Experiments in Tea: How to Stay Cool

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It’s definitively summer here in Maryland, and we are feeling it, at home with our non-industrial air conditioning. By about 3pm (if we’re lucky), our aircon stops being able to keep up with the daily heat and the temperature inside starts to creep up, too. So sometimes, I just don’t feel like having a hot cup of tea. Now I’ve talked in the past about my love of cold-brewed tea, but that is not the iciest glass of tea I can make. For that, I have to turn to the Japanese technique that is known as shinobi-cha or kori-dashi, which is the practice of brewing tea with ice.

Now, if you’re new to ice-brewing, it may sound like some sort of Coors Lite gimmick, but let me tell you, it produces and singularly smooth, and very cold cup of tea. And I personally find it very well-suited to Japanese teas, possibly because of the power of suggestion, but also because of the delicate balance of umami and sweetness that dances in those leaves. It’s particularly prized as a method for brewing gyokuro, but I also love it for a delicate sencha.

So this week, with the weather sweltering, I weighed out 120g of fresh ice cubes made from filtered water (you don’t want them to have absorbed any weird odors while sitting in the freezer), and added 4g of sencha from The Steeped Leaf Shop on top. I’ve made it both with the leaves on the bottom and the leaves on top, and I find leaves on top makes for a more flavorful brew. And this sencha is one that I’ve particularly enjoyed, with a balanced umami, sweetness, and brightness that comes through beautifully when iced.

Now, you can use one big ice cube, if you wish. I will often weigh out a 120-g portion of water in a silicone container and freeze it overnight to have that one big, Instagrammable, ice dome, but I was impatient and brewing on a whim, so I used smaller cubes from the ice maker (our ice maker frightens the cat, so we only run it when we need ice right then). I haven’t noticed a big difference in the result, but the time it takes for the ice to melt is shorter with smaller cubes.

And that’s how you brew it — you put tea over ice, or ice over tea, and let it melt. When it has melted, it’s done. Personally, I like to let it nearly melt, so that the last little bits of ice are still solid, ensuring that the final brew is still icy cold. It is a long wait for a relatively small bit of tea, but the flavor experience is exceptional, and it’s probably the only tea I don’t feel absolutely disgusting taking outside to my garden after noon!

NB: Nothing to disclose. The tea mentioned was purchased by me and I was not paid or incentivized to write this post. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.