Tea Together Tuesday: Straight Talk

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Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share your favorite “straight” tea and how you like to make it. I assume straight tea is simply unblended, unflavored tea, something that I drink quite often, so obviously I cannot choose just one favorite. But I can share my favorite tea of the moment (I have, unfortunately, run out of the Baozhong that so captivated me a few weeks ago).

I received this Colombian White Tea from Chado Tea Room as PR a little while ago. I actually used their Egyptian chamomile in my Hercule Poirot literary tea session, and chose the Colombian white as my second sample because it was just so intriguing. Who knew they grew and processed white tea in Colombia? Well, I shared my thoughts a little while ago, but one thing I hadn’t tried was cold-brewing it. Yes, it is still nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit here most afternoons, so cold tea is the way to go.

And oh my goodness! This tea is delightful cold-brewed. It has that soft tannin coupled with a sugarcane-juice sweetness that I associate with Taiwanese black teas, without the hay-like quality I get in the flavor of some leaf-heavy white teas. But the cold-brewed version had a peach note to it that made it just taste like summer. It almost tasted like peach sweet tea, but without anything added. I had grand designs to make some sort of tea cocktail or mocktail with it, but I drank the entire litre of tea before adding anything to it, so this is certainly the straightest of straight teas. Nothing added because nothing is needed.

I’ve definitely found myself gravitating towards white teas these days. I think if I had to associate specific teas with specific seasons, I would put green teas with spring, white teas with summer, roasted oolongs and hojicha with autumn, and black teas with winter, but the unique flavor of this tea makes it one I could see myself drinking all year round. But brewed cold, it is just the essence of summer.

What’s your favorite tea? Does it change by the season?

NB: Tea was provided by Chado Tea Room in exchange for sharing my tasting notes, which I shared previously. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.

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.

Tea Together Tuesday: Fraternité and Iced Tea

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Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share your favorite way to jazz up iced tea. Now I have waxed rhapsodic about my love of cold-brewed tea over the years, most recently in my back-to-back videos about cold brewing both in plain water and sparkling, but today I am, surprisingly, not going to talk about cold brew!

After all, the prompt is “iced” tea, and I frequently never pour my cold-brewed teas over ice! I was also reminded when I signed onto social media this morning that it happens to be the Fête Nationale (or Bastille Day), during which French people and Francophiles around the world celebrate the liberation of the French Revolution. Since I spent much of my remembered childhood in a former Ursuline academy, I grew up steeped in French culture, and it seemed only appropriate to celebrate this festival at the end of Messidor, leading into the steamy Thermidor month, with a bleu-blanc-rouge inspired iced tea.

I was heavily inspired by Traci of Tea Infusiast, both to try her iced tea technique (borrowed from Taylor of Cup of Té) and create a Bastille Day inspired iced tea. I used the shaken iced tea technique to create a delightfully frothy chilled tea, using some White Silver Tips from the Rare Tea Company, and then strained it into a coupe glass (which has an appropriately-French apocryphal origin) studded with some fresh strawberries and blueberries. The froth almost gives it a champagne-like look, and the combination of the strongly-steeped silver needle tea with the slight dilution and muting of flavors from the chilling yields a tea that tastes like a summer day, with notes of fresh hay and summer stone fruits. It reminds me of walking through a peach orchard at the height of summer, where the grass is a little dry from the heat, and the scent of dry grass and peaches permeates the air. The strong steeping also reminds you that silver needle white tea, contrary to popular belief, can be rather high in caffeine, which concentrates in the tips of the tea plant. After a couple glasses of this, I was ready to take on the monarchy, or at least my ever-expanding to-do list.

While the fruit does not so much imbue the tea with its flavor (although you get a lovely whiff of strawberry as you sip), the tea-soaked fruit at the end makes a lovely treat. I also encourage you to try this with actual champagne, as raspberries that have steeped in champagne is not only delicious, but one of our family’s Christmas traditions.

So in keeping with the community theme and the ideal of brotherhood celebrated on Bastille day, I offer up this community-inspired tea drink. Sip in good health and good company, be it in person or virtually.

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.

Tea Leaves and Tweed Tea Primer, Bonus Level: Cold-Brewed Tea

Update: I’ve decided to add this post to my Tea Leaves and Tweed Tea Primer, even though it predates the primer, so the style is a bit different. But it’s definitely a thorough treatment of cold-brewing tea and I don’t think it’s worth reinventing the wheel.

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!