Cold-Brewing Darjeeling First Flush for Iced Tea

In my last post, I introduced Happy Earth Tea, which recently sent me four samples of Darjeeling  First Flush, which I have now all sampled, but still not yet reviewed.  One of the things though that I tried with one of these samples, the tea from Puttabong estate, was cold brewing.  Niraj Lama contacted me shortly after I wrote my blog post on Teacology on brewing iced tea to minimize energy usage; in that post I had mentioned cold brewing, and mentioned that I hadn’t had much luck with it.  Niraj Lama urged me to try out cold brewing, with his teas.

There’s a great post on the Happy Earth Tea website, cold brewing Darjeeling: heaven in a cup, which gave a method that I more-or-less followed, although with a slightly longer steeping time than recommended.  The method is very simple:

  • Put one teaspoon of tea per cup in cold water
  • Put it in the refrigerator and let sit for 6 hours
  • Strain and drink

How did the tea turn out?

It turned out wonderful!  I have to admit, I was very pleasantly surprised: this was the first time I’ve had cold brewing work out well for me, and the results were, as I like to say, absolutely exquisite:

A cup of light golden tea on a windowsill
Cold brewing the Darjeeling first flush from Happy Earth Tea yielded a beautiful, pale golden cup with an intense floral fragrance.

I used a slightly greater than 8 hour steeping time, and one teaspoon of leaf, to brew the single cup of iced tea pictured above.  I did not add any ice, but I did drink the tea chilled to the temperature of my refrigerator.

The resulting cup was intensely fragrant, but the experience of drinking it, especially the experience of the aroma, was very different from that of drinking a cup of hot tea.  I normally think of high-quality Darjeeling first flush as an intensely fragrant tea, with a somewhat fleeting, transient aroma.  Something about chilling the tea seemed to hold the aroma in the cup itself: there wasn’t much smell when I raised the cup to drink it, but upon sipping it, the aroma developed in my mouth, and the lingering aroma after finishing a sip was stronger than when actually tasting the tea.

The aroma was pretty similar to that of the hot tea: just about all the tones and nuances were there, but they seemed to emerge at different times.

One thing I did notice was that the flavor was made significantly bolder and more concentrated, and I think the effect of steeping for a very long time also concentrated the caffeine.  High-grade, tippy Darjeeling tea tends to be pretty high in caffeine to begin with, and steeping it as I did here resulted in a strongly caffeinated cup–deceptively strong relative to the light color and mild flavor.  In this sense, it almost resembled some silver needle, although the aroma was very different.

More commentary on the cold brewing method:

I also find it interesting that the post on Happy Earth’s site mentions that the usual brew-hot-then-chill method did not produce very good results with first flush.  I’ve never tried making iced tea from Darjeeling first flush, and I rarely make it from any sort of Darjeeling, so I can’t verify running into the same problem.  I do notice that the brew-hot-then-chill method tends to result in a cloudy cup (see the picture in this post), but I don’t notice any negative impact on flavor, and quite to the contrary, it’s tended to result in better flavor than my attempts at cold brewing.

I have a strong hunch or intuition that the cold brewing method used here would work best with high-grade teas, and that the brew-hot-then-chill method would work best with lower-to-mid-grade teas, anything short of the top-grade artisan teas, because these teas probably have more bitterness or astringency that would escape in the very long-term brewing.

What do you think?

  • Have you ever cold-brewed a high-grade Darjeeling first flush tea?  If not, would this post convince you to try it out?
  • Do you think there’s a relationship between the cloudiness resulting from the brew-hot-then-chill approach to iced tea, and a change in flavor?
  • Do you think my intuition about these methods working differently based on the grade and quality of the tea is correct?  Does it fit with your own experience or knowledge?

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