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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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]

Tea Review: My First What-Cha Tea Haul

About a month ago, I posted an unboxing of a tea order from What-Cha. I was inspired (enabled) to order after an extended conversation on Facebook about white tea and jasmine pearl tea, and considered asking if he wanted to join me in an order so we could make the free shipping minimum more easily. And then I looked at my basket and I had already made free shipping. Oops. But of course, I was running low on some things, and I wanted to try some things, so while it was maybe a bit more of a “haul” than I usually indulge in, I went with it. I looked up some reviews and saw that the company, based across the pond from me, usually took a couple weeks to ship, so I promptly decided to forget about it until it showed up as a pleasant surprise. And then it showed up a week later, which was an even more pleasant surprise.

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I was immediately touched by the handwritten note tucked in by Alastair from What-Cha. Not only does he have beautiful handwriting, but it really made me feel like the order was given a bit of a personal touch. I wondered if the samples and mystery tea in my order were selected based on considering the other things I’d ordered, rather than just tossing in whatever they had a crate of. So far, I’ve tasted almost all of the teas included, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.

Sticky Rice oolong: This was the first tea I tried from the order and it was actually the free sample they provided. It is a rolled oolong that smells of sticky rice (or popcorn, to me). And it really does smell like popcorn. I brewed it in gaiwan and shared my first impression on my Instagram Story and anyone who caught that knows that I found the popcorn scent completely enchanting. It has a nice flavor, mellow and characteristically oolong. It’s a fun little tea.

Tie Guan Yin heavy roast oolong: This is a pretty representative Tie Guan Yin oolong. It brews up into a heady tea with notes of wood, cannabis, and oak in the nose and a creamy smokiness in the flavor that I really enjoyed. I also brewed this in gaiwan and it does well there.

Yunnan Jingmai light roast oolong: I first tried this on my birthday. I bought it because I wanted to try an oolong that was rolled into what they call “Dragon Balls.” It’s basically a little ball of tea leaves, about 3/4″ in diameter. It seems like it would be a good amount for a standard tea pot, but I found that using one dragon ball in my little gongfu set produced a brew that sent me bouncing off the walls of my office. So I cut one dragon ball in half and use it for two brewing sessions. And this does give you a session. I can easily get ten steepings out of this, starting at 30 seconds and going up to a minute with no flagging in the flavor coming out of the tea. I tend to stop steeping out of exhaustion (or over-caffeination) than out of depletion of the tea itself. I find this tea also benefits from a bit of a rinse, as the first cup is otherwise a bit insipid until the dragon ball softens and opens up a bit.

Sencha of the Summer Sun: This is a standard, lovely Japanese green tea. I’ve actually taken to drinking it from my English bone china tea-for-one set instead of faffing about with my kyushu set because it just handles suboptimal conditions so perfectly without becoming bitter or unpleasant. It’s a sunny little tea and, though not ground-breaking, perfectly enjoyable.

Jasmine green tea pearls: I have only tried this one once, so I don’t have a lot of notes on it, but this is a lovely jasmine tea. It is jasmine-scented, rather than flavored with jasmine petals, but the scenting is not heavy-handed and it makes a delightful cuppa.

Silver Needle white tea: This is such an amazing tea. I will admit that I had never tried white tea before. It all seemed rather a gimmick to me and I didn’t really know that there would be much difference between white and green tea. Well, there is. First of all, the leaves themselves do look like large pine needles, and have a soft, delicate, velvety texture. I just want to pet the leaves before I even steep them. But if I can bring myself to steep them, they yield a brew that is not as subtle as I was expecting, and very, very floral. It almost tastes as though they have jasmine or magnolia scent added to them, even though they don’t. I brew this in my gongfu set for 1-3 minutes and get several steepings out of it.

The last tea is the Mystery Tea that I selected. I was curious what would come of it, so I selected the option that let them give me anything: green, oolong, or black. I ended up getting a kukicha tea that looks interesting, but that I haven’t tried quite yet. I suppose I shall have to report back when I have tasted it, but I will likely post it on my Instagram, rather than taking up blog space. Please do follow my Instagram and check out my Stories for tea reviews and first impressions.

NB: I purchased of these teas with my own money and was not offered any compensation for writing this review.

Autumn 2016 Teas I’ve Been Loving

Good morning. As my blog name implies, I am an avowed tea-drinker. And I haven’t done a tea review in a while now. Lately, as the weather cools down, I find myself reaching for more rich black teas, sometimes with milk and a touch of sugar, or else a more-oxidized oolong tea. So I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve been drinking that I rather enjoy in the chilly weather.

Beautiful Taiwan Tea Company Asian Beauty Oolong: This was my autumn transition tea. It is a large-leafed, moderately-oxidized oolong that gives a robust, amber-colored cup of tea. It does tend towards bitterness if brewed too hot or for too long, and I find this is one of the few oolongs I actually prefer brewed Western-style than in a gaiwan. And, of course, given my love of Asian beauty products, I couldn’t resist the name.

Harney and Sons Black Tea Sampler: As I’ve mentioned before, when the weather gets cold, I turn to rich black teas. The thing is, I tend to drink a lot of breakfast tea with milk and occasionally sugar, and then a lot of Earl Grey. Not a lot of variety. So I decided to get myself a four-tin sampler set of black teas from H&S this autumn. It includes teas from China, India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya, which is a nice assortment and goes beyond the standard Assam and Darjeeling teas I know and love. I believe my favorite is the Kenilworth Sri Lankan tea, but all of them are distinctive and have their appeal. If you’re looking to expand your black tea horizons, these samples are varied and generous for the price.

Harney and Sons Earl Grey: Of course, I couldn’t go all autumn and winter without a nice Earl Grey. So I bought a four-ounce tin of H&S Earl Grey. It’s a rather large amount of tea, which is perfect for everyday tea drinking. If I’m not in the mood for something specific, I generally turn to the Earl. This is a nice blend, not too bergamot-y, and not too bitter. It handles oversteeping when I occasionally forget about my tea on a busy morning. And it doesn’t send me bouncing off the walls with caffeine, but it’s a proper morning pick-me-up. A solid Earl Grey offering.

Disclaimer: I purchased all products described and was provided no incentive for review. I have not used any affiliate links.

An Ode to the Simplicity of Grandpa-Style Tea

I had a British colleague at my old job who was known as “dirty mug guy” because he rarely washed his tea mug and the stains had built up to name-worthy proportions. I fear that I may be becoming “dirty mug gal” at my current job, though I doubt anyone else has noticed. It’s gotten to the point that I think I need to give my infuser a bit of a scrubdown with baking soda to remove the old stains. But being as lazy as I often am, and as forgetful, I keep forgetting to bring baking soda to work and get to that.

So I’ve been drinking my tea grandpa-style. Grandpa-style tea is a fairly traditional way of drinking tea in China, where the leaves are dumped into a mug, topped off with hot water, and sipped throughout the day, refilling with water as desired. You can filter the leaves through your teeth, or wait for them to settle out. I generally do some combination of the two.

This is not a method for strong black teas, at least for me, because the tea gets too strong. It is also not a method for very nuanced teas, as the delicacy can be lost in the rather open-ended steeping time. But I love it for a nice green or light oolong that is tasty without being fancy. It is also a rather frugal method, as the way to prevent your first tea from being undrinkably oversteeps is to use a smaller portion of tea leaves.

I generally toss a teaspoon or so of leaves into my mug, top with just enough water to cover the leaves and let the leaves sit in the water for a minute to soak up some water. Then, I fill the mug the rest of the way. This gives the leaves a bit of a head start at saturating and falling to the bottom of the mug. Then, I can sip for a bit, leaving maybe an inch in the bottom to act as a kind of concentrate to start the next cup.

It is a very relaxed and unfussy way of drinking tea, and one that appeals to me on a busy day when I can’t be bothered to deal with multiple pieces of an infuser mug. And perhaps one of these days, I’ll get around to scrubbing up.

Simple Loose Leaf: First Boxes, and Early Impressions

I mentioned earlier that I had joined the Simple Loose Leaf subscription tea service. To be completely honest, I chose them because they were one of the least expensive options, and I liked that it was a small business run out of the US. I considered some other services, but they either seemed focused on flavored teas, or else had excessive shipping times from being based overseas.

Before I joined, I emailed the company to express some concerns I had, primarily about the types of teas they choose for the box. Andrew assured me they are a company of tea-lovers who love the flavor of tea and are not overly concerned with making tea taste like something else. So I dove in.

I’ve received two boxes, one for March and one for April. Right away, the snow at the end of February put a cramp in their style, and I received a lovely email from Andrew explaining that the boxes would be delayed as weather prevented them from receiving some of their supplies. Sadly, I had hoped that my first box in March would be a birthday box, but it was not to be. That said, once I did receive the box, it was a pleasant gift.

The highlights of the March box were a gunpowder green tea, which came with a sample of spearmint tea to make a Moroccan mint with the recipe and packets of Turbinado sugar included, as well as a lovely Darjeeling. I’ve gotten more into Darjeeling teas with the spring, so that was a nice sample. It also included some herbal and flavored blends I haven’t tried yet.

April’s box had a Fujian black tea and a Taimu Mountain green tea that were a lot of fun to try and right up my alley. It also had some flavors I wasn’t so excited about. There was a Thai Chai that I still haven’t tried, but I like other chais, so maybe it will be good. The really out-there one was Nutty Mocha Mate, which I tried and did not like. I thought it kind of tasted like really weak coffee, which isn’t my preference. It also included a Jasmine Rooibos, which I haven’t tried because I don’t generally like Rooibos, but I like jasmine, so I may try it in the future.

I have to say, my current favorite part of the store is the 50% discount you get with a subscription! I got an order of 4 1-oz. bags of tea recently that I picked myself. It was three oolongs (Four Seasons oolong, Jade oolong, and Magnolia oolong) and their Four Horsemen black tea blend.

Four Seasons oolong is a really lovely, interesting tea. I was out of oolong but in the mood for it. It’s a variety of Tie Guan Yin oolong, which I’ve had before elsewhere and liked, but I noticed a particularly lovely milk oolong quality to it. It’s more subtle than the milk oolong I got from a local tea store and much more refreshing.

Four Horsemen blend is my go-to morning cup of black tea right now when I need a pick-me-up. It’s a blend of Assam, Darjeeling, Yunnan, and Keemun teas and you can pick out the qualities of each. In particular, it has the full body of an Assam, but without smothering the delicate quality of the Darjeeling.

Magnolia oolong is my new favorite tea right now. It’s a scented tea, like a jasmine green tea or a rose black, but the sweet scent of magnolias just go with oolong tea, and bring to mind the slowly-emerging spring. I highly recommend it for spring. I drink it at work when I can’t get outside, but I imagine it would be even more lovely sipped in the garden in the sun under a giant hat among the flowers.

So far I’m impressed with the quality of the teas and the service with Simple Loose Leaf and look forward to more from them. I’ve purchased the subscription myself, so I get nothing in return for this review.