the peach is soft enough to be mashed with a fork, about 15-20 minutes. Then, stir in 1/2 cup of granulated sugar and simmer until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. Strain the syrup into a jar and let cool.

To put together the drink, strain the tea leaves out of the tea, and add about 2 Tbsp. of peach syrup (or to taste) to the tea. Stir well and serve over ice with a slice of lemon and a couple slices of fresh peach. Makes two glasses of iced tea.

My husband’s review was that “it’s pretty good.” So there’s that. Happy steeping!

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My Favorite Souvenir from Barcelona

Anyone who watched my Instagram Stories while I was on vacation in Barcelona might have noticed the meal at Bodega 1900, where I waxed rhapsodic about pretty much all of the food. But I think my favorite part of that meal was the part that I could actually kind of take home with me: their tomato salad. Now, their tomato salad were special, locally-grown tomatoes that were served with their house-made feta cheese. But the most striking thing about them was their simplicity. The tomatoes were simply peeled, cut into chunks, and served with a pinch of salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Upon returning home, I decided I needed to keep this marvelous salad in my life. So for the past few weeks, we’ve been eating tomato salad at least once a week. I’m fortunate to have access to a plethora of farmers markets that still have abundant tomatoes, as well as a local grocery store that sells local heirloom tomatoes. So I thought I’d share my “recipe.”

The thing about this recipe is that it’s not really a recipe. It’s all about the individual ingredients. It’s pretty common culinary wisdom that the fewer ingredients a recipe has, the more important it is to get the best of those ingredients. Now, I only use freshly-ground peppercorns and mineral-rich sea salt in my kitchen, so those are pantry staples for me. But if you don’t, this is where you’re going to want to break out that fancy box of flaky sea salt your mom gave you for Christmas when fancy sea salts were the in gift (just me? okay). And get the best olive oil you can find. Again, I have a great local grocery store that recently put in a bulk olive oil bar, so I can get very fresh olive oil every couple of weeks for a very reasonable price, so that’s what I use. It’s a Napa Valley olive oil with a fresh, buttery flavor and none of the acidic bite that can indicate the olive is starting to turn.

And then there is the tomato. I have made this salad with Roma tomatoes, standard slicing tomatoes, and a few heirloom varieties, and I have to say, I vastly prefer the heirloom varieties. I will say that, despite the giant honking tomato in the picture above, it does best with a medium-sized tomato. Basically, you want to be able to cut the tomato into pointed chunks. If I use an heirloom tomato, I will usually skip peeling it, as the skins are so thin, but a regular slicing or Roma tomato will get a little X cut in the non-stem end, a quick dip in boiling water, and a quick peel. It’s not as fussy as it sounds, I promise. Then, you dress it simply, right before serving, and marvel at the masterpiece.

Simple Tomato Salad

Ingredients:

1-2 medium-sized heirloom tomatoes
good sea salt
freshly-ground pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Wash your tomatoes (and peel, if desired). Remove the stem and white core around the stem, and cut into 6-8 wedges. Cut each wedge into 2-4 chunks. Arrange, skin side down, on a large flat plate or bowl, in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Consume immediately. Serves 2-3 people.

Tea and a Story: The Apocryphal Origins of Tea

It’s been such a long time since I’ve done a folklore post that I thought I’d get back into it a bit. And given that I’ve been very focused on tea lately, what better way than to investigate the stories around the origins of tea? Tea has certainly gained a reputation as a drink with a certain amount of ceremony and mystery around it over the centuries, from the tea ceremony of Japan to afternoon tea in the United Kingdom. So it’s only natural that stories have sprung up surrounding the origins of this seemingly-magical beverage.

One of the most well-known apocryphal stories of the origins of tea comes from China, where its discovery is attributed to the emperor Shennong, who may or may not exist only in myth. He seems to have been something like an Arthur figure in Chinese mythology and literature, and many advances in Chinese culture and society are attributed to him, particularly the knowledge of agriculture and healing plants. In this story, the emperor has decreed that everyone must boil their water before drinking it for health and safety reasons. One day, while boiling his water, the emperor noticed that some leaves from a nearby tree had fallen in. Rather than discarding the contaminated pot of water in annoyance, he tasted the resulting brew and found it not only delicious, but invigorating. He declared to his people that “Tea gives vigor to the body, contentment to the mind, and determination of purpose.” I, for one, agree with him. The fact that such an important figure in Chinese legend is attributed with discovering tea speaks to its importance in Chinese society.

My favorite story of the origins of tea comes from the Zen/Chan Buddhist tradition. When Buddhism first spread out of India, it was brought by the Indian sage Bodhidharma. One of the great feats of meditation that Bodhidharma achieved was meditating while gazing at a wall for nine years. There is a story that he fell asleep seven years into his nine-year meditation, and when he awoke, he was so disgusted with himself that he cut off his own eyelids for betraying him, flinging them to the ground. When they hit the ground, they sprouted the first tea plants, which are thought to be a gift to Buddhist practitioners to encourage wakefulness. To this day, Zen Buddhist meditation sessions are often punctuated with a cup of tea, and supposedly for a long time, the Japanese used the same character for tea as for eyelid. Personally, if Bodhidharma did sacrifice his eyelids for the origin of tea, I would thank him for it, and find the little Daruma dolls of him, with their wide, staring, lidless eyes, to be a welcome addition to my tea table when I enjoy a cup in his memory.

I thought I’d finish with a story related to one of my favorite kinds of tea: Tieguanyin oolong tea. I’ve written before on a story of the Guanyin in China, the goddess of mercy who became a bodhisattva in Buddhist tradition. One story of the origin of tieguanyin tells of a poor farmer named Wei who walked past an abandoned temple with an iron statue of the Guanyin as he walked to and from his fields every day. Distressed by the poor condition of the temple, Wei began to take some time out of his day every day to maintain the temple grounds and light incense to the Guanyin when he passed by, always wishing he had the means to do more. One night, he had a dream of the Guanyin in which she told him of a treasure he would find behind the temple. The next day, he looked and found a small tea shoot, which he took home and nurtured. When he made tea from the plant, he found it delicious, named the tea in her honor: Tieguanyin, which means “iron Guanyin” (or, colloquially, “iron goddess of mercy”). I love stories of the Guanyin because they generally involve someone getting rewarded generously for simply doing the right thing quietly and without the expectation of reward, and I love tieguanyin as a cup of tea, so this story was a natural finish to this collection, I think.

So there you have three stories of the origins of teas to go with your morning cuppa.

Sources:

  1. Saberi, Helen. Tea: A Global History [link]
  2. “About Tieguanyin Oolong Tea,” Tea Adventure [link]

Currently Listening: The British History Podcast and The Folklore Podcast

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about media and entertainment, but I’ve started listening to more podcasts while I commute again. Since I’ve exhausted most of my backlog of old episodes of Myths and Legends, I had to find some new podcasts with large archives to work through. So I thought I’d share two that I’ve been enjoying recently.

As longtime readers of my blog know, I’m a bit of an anglophile, and since getting back from our trip to Scotland, I’ve had even more of an interest in the history of Britain. So I downloaded The British History Podcast on a whim, and I have to say, I was blown away by how entertaining it is. The host, Jamie, has a similar style to Myths and Legends’ Jason, infusing the stories from history with humor and balancing modern commentary with taking into account historical context. I do think that my favorite thing about the BHP is that Jamie does make a sincere effort to focus not just on the “great men” model of history that is so common, but does shows on other aspects of the history of Britain, including a really fascinating series on Anglo-Saxon period medicine, food, and clothing. He also got a fantastic series of interviews with researchers who were studying the Staffordshire hoard.

As someone with an interest in folklore, mythology, and legend, I particularly enjoy how the history of the island has helped frame my understanding of the stories I know from Britain. I also found the Romano-British period surprisingly fascinating. Despite starting my college life as a classics major, I focused more on Greek classicism than Roman, and never really delved into the intrigue that is Roman history. I might actually check out a Roman history podcast to fill in the non-Britannia-related gaps in the stories I heard on the BHP.

Another podcast I’ve been enjoying is the Folklore Podcast. Hosted by Mark Norman of the Folklore Society, this is a different style of podcast from the BHP. It’s a bit drier in tone and style, and more educational, though it is obviously entertaining enough to hold my interest for several episodes. Norman focuses on the connections and context of various aspects of folklore, revolving around a common theme within each episode. Rather than telling a single story or a set of stories, the way Myths and Legends does, Norman spends most of his time discussing the folklore and tales. He also brings in some great guests for the show so that people can offer a scholarly perspective in their own specialties of study, rather than focusing exclusively on the host’s knowledge and special focus. It’s particularly interesting to hear the same stories told by the Folklore Podcast and Myths and Legends, just as it was interesting to hear the BHP cover King Arthur.

One caveat: The production quality of the Folklore Podcast is not as refined as other podcasts I listen to, and I find myself having to adjust the volume up and down during a single episode, especially when there is a guest speaker who’s volume is much higher or lower than the host’s. But it is a minor annoyance at worst and doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the content.

So those are two podcasts I’ve really been enjoying. They’re similar in content, though very different in style, and they’ve served me well on my commutes and some long plane rides lately.

The Paradox of Long Hair Care

I don’t talk as much about hair care on this blog as I do about skin care or tea, but I do touch on it occasionally. The fact is that I’ve been obsessing about my hair care routine for much longer than I’ve really cared about my skin care. I actually found out about Korean skin care from a hair care forum to which I used to contribute. So I thought I’d talk a little bit about my hair care philosophy again, and give a little update about how I’ve been caring for my hair.

While I’ve had hair as short as a pixie and as long as mid-back, with every length in between, my hair care routine is always based on the care philosophy of people who are caring for ultra-long hair. Long hair is old hair, so the standard advice in the long hair community is to treat your hair like it is an antique lace table cloth. So, you want to handle your hair gently, keep it protected, wash it gently, and don’t wash it more than you have to.

Translated to hair care, that means that, in the long hair care world, people try to stretch out washing as long as possible, and use very gentle tools and styling. Which is what leads me to my title about the paradox of long hair care. You see, a lot of people consider long hair to be a lot of maintenance. I mean, you have a lot of hair, it’s going to take a lot of time to wash and dry. You’re going to need more product to coat it. And you need to spend time to style it.

But at the same time, I actually spend a pretty small amount of time on my hair on a daily basis. My current hair care routine is to wash it three times a week. On Sundays, I wash it with a more cleansing shampoo (Giovanni Tea Tree Triple Treat) and do a deep conditioning treatment by leaving an unscented condition on my hair for 5-10 minutes while I shave my legs. On Tuesday and Friday mornings, I only wash my hair, using a moisturizing shampoo (Innersense Hydrating Cream Hairbath), and then towel-dry it and apply a mixture of hair cream (Phyto 9) and hair oil (Oshima Tsubaki Oil). Other than that, I will occasionally rinse my hair if I get particularly sweaty or dirty, but mostly I just braid or put it up in a bun. Yes, it would take a long time to blow-dry my hair, but I don’t blow dry my hair very often. Most of the time, I let my hair air-dry as much as possible, and then style it gently. The biggest hardship is that sometimes my cat decides that my loose, drying hair is the best toy in the world.

Since getting pregnant, I’ve actually put some thought into whether or not I should cut my hair. But I’ve realized that short hair can have just as much upkeep as longer hair, and since I mostly keep my long hair up in a bun, I don’t think there’s much risk of getting it caught in things.

As far as styling goes, I generally stick to two basic styles these days. Either I braid it and fasten it with a metal-free band, or I put it into a bun and secure it with a hair pin or clip. Both of these styles are relatively quick and can be done with damp hair, as long as I’m careful not to pull damp hair too tight, since it is more delicate than dry hair. So on a normal day, I’ll spend maybe 5 minutes washing my hair, let it dry while I take care of the rest of my morning routine, and then less than 5 minutes to put it into a bun or braid.

But at the same time, I’ve spent a lot of time over the years thinking about my hair care routine. I have a similar sense of what my hair likes and dislikes as I do with my skin. So it has taken a lot of effort, if not a lot of day-to-day time. But since I generally prefer my overall “look” with longer hair, and don’t really like to wear my hair loose, I find the effort worth it.

Adventures in Tea: Tetereria Tea House in Barcelona

I recently had the joy of visiting Barcelona for a week. My husband was attending a conference while I spent my days touring around, but I knew there was one place I wanted to go before I left: Tetereria Tea House. I found out about this tea house when I was looking up whether I could reasonably expect to find a decent cup of tea while I was there, or if I should consider bringing my own (it turned out that the coffee shop around the corner from our hotel had a lovely assortment of loose leaf teas, plus almost everywhere served tea in pyramid tea bags, so I needn’t have worried!). I discovered that Barcelona is home to a tea house where you can not only get a decent cup of tea, but you can get a tea session with traditional teaware and a surprising variety of teas. Sadly, Tetereria is only open from 5-9:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, so I had a limited window in which to visit (if I’d looked up the hours sooner, I might have tried to stop by the first night we were in town, jet lag be damned!). But I knew it was something I wanted to make sure to experience, so I convinced my husband that we could visit the tea house on a Wednesday afternoon before his conference’s gala dinner that evening.

Tetereria is located a short walk from the Lesseps subway stop, which is on Line 3 (the green line). This made it very convenient from our hotel near the Placa d’Espanya! I imagine it would also be relatively convenient from the Gothic Quarter as well. The walk brings you down some typically narrow European streets, around a corner, and through the narrow shop entrance into a veritable oasis of tea. It’s cozy and has a warm feeling to the decor, with an eclectic mix of styles. About halfway back, there is a small counter where you can order tea to go, mostly latte-style drinks like chai lattes and matcha lattes, and then there are several small tables around the tea house. My husband and I sat towards the back of the shop and were able to see the partitioned area at the back, which is set up like a traditional Japanese tatami room for the Japanese tea ceremony.

Upon sitting down, we were greeted by one of the owners, and given menus. There was a book of available teas, sorted by type (pu-erh, black, oolong, green, white, herbal, etc.), and listed with a flavor profile diagram that gave the relative qualities of different flavors in the tea such as floral, astringent, body, etc. I decided to try a hei cha, which I had never tried before, and my husband went for a traditionally-prepared bowl of Kyoto matcha. We also got some sweets to go with the tea: I had a thin slice of apple cake and he had a rather large matcha-flavored dorayaki.

Upon making our selections (and it took much longer than outlined above — I oscillated among an oolong, a shou pu-erh, or a hei cha for a while), we were faced with what was probably the biggest obstacle we faced: I understand the intricacies of the teas we wished to order, while my husband is the one who speaks Spanish. This was made particularly apparent when they turned out to be out of the matcha that my husband initially chose (i.e., that I chose for him), and he had to decide on the fly which matcha the lady suggested he would like to substitute. I believe he chose the Kyoto because he’d heard of Kyoto (similarly to how my father used to order Merlot because it was the only wine he could confidently pronounce). I was then able to order my hei cha mostly in Spanish (and Chinese, I suppose), along with my apple cake. Luckily, I’d spent the last three days learning the words for foods that I liked to eat!

After we ordered, the tea arrived fairly quickly. Each tea is brought out individually with a cart that holds all the necessary teaware. So first, she brought out mine, with a gongfu brewing set, the pot of hot water, and a small dish of the single serving of tea (I was able to watch her weigh it out off the larger brick of tea while she prepared the cart). She gave me the leaves to inspect, and I noted that they didn’t have either the strong earthy quality of dried shou pu-erh, nor the green nature that I associate with sheng, but instead were a unique experience. Which was exactly what I had been hoping! She then went through the rinse of the leaves and two steepings. One steeping she poured from the sharing pitcher into the single cup, and the other she left in the pitcher. The entire set was placed before me to consider while I enjoyed my tea.

She then re-prepared the cart to bring my husband his matcha, gathering a matcha bowl, whisk, scoop, and a dish of beautifully green matcha powder. I was particularly impressed with her whisking technique and the voluminous amount of froth she was able to generate in a short time. Unfortunately, my husband finished his matcha fairly quickly, so I got very few photos of it, but I did get a taste, and it was a lovely, balanced matcha with a mild umami flavor that melted almost instantly into sweetness, plus a vegetal floral nature that I found very pleasant. He liked it, too.

My tea started out with a lighter body and subtle earthiness, as compressed teas sometimes do, but after the second or third steeping, started opening up into something with a lovely sweetness and depth. There was almost a smokiness at one point. After my initial two steepings, the lady in the shop came around every so often with the pot of hot water so I could keep steeping, which was nice. At one point, she noticed that I was sharing with my husband and let me know I could turn down the water at any point, but I (stiltedly) explained that I thought he would like it, too. I was intrigued by the almost coffee-like qualities I noticed as the session went on, which is part of why I started sharing with him. We share tasting notes when he gets single-origin coffee at our favorite coffee house, so I thought this would be a nice way to reverse that, given that he’s not often present for my tea sessions.

Sometime in this whirl of amazing tea, our food came. The apple cake was delicious, not too sweet, and the perfect amount to serve as a late afternoon snack before a late dinner. My husband was hungrier, which was good because he received a jellied sweet along with his matcha, as well as the dorayaki he ordered.

All in all, it was a lovely visit, taking just over an hour. We probably could have spent longer, but we did need to make our way to the gala dinner for my husband’s conference. But I didn’t feel rushed or cheated. I did, however, leave with a desire to return not only to Barcelona, but also to Tetereria.