Four Batches of Iced Tea – And Some Gardening

It got really hot here, and looking at the map of temperatures, it’s been hot across most of the continental U.S., excepting the Northwest, yesterday and today.  Temperatures here creeped up into the low 90’s, but most importantly, it was very humid, and nighttime temperatures stayed in the high 70’s and didn’t dip below 80 till well after midnight.

So, I made a lot of iced tea.  I have made four batches, using the same technique that I explained in my Teacology post on brewing iced tea to minimize energy usage.  Because I want to drink tons and tons of iced tea, and I don’t want to consume tons and tons of caffeine, I’ve been balancing batches of caffeinated pure teas with caffeine-free herbal teas.  Probably the most exciting one was a batch of herbal tea I made from the fresh mint growing in my garden:

A patch of spearmint, lush green plants with serrated leaves and square stems
Spearmint growing in my garden.

This spearmint was a free bonus of living in this apartment.  Our landlord gave us permission to grow a small garden along the side of the apartment, and we’ve been really going to town with this…but completely independently of this, I noticed that one of the existing flower beds bordering the next apartment unit over was completely overgrown with mint.  The neighbors who live in this apartment said they don’t use the mint, so I’m free to harvest whatever I’d like.

Here’s a photo of the iced mint tea:

A cup of iced tea on a windowsill behind a screen with green trees behind it
My most recent batch of iced mint tea.

This photo also highlights something else I really like about my new location, which is that there’s a wooded slope behind me.  Not only does this keep the area cool (a lot cooler than being mostly surrounded by concrete, blacktop, and buildings like I was in the city) but I also have been going up into this area and nurturing the ecosystems there, discovering a variety of native plants and cutting back some of the “bully” invasive plants like the Ailanthus altissima trees, which a trained eye may be able to spot in the picture above.

About The Iced Tea

I’ve made four batches of iced tea so far.  They are:

  • Fresh mint tea – Described above.  This one was excellent, as it always was.  The mint is perhaps not quite at is prime, a little bitter and stronger tasting than it was about a month ago, but it has not gone to flower yet and it is still in the better part of its flavor range.  I also think the stronger flavor can be nice to make a brisk iced tea.
  • Ahmad Ceylon Tea – This tea is one of my go-to teas of all time.  It’s excellent hot, and excellent iced.  I like brewing it strong to make iced tea, using a lot of leaf and steeping for a full 7 minutes, possibly even longer.
  • Foojoy Dragon Well / Lung Ching – This is a lower grade tea that I find quite enjoyable, but that pales in comparison to some of the Dragon Well samples I’ve been reviewing from TeaVivre recently.  What qualities are maybe less enjoyable in a hot tea though, like slightly greater astringency, I can sometimes find greatly refreshing.  This particular tea I also find tastes a lot smoother and higher-quality iced, for some reason.
  • Rooibos, this batch from Frontier Coop – I don’t drink iced rooibos as much as the minty or lemony herbs, but I felt inspired to make some last night so I made up a batch and I’m loving it.  It has a fruitiness, and a depth and full-bodied character that is usually absent from anything but pure black iced tea.  My only problem with it is that I have trouble telling it apart from the Ahmad Ceylon Tea when I look at the jars of it in the fridge.

One thing I have not yet done is cold-brew some Darjeeling First Flush teas from Happy Earth Tea.  I did this last year, at the recommendation of Niraj Lama from Happy Earth Tea, and the results were outstanding.  This year’s teas I’ve all reviewed hot but I have yet to try them iced…perhaps soon.

How about you?

  • Do you have a patch of mint growing around your home?
  • Have you ever moved into a new apartment or house to be pleasantly surprised by some food plant growing there?
  • Do you ever think about “bully” species of invasive plants, like Ailanthus altissima?
  • Do you drink iced pure teas?  Iced herbal teas?
  • What are your favorite teas and herbs to make iced tea from?

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?

Pouring Strong Black Tea and Enjoying the Wintergreen Aroma

I published a new post on Teacology, about Brewing Iced Tea to Minimize Energy Usage.  Here, I want to share some secret insider info about my experience preparing the batch of iced tea whose photographs are displayed in that post.  This secret is actually about the step of pouring the tea.

Wintergreen plant, with small evergreen leaves and white flowers
The wintergreen plant, photo by Jason Hollinger, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

One of my favorite qualities or attributes of the aroma of black tea is the presence of wintergreen in the aroma.  This presence isn’t just a suggestion, hint, or analogy: the wintergreen aroma is actually present in the aroma of black tea.  Wintergreen is one of the plants whose essential oil’s aromatic properties are defined primarily by the presence of a single chemical: methyl salicylate.  This chemical also occurs in tea; I wrote about this connection in my post about wintergreen tones in black tea.

The tea I used in this iced tea, Ahmad Tea’s Ceylon, has a modest (pleasant but not dominant) amount of the wintergreen smell in its aroma.  When brewed normally, there’s just a small amount of wintergreen in the aroma, a suggestion or strong hint.  But something special happens when I make iced tea by the energy-saving process I prefer.

Pouring the tea:

When I brew iced tea, I typically brew a concentrated cup, typically at four times the usual strength, in a single mug, and I steep it with a lid, to hold in the fleeting aromas.  There’s a moment when I pour the tea from the mug into the jar I use to store the iced tea in, where the aromas of the ultra-strongly-brewed hot tea escape into the air.  For some reason (perhaps methyl salicylate is more volatile than other aromatic components of the tea), I find that there’s a brief moment when there’s an intense smell of wintergreen rising up from the jar of hot tea.

I love this.

How about you?

Do you have any little moments like this, that you experience while making tea, that you enjoy in a similar way?

Iced Ahmad Tea, Karen Flam, Tea vs. Beer, and Starbucks/Tazo

It was quite hot yesterday and today, and I made up my first batch of iced tea of the season, and I’m drinking the last cup of it, pictured here on my windowsill.  It was raining as I took this pic.

A cup of cloudy iced tea on a windowsill
Iced tea, brewed from Ahmad Tea’s loose-leaf Ceylon tea

This was brewed from the regular loose-leaf ceylon tea from Ahmad Tea.  It came out quite cloudy, and almost pinkish in hue–I found it quite aesthetically pleasing.  I brewed it on the mild side so I could drink it in quantity, but this tea I usually prefer to brew strong when I’m drinking it hot.   If I had to be stuck with a single black tea to drink, this would probably be one of the contenders for my pick.  It certainly helps that it’s priced at around $8 a pound–and this tea offers exceptional quality for this price range.  It tastes good hot or iced, and has a good balance of strength and complexity, with a rich malty quality and the wintergreen tones that I so love in black tea.  You can read my full review on RateTea.

I started thinking about writing a post for Teacology on energy efficiency in brewing iced tea.  RateTea’s page on iced tea has a little section on this, but I want to go into more depth.  So stay tuned for that.

Meeting A New Tea Reviewer: Karen Flam

In other news, I recently met up with Karen Flam, who runs the Aromatherapy Alliance.  Karen, a.k.a. spaflam, started out reviewing teas with a big splash, shooting up to the #5 spot on RateTea’s top reviewers page after only a few weeks.  Will she be the first one to overtake me on the site, in terms of number of teas rated?  I don’t know, but if she continues at the rate that she has been, I won’t be in that #1 spot for very long!

I love meeting up with people in person; most of the people I interact with through RateTea live rather far away, so it’s refreshing to find people local enough that we can meet face-to-face outside of big events like World Tea East.

More on Reviews: Beer vs. Tea

It’ exciting to connect with other people who love reviewing things online.  I dream of a day when RateTea will look like the RateBeer 100 Beer Club.  123 users who have rated over 5000 beers!  Wow!  I wish people would get that excited about tea.  I know I am much more enthusiastic about rating tea than beer, so the disparate level of enthusiasm between tea and beer has been a bit unintuitive to me, especially given that it seems people are much more likely to drink tea than beer when at a computer and in a state of mind where they’re eager to write up an online review.  But as my mother pointed out–“the types of people who like beer are more the types of people who like rating things, like think of the guys who rate women on their looks”.  Ahh…not exactly the most pretty mental picture…but perhaps there’s some truth in it, which would explain both why there’s been a little less interest in tea rating, as well as why my intuition for why there is less interest may be a bit off.

But I’m happy for what I have–RateTea’s participation and the reviews have been steadily growing.

More Reviews

Stay tuned for some new reviews from me.  I’ve been sampling some teas from TeaVivre, and they’re pretty top-notch.  This tea was amazing.  And there are two more that are top-notch.  I want to brew them a bit more before I write up the final reviews, but there’s a Lu An Gua Pian that’s the best example of it’s style that I’ve ever tried, and some other outstanding green teas as well.

Tazo: Tea Bags (Filterbags) vs. Sachets (Full Leaf)

I’ve also begun breaking apart Tazo’s offerings into the tea bags (which they call “filterbags”, awkwardly IMHO) and sachets (which they call “full leaf”, a term I have a bit of beef with)…and I’ve begun reviewing them separately.  Yes, Tazo still offers both of these lines of tea separately, although you’ll only find the “full leaf” sachets in Starbucks coffee shops.  And in case you missed it, Tazo finally did away with their flash-only website.  Check out the new Tazo site.  I love it; I think this is an immense improvement and will go a long way to helping Tazo’s online presence:

Screenshot of the new Tazo website
Tazo finally abandoned their old flash-only website, and has a fully-functional, standard website. Yay!

What do you think?

  • Any thoughts on the beer rating vs. tea rating topic?
  • How do you feel about Tazo’s naming scheme fol their tea bags vs. their sachets?  What about the quality of these teas?  And do you like their new website?