At this time of year when rising temperatures relegate hot tea to rock-bottom status on most beverage lists, creating something cold and refreshing inspires me to turn to seasonal fruits as the basis for frosty tea drinks. Whether you call them frappes or smoothies, they are a low-tech, minimalist path to refreshment, and clearly superior to anything you can get at your local coffee-and-tea emporium. Although I like to vary the fruits and the teas I use, I always follow two rules:
- The fruit must be pristinely fresh, ripe, and hence flavorful (taste before buying).
- The tea must be cold brewed for the cleanest flavor – an infusing process that usually takes about 24 hours. Decant the liquid after 24 hours (treating your garden compost to the spent leaves), but taste the tea before doing so, as some teas require more time to infuse the water to full effect.
Since these drinks derive their creamy texture from using fruit that has been frozen, you will need to allow time – about 4 hours in most freezers – for the fruit to freeze completely. So plan accordingly. All summer long, it pays to keep a covered pitcher of good-quality water and a dose of tea leaves in the refrigerator, and a container of the best farmers market fruit – peeled, pitted, and ready to go in a covered container in the freezer.
At the moment, at least in Southern California, when locally grown apriums, pluots, plumcots, and white and yellow peaches of many varieties are appearing on farmers markets’ tables in ever greater profusion and variety, those are the fruits I turn to. If they are fully ripe, peel them without delay by inserting the point of a paring knife under the skin at the stem end to loosen the skin and then gently, without bruising the fruit, remove the skin in wide swaths. Once the fruits are peeled, pit them, cube them, and freeze them, if possible, in a single layer in an airtight container. When ready to whirl the drink in a blender, combine cubes of the frozen fruit with just enough cold-brewed tea to make a slightly thickened beverage (twice the amount of tea as fruit). Pour into chilled glasses and garnish as you wish with fresh mint leaves, a bit of candied ginger, or a wedge of fresh peeled fruit that complements what you used in the drink.
Some suggested combinations of teas and fruits include:
- Chinese blacks (such as Keemun and Yunnan) paired with melons, including cantaloupe and French charentais varieties
- Oolongs paired with cherimoya (custard apple), pineapple, red peaches, or non-fibrous mango, such as Ataulfo, Champagne, Honey, or Manila variety
- Green teas paired with fresh litchi, honeydew melon, or white low-acid peaches
Here is a recipe for one of my favorite combinations, adapted from my book, Cooking with Tea, co-authored with Diana Rosen. Please indulge me for the alliteration – I couldn’t resist. Hopefully, the flavor combination makes up for any cheap linguistic shot – and for the liberties with spelling.
If you wish to use cold-brewed tea as the basis for this drink, steep the tea leaves in 2 cups of good-quality water overnight in a covered pitcher. Decant and then proceed. Note also that if the cantaloupe is truly ripe, it will not be fibrous and the resulting puree should be perfectly smooth. If the resulting puree is at all fibrous, pass it through a fine sieve before transferring it to the frosted glasses. For 4 servings.
1 large ripe and fragrant cantaloupe, peeled and seeded, about 2 lbs.
Superfine sugar for coating the rims of the glasses, and to taste in the drink, as needed
A generous 2 T. Keemun tea (Chinese black tea)
1-1/2 quarts of good-quality water
Juice of 2 limes, sieved, about 1 ounce
Suggested garnishes: wedges of cantaloupe, wedges of lime, or sprigs of mint leaves with stems intact
- Cut 4 thin wedges of cantaloupe and set aside, refrigerated, as a garnish for the drinks.
- Dip 4 tall glasses in water and then dip the rims into the superfine sugar to coat. Freeze glasses.
- Cut the remaining melon into one-inch pieces. Freeze.
- Place the tea, frozen melon, and lime juice into a blender jar. Taste and add sugar, if desired. Puree again. Pour the Kooler into the frosted glasses, garnish as desired, and serve immediately.