Thursday, June 18, 2009

Summer Lovin'!

It’s finally starting to feel like summertime in CO. After 2+ weeks of torrential down pours, high winds, and general Armageddon-like weather conditions, it’s starting to shape up around Boulder. Finally! That means that the foothills are a vibrant shade of green, the skies are blue (aside from the occasional 3 PM tornado watch), and the temperature is getting hot! And when the weather turns hot in CO and the CU students have left town… well… that’s traditionally meant only one thing.

Time to find me some summer lovin’… of the tea variety that is! In other words, it’s time to change it up for a bit and step out of my regular tea routine =)

You see, I drink hot tea all year round and there’s plenty of bitter, cold, nasty weather in CO for most of the year to accommodate this little habit of mine. That means lot’s of black teas in the AM and Oolongs and Greens in the afternoon. But… and I may have mentioned this before… I’m a North Carolina boy at heart. And hailing from the South means a few things.

1) I pull for my beloved Tar Heels and root for anyone to beat “Dook” - even in under-water basket weaving.

2) I like my BBQ vinegar-based. C’mon… are you really going to try to tell me that ketchup based BBQ is worth my while. Give me a break! That’s like trying to argue that CO Champagne Powder and East Coast snow & ice are comparable surfaces to ski on.

3) And finally, in the months between May and September (that’s June, July, and August in case your counting) I try to pay respect to my Southern heritage by exclusively drinking cold tea.

Now you may remember my previous post where I discussed cornbread and car-ports all while passing along my grandmother’s sweet tea recipe. Well this week I’m taking my North Carolina Mango Sweet Tea offering to the realms of gourmet sophistication!

You see… as much as I love my sweet tea… and cornbread… I’m also a bit of a tea snob. Not the “tip-my-pinky-finger, let’s all wear funny red hats and eat crumpets” sort of tea snob. But just someone who appreciates really good tea. And I happen to think that really great iced tea starts with high quality, premium tea – preferably in loose, whole leaf form.

So a few tips if you really want to change it up this summer and get some serious lovin’ out of your iced tea experience.

1) Start with Whole Leaf Tea. As you probably know, most tea bags contain dust and fannings. In layman’s terms those are the smallest bits and pieces of the tea plant that are left over after the whole leaf tea is processed. And when you break down/ process a tea leaf to dust and fanning type grades that leaf loses the majority of its essential oil. The less essential oil there is in a tea leaf (or most things for that matter) the less flavor that infusion will yield.

2) Brew your tea for the same amount of time and at with the same H20 temperature as if you were drinking it hot. Using the appropriate temperature water is key to extracting full flavor from your tea leaf and timing your infusion for the recommended time (based on tea type) typically means that you won’t over-steep your leaf or end up with a bitter result. While there are specific products on the market that allow for cold-brewing, the majority of whole leaf teas should be brewed using hot water and then cooled post-infusion.

My experience is that brewing your tea hot and then chilling it in the refrigerator yields the best flavor and taste. However, in the event that you’re in a pinch and need to have cold tea immediately than simply make a stronger batch. Using the same amount of leaf but ½ the water will yield a concentrate that can be chilled immediately thereafter with ice.

3) Economize and re-use your leaf. One of the great things about whole leaf tea is the ability to infuse the same leaf multiple times. Just as you can get multiple cups of tea out of 1 serving of Meditative Mind or Boulder Blues, you can also apply that same concept to your leaf tea when making iced tea in larger batches. This idea goes back to the argument over essential oils in found in a whole leaf tea vs. lack there-of found in bagged teas. When making iced tea at home I typically make ½ pitcher with a small amount of leaf tea. When the infusion is complete, I filter my tea into a separate pitcher. Then with the same leaf I add more hot water and brew a 2nd ½ pitcher. I then filter/ strain this 2nd infusion into the same pitcher that I did my first, place in the fridge, and chill.

Sure… making iced tea in large batches out of whole leaf tea is definitely a bit more involved and complicated than using teabags. But the end result is a much more flavorful (and typically more economical) pitcher of tea that you can enjoy during those dog days of summer. But then again, changing things up with a little summer lovin’ is always fun!

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