Summer’s Last Hurrah

Many act like Labor Day weekend is the end of the summer, and in a lot of ways it is. But the weather has reminded me that we still have a few weeks yet of summer. We’re in those last weeks, the sultry, steamy days of late summer, when the air hangs heavily, even in the morning before the sun has risen.

Waking before dawn, I can feel the air of my bedroom hanging expectantly, waiting for the air conditioner to cycle on. It’s dark, but already I can see the haziness outside. Stepping out of the house, into the darkness, already the air hits me, a wall of heat and humidity, beckoning me out into the sweaty commute that lies ahead, and urging me back into the house, back into the artificially-cooled oasis I’ve made.

Walking to work, I saw a magnolia tree laden with new buds, getting ready to bloom again, as if reminding me that summer has not truly passed this year. While it might not be the scorching one hundred degree days, the air still feels heavy and hot, weighting down clothes, hair, and spirits. My blouse clings to my chest and belly where the sweat has already started to glisten, coalesce, and bead on my skin, rolling down in streaks as I make my way through the morning heat. Eventually, I feel saturated with humidity, and it no longer matters how long I’m out.

As the walk goes on, I can feel my body grow used to the heat, letting the sweat cool it off as I go. I feel the stark boundaries between the extra heat from the cars and the cool blasts of air from the briefly-opened doors of businesses as I make my way through a city on the verge of autumn, but not quite there. Eventually, I will smell wood smoke, cooler air, and dry leaves, but this morning, I smell the smells of the city, hanging in the humid air, unable to rise under the weight of the heat and haze. But it’s warm and familiar, and ready to dissipate, I hope.

Arriving at my office, I brace myself for the blast of icy air, feeling the sweat on my body chill, a shiver escaping for a moment, before I adjust to this, too. And when I get to my office and feel my body cool and the sweat dry, I put on a sweater against the chill of the air conditioning, looking forward to the promise of cool mornings and temperate days.

The Tea Primer, Bonus Level: Cold-Brewed Tea

Update: I’ve decided to add this post to my Tea Primer, even though it predates the primer, so the style is a bit different. But it’s definitely a thorough treatment of cold-brewing tea and I don’t think it’s worth reinventing the wheel.

I’ve posted some images recently on my Instagram of my experiments in cold-brewing tea, and I’ve even teased on my YouTube channel that I would do a cold tea video sometime. But I’ve decided that to really do justice to my cold-brew adventures, I needed to devote a blog post to it. And stay tuned to the end, when I share a little recipe for one of my favorite summer iced tea drinks!

At its heart, cold-brewing tea is incredibly simple. You just put some tea leaves into some cold water, stick it in the fridge, and wait. I used this article from Serious Eats as my guide, specifically the author’s recommendation of about 10-12g of tea per quart of water. I tend to brew a pint of tea at a time, so that’s about 5-6g of tea per brewing.

Then I decided to go a little nuts and try brewing in sparkling water. I got some good-quality 500-ml bottles of sparkling mineral water from the store and experimented with green, black, and oolong teas. I haven’t tried white tea yet, but I imagine it would be pretty nice. Here’s what I’ve found so far.

Green Tea:

I started out with Rishi Sencha as my first experiment. I’d heard a lot about brewing Japanese green teas cold, and I thought it would be a good place to start. The Rishi sencha is a decent sencha, with a nicely balanced flavor profile of grassy and umami, but it’s also available in my local grocery store and not so expensive or difficult to get that I would worry about “wasting” it on an experiment. So I started there.

Cold-brewed, this sencha retains a lot of it’s interesting umami flavor, with a nice green undertone. It doesn’t have any bitterness or even really astringency, apart from a mild tartness that is quite pleasant. It’s very refreshing. It also shines in sparkling mineral water, as the minerality of the water offsets the umami. I could also see using this as the base in a gin-based tea cocktail, if I liked gin (or were indulging in hard liquor at the moment).

Black Tea:

I will admit, I only tried cold-brewing black tea because my husband made a nostalgic comment about Wawa peach iced tea and I wanted to see if I could make something better using cold-brew and homemade peach syrup (spoiler: I did; read on for the recipe at the end of this post). So I grabbed an old tin of Harney & Sons Darjeeling that my mother brought over for a tea party at my house. I chose the Darjeeling for two reasons. The first was the aforementioned rationale about not using teas I would miss if the experiment failed, and the other was that the Serious Eats article doesn’t seem to recommend cold-brewing black teas because their flavor profile is muted, so I thought if I went for a lighter black tea, rather than a big, punchy Assam, it might work better with the cold-brew method.

I was right about the tea. Despite the fact that I only brewed this to be sweetened, I tried a taste of it before adding sweetener and it’s fantastic. The infusion is a deceptively light color, but it has a lot of black tea flavor, without any dry-your-mouth-out tannins or unpleasant bitterness. It tastes like perfectly-steeped black tea. And it stands up quite well to the peach syrup, too. I also enjoyed it in sparkling water.

Oolong Tea:

Oolong is my favorite tea and one that seems well-suited to cold-brew, as it has a lot of complex flavors that seem like they would work well in a refreshing cold beverage. I only tried oolongs steeped in sparkling mineral water, though their charms would almost certainly translate to still water. The first one I tried was a Golden Lily oolong that is a “milk oolong” variety. I idly thought to make a sort of oolong cream soda. It worked well enough, but the green-ness of the tea made for a rather light cold-brew infusion.

But, wow, my next experiment did not disappoint. I found some old heavy-roast Tieguanyin in the back of my tea cabinet and thought, hey, why not chuck it in some fizzy water? I had thought to try it with my peach syrup. Well, the resulting brew was so lovely and complex — with notes of peaches, honey, flowers, and cream already — that I didn’t dare touch it with sweetener. This is my favorite yet and will likely become a new regular in my daily tea rotation. The absolute only thing I would ever add to it would be a shot of bourbon.

Cold-Brewed Peach Darjeeling Tea:

As promised, I’ve also come up with a recipe for peach iced tea using cold-brew. The first step is to steep 5g of Darjeeling tea in 16 oz. of water. Then, you’ll need to make the peach syrup by roughly chopping one fresh peach and putting it in a small saucepan with 1/2 cup of water. Let this simmer until the peach is soft enough to be mashed with a fork, about 15-20 minutes. Then, stir in 1/2 cup of granulated sugar and simmer until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. Strain the syrup into a jar and let cool.

To put together the drink, strain the tea leaves out of the tea, and add about 2 Tbsp. of peach syrup (or to taste) to the tea. Stir well and serve over ice with a slice of lemon and a couple slices of fresh peach. Makes two glasses of iced tea.

My husband’s review was that “it’s pretty good.” So there’s that. Happy steeping!