Although variety is usually the spice of life, drinking the same tea for weeks on end provides many pleasures, offering a spot of calm and predictability in an otherwise frenetic world. In my case, although I favor black teas from China (Keemun, Yunnan, et al.) for everyday drinking, the complexly flavored teas of Darjeeling seduce me with their many different, but largely satisfying, flavor profiles. In particular, though faced with an almost ever-evolving embarrassment of riches in the tea cabinet, the tea I am now returning to again and again is a single-estate Singbulli first flush from 2011. This is a tea from gardens near to the Nepal border. Its visuals – a mixture of well-rolled greenish and brown leaves and a beautiful coppery liquor – are just for starters. There’s more, much more, to enjoy in this remarkable tea from a challenging year for its growing region.
I vary brewing times just to get a slightly different experience. But here’s my overall regimen:
Brew up a cup using 3 grams of dry leaf for 6 ounces of water. Heat the water to 190 degrees F. and steep the leaves for 3 minutes. Taste at that point and then experiment by allowing the leaves to remain in contact with the water for an additional 10 seconds. Taste again. Repeat the ten-second steeping twice more, tasting after each steeping. You might be surprised at the increased depth of flavor from the later steepings. More delicate liquor results with the first three minutes, but I like the intensity and complexity of flavor with the additional half minute of brewing.
Subtle notes of lemon, pineapple, and other tropical fruit perfume the tea, at least as I perceive it. But all of these flavors just serve to enhance the essential Darjeeling-ness of the tea, that floral scent of muscatel grapes. With the appearance of the first fresh deep red cherries of the season on farmers market shelves now, I am drawn to pairing cherries with this special tea. Here’s the idea:
Wash and dry the cherries. Pit them, or, if you prefer, simply make a small cut into the flesh of each cherry. Brew enough tea to cover the amount of cherries you wish to cook by about one inch. Decant and discard the leaves (but not before inhaling their heady aroma). Heat to a bare simmer and add the fresh cherries to the tea. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes or until the fruit has softened. (You may find that the pits have worked their way out of the fruit. If so, remove them.) Allow the fruit and tea to cool to room temperature. Enjoy as is or with a dollop of thick creamy Greek yogurt or lightly sweetened whipped cream over all. A light sprinkling of crunchy muscovado or Demerara sugar will elevate this simple dessert into something even more transcendent.
Note: Hope you can attend the Tea Lovers Festival in Culver City, California, where on Saturday, May 19, from 4:00 to 6:00 PM at Royal/T, 8910 Washington Blvd., I will be competing in the Battle of the Bakers, producing several tea-based desserts on the fly.