Do you drink your tea naked? It’s summer and while many of us have stripped off those winter layers, it’s time we dressed up our tea. It’s National Iced Tea Month and just in time too. We’ve finally had some warm days and we can expect them to only get hotter. Cool off your backyard parties with specialty teas blended with fun ingredients such as Campari, Proseco, or limeade, and serve them up chilled in champagne flutes.
Did you know that iced tea is an American invention? It was created in 1904 at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. The tea business has changed since then. It isn’t just the Lipton tea bags or Nestea powdered tea of my childhood. And in honor of Iced Tea Month, I thought I’d investigate this growing tea phenomenon.
Tea isn’t new of course. It’s been around for thousands of years. It’s just experiencing a bit of a renaissance thanks to up-and-coming tea companies like our local friends The Tea Spot (Boulder) that sells loose-leaf tea and XINGtea in Denver that offers ready-to-drink green tea.
Tea is complicated. There is green, white, oolong, black and even ‘true’ tea. According to www.octaviatea.com only ‘true’ tea comes from the plant Camellia sinensis. “Any leaf, root, fruit or flower that comes from a different plant is considered an herbal tea.” There are elaborate blends that contain jasmine, rosebuds, rooibos (don’t know what that is but it sounds exotic!), apples, ginger root, and cardamom to name just a few. There are hand-stitched blooming tea balls that turn into flower arrangements when steeped. It’s all quite fanciful.
I stopped in at Alfalfa’s in Boulder and discovered their new tea bar. They sell bulk loose-leaf tea by a few different tea companies. Bag your own tea and scoop as much or as little as you want from each blend. Prices are by the ounce.
There are guidelines about brewing and temperature, too. According to The Tea Spot, there are three important elements: the leaves, the water, and the steep. Look for fresh, hand-crafted tea leaves, use the freshest filtered water available, and steeping in ceramic is preferred over metal, which can impart an unwanted flavor. Steeping time and temperature can result in tasty tea or bitter tea. Different teas apparently taste better if steeped at particular temperatures. The Tea Spot provides a guide. Octavia Tea recommends 195º. Always bring water to a boil then let it rest to get to the right temperature. Oversteeping your tea leaves can result in a bitter flavor. If you want a strong-flavored cup of tea, Octavia suggests using more leaves in lieu of over steeping. Steeping 2-5 minutes seems to be the safe zone.
This is all too complicated for me.
But I did enjoy the fun of shopping these exotic and aromatic tea blends. I purchased The Tea Spot’s Blood Orange Smoothie tea leaves at Alfalfa’s. The folks at Alfalfa’s were incredibly helpful, too. My kitchen now smells heavenly. The next step was to dress it up. A little Compari, a little gin, a little champagne and some precisely brewed tea made a dazzling “Blood Orange Blush”. SEE RECIPE BELOW. I’m not a gin fan, so I’d probably substitute vodka for the next batch.
Tea is supposedly good for you too. Tea has virtually no calories, is a stress reliever, sore-throat soother, and full of antioxidants. Avoid making sun tea as it can be a breading ground for bacteria. You can cold brew tea by steeping it in the fridge over night. According to Maria Uspenski at The Tea Spot:
“A report in this month’s BBC news quotes Public health nutritionist Dr Carrie Ruxton, and colleagues at Kings College London, stating that “Drinking three or more cups of tea a day is as good for you as drinking plenty of water and may even have extra health benefits” – Tea’s healthier than water. Their work, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, dispels the common belief that tea dehydrates. Teas offer antioxidant properties as well, and you always have the option of selecting the caffeine-free herbals as well. Many of them boast plenty of natural flavor and are quite hydrating, making these a great iced-beverage option.”
The point is: discover the new tea!
Dress it up with other ingredients, and treat your taste buds to a festive beverage that is beautiful, lower in calories than most bottled beverages, and comes with a few healthy benefits, too. Sounds like a good enough reason to me.
1645 Broadway Boulder, 80302
OctaviaTea Brewing Tips
Blood Orange Blush
Modified Recipe of The Tea Spot
Blood Orange tea
Yield: 37 oz.
Servings: 8 champagne flutes
2 teaspoon BLOOD ORANGE SMOOTHIE tea leaves, yielding ½ cup tea concentrate*
2 teaspoon sugar, honey or agave sweetener
1/2 cup Leopold’s Gin
1/2 cup Campari
1 750-ml bottle chilled sparkling white wine, Champagne, Cava, Spumanti or Prosecco
*Make BLOOD ORANGE ROOIBOS tea concentrate: Place 2 teaspoons of BLOOD ORANGE ROOIBOS tea leaves in a 10 ounce steeping cup. Bring 4 ounces of water to a boil. Pour hot water over tea leaves and steep for 6 minutes. Strain out tea leaves. Sweeten with 2 teaspoons sugar, honey or agave (or more to taste). Chill.
Combine chilled tea concentrate with Gin and Campari.
Divide tea/liquor mix amongst 8 champagne flutes. Fill remainder of flutes with chilled sparkling wine.