Welcome back to Teatime Tuesday! Happy Independance Day, to my fellow American readers! The temperatures are starting to skyrocket in my area (typical of summer in southern Idaho!) so I’ve decided to embark on a journey to learn how to make great iced tea. I don’t have experience in this, and there are so many different websites on the subject, each with their own recipes and techniques, that it feels a bit overwhelming to a newcomer like me! But Teatime has always been an opportunity for me to explore and try new things, so throughout July and August, I’ll be icing teas in my collection to sample. The worst that can happen if a method doesn’t work out or a batch tastes bad is to try again, right? Because the art of fine tea is a process.
There are two teas in my collection that I love warm… and cold! (That is, I’ll sip them extra slowly while they are still warm teas so my cup goes cold, and then at the point most people would have to get a new cup because they now have cold tea, I find I’m drinking my cup with even more enthusiasm!) I probably shouldn’t be surprised, since both of these teas say they are phenomenal iced from TeaSource, where you can order both of these teas.
Here we have Strawberry Oolong and Rhubarb Oolong. I first sampled Strawberry Oolong at my lunchtime haunt Twin Beans (which I’m so happy to announce got named one of the 51 best coffee shops in America!) and I got the Rhubarb Oolong in a 2 oz. bag from TeaSource with a birthday giftcard. After quickly drinking through the 2 oz. bag (normally it takes me ages to go through that much tea!) I ordered a 4 oz. bag, and also the Strawberry Oolong that I enjoy having on my lunch breaks! Both of these are more affordable for oolongs: a 2 oz. bag of Strawberry Oolong is $4.70 (4 oz. is $8.59) and a 2 oz. bag of Rhubarb Oolong is $5.04 (4 oz. is $9.27). They are thick, curly tea leaves and quite bulky, so be warned you may go through them a bit faster than smaller, finer tea leaves! As of this writing, the Rhubarb Oolong is currently on sale, so if you are curious in trying it out, now is a good time!
Let’s take a look at the Strawberry Oolong first. This oolong is described as a “semi-curled oolong from Fujian province blended with flavor to steep up light to medium-bodied with the aroma and taste of fresh strawberries wrapping around you with every sip.” It’s a very apt description! This is a very lightly oxidized oolong (see how green the leaves are?) and it smells strawberry-delicious!
I use 190 degree F water to prepare my oolongs, and steep for three minutes. The resulting tea is a pale yellowish-green color, and you can smell sweet summer strawberries wafting from the steam. Mmmm! It has this wonderful light finish with a great strawberry flavor! I prefer my cup sweetened, as I feel that really brings out the taste of sweet strawberries. It still tastes great once the cup goes cold, and being an oolong, those leaves can be resteeped multiple times!
If you are looking for a good strawberry flavored tea, I’d highly recommend this! Fans of flavored green teas should enjoy this oolong as it is quite similar as far as tea properties go, and those that don’t like green teas should definitely try it out since it has a completely different taste than sencha leaves! It’s light, refreshing, fruity, and sweet… perfect for a summer cool-down!
Here is Strawberry Oolong iced, as prepared by the above mentioned Twin Beans. Since they are having to prepare iced tea on-the-fly, they of course have to prepare a hot steep and then ice the tea. When I decided to make this iced myself, I decided to go with the cold steep method.
I took a mason jar in to work, measured out how much water fit in the jar (five measuring cups worth, so just slightly over a quart) and then measured out my leaf. The rule of thumb is one teaspoon leaf for one cup of water, so I knew I was going to need about five teaspoons of leaf, but I didn’t want the iced tea to not have enough flavor, and with hot tea, you just add more leaf to get more flavor, so I added the “one for the pot” teaspoon. But that, apparently, was a mistake!
Sadly I didn’t have my camera on me, so I don’t have any pictures of the mason jar as all the oolong leaves started to uncurl in it at the back of the fridge, but several of my coworkers wondered if I was doing a science experiment or breeding a baby swamp thing (to be fair, it did look like I was growing something living in there!) I left it over night, strained the leaves the next day, and it smelled great! I thought everything was fine. Kathleen took a picture of the finished pitcher.
You may be able to see how it looks so much more greener than Twin Bean’s version. Granted, they didn’t cold steep, and I would expect a slight difference in flavor, but the color shouldn’t be that off… but from what I’ve read, you can’t “oversteep” cold-brewing, because it doesn’t release tannins. But I tasted it, and it was bitter! Oh was it ever bitter! Bitter bitter iced tea! So I started researching, and according to this article on Serious Eats, that extra leaf was my downfall. Apparently coldbrewing doesn’t require going leaf-heavy, and using too much causes bitterness!
Onto the Rhubarb Oolong! This oolong is described as a “Chinese oolong from Fujian blended with flavor, rose petals, and rhubarb pieces to produce a tea that steeps up sweet, very smooth, and medium-bodied with a very distinctive fruity-rhubarb tang.” You can tell from the leaves how it is a bit darker than the Strawberry Oolong. To me it has a sort of chocolate-strawberry scent, only a little more earthy… it’s hard to describe, but it is simply amazing! I’m assuming it must be the scent of the rhubarb, but I haven’t really smelled rhubarb to compare. It’s so sweet I could be happy just sniffing this tea all day, but it’s far too tasty for that!
I use the same steeping instructions for the Rhubarb Oolong as the Strawberry Oolong. You can see from the color how this is indeed a more oxidized oolong, as it steeps to a bronzy color. It doesn’t have the dark flavor of a black tea though, it’s much lighter than that, and smells and tastes simply divine with the flavor of rhubarb! Again, I like to add a bit of sweetener to help bring out the flavor, and this is hands down one of my favorite teas in my collection that I find myself going to over and over again! It’s both sweet and fruity but with this hint of an earthy tang on the tongue that I just love, and the medium-body oolong is still very flavorful. It resteeps beautifully and the flavor profile will change subtly each time. It’s a great tea for fans of fruit blends that want something a little less conventional. And it is a great cold tea!
I cold steeped this tea and this time, only used four teaspoons of leaf for a quart of water. The only thing I would’ve done different is allowed the leaves to free-steep (I bagged them for this batch in a pitcher, but it was before I had found some really awesome Mason jars with nice seal tops to use for cold-brewing!) since I think allowing the leaves to float in the cold water allows the flavor to really pop, but it still turned out very refreshing! I could still make out the rhubarb flavors, and it sweetened up great with a bit of liquid sugar. I love to use this stuff to sweeten my iced tea, which I buy in bulk on Amazon (you can probably find similar substitutes in your local grocery store, though).
I’d highly recommend both of these oolongs as great both hot and iced, and as an added bonus, they are great blended together! Like strawberry rhubarb flavored pies and yogurts? Just use half a teaspoon of each in a hot cuppa, their flavors compliment each other great! I haven’t mixed them in an iced brew yet, but if they blend well warm, they should blend just as well iced! I’d use two tablespoons of Strawberry Oolong and two tablespoons of Rhubarb Oolong with four cups water to make a tasty quart of Strawberry Rhubarb iced tea!