With summer just around the corner, strong, freshly brewed tea on the rocks becomes my drink of choice. But not just any tea. As a chef who is never content to leave well enough alone, I have set out to experiment by taking good-quality, but not expensive, whole-leaf
teas and roasting them just before brewing to infuse an extra layer of flavor into the brewed, iced drink. We all know how tasty a good houjicha can be with warm, almost caramel-like toasty notes and made from roasted Japanese green tea leaves with some stems attached that have been exposed to sunlight throughout their entire life cycle. Genmaicha, another green tea with quite a different roasted personality, gets its special flavor complexity from kernels of roasted rice and popped corn.

Each of these teas is made from the lower leaves of the tea plant, which tend to be more difficult to roll and are therefore chopped into smaller pieces. It is also true that the roasting softens the tannins in the tea and lowers the caffeine content somewhat. So I reasoned, why not add flavor to this season’s iced teas by taking some of the teas I favor hot and subjecting them to dry heat in a low oven or in a heavy, dry cast iron skillet on the stove top. What I found was that it is important to:

  1. Keep the heat low enough so that the leaves don’t burn.
  2. Stir the leaves often during the roasting process so that they are exposed to the heat evenly and take on enough fresh-roasted flavor, but not so much as to obliterate the distinctive flavor notes of the tea itself.

Coupling the roasted tea with lightly sweetened, flavored syrup made from seasonal fruit pays off in an addictive summer drink. Here’s how to do it.  

Roasted Tea Leaves

I used Darjeeling tea leaves, but you can use any tea that you favor. For stove-top roasting, place 1 ounce of tea leaves in a dry, odor-free heavy skillet. Stirring the leaves constantly, heat on low until the leaves start to give off a roasted tea aroma. Immediately pour the leaves into a bowl or onto a clean sheet pan to cool. Set aside while you prepare the following fruit syrup. Using this amount of leaves, you can expect to brew up about 2 quarts of tea, counting approximately 3 grams of leaf per 6 ounces of water.  

Fresh Peach Syrup

Yield: Approximately 16 ounces of syrup, or 32 servings, depending on how sweet you wish the iced tea to be.

1 lb. fresh highly aromatic peaches, peeled, halved, and pitted
8 ounces granulated sugar
8 ounces water

Peel, pit, and then halve the peaches. Prepare a simple syrup by cooking the sugar and water together in a heavy 2-quart saucepan. Boil until the sugar dissolves and then add the peaches. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the peaches are tender and even somewhat disintegrating. Now remove the mixture from the heat and pour the fruit and syrup through a fine meshed sieve set over a bowl to collect the juices. Reserve the drained fruit as a topping for ice cream, yogurt, or fresh ricotta. Pour the syrup into a covered container and refrigerate for up to one month.  

Brew the tea as you would for a hot beverage, using about 3 grams per 6 ounces of 212 F. water. Allow the tea to steep until you have achieved the proper degree of strength in the brew (about 3 to 5 minutes). Sieve out the leaves and discard. Pour the resulting liquid into a tall glass, add the peach syrup to taste, and then add ice. Stir and enjoy!