Being a long time lover of black tea, I was impressed to encounter an herbal tea that I actually liked when Celestial Seasonings introduced Red Zinger forty years ago. Inspired by memories of enjoying that non-caffeinated drink back in the wild and woolly 70’s, (at the tail end of my undergraduate college years—Gulp!), I like to blend a strong concentration of hibiscus flowers into an infusion of black tea and tart the whole thing up with a slightly sweetened homemade syrup made from seasonal fresh rhubarb. Nowadays rhubarb unpredictably pops up in markets since it is grown in hothouses. Traditionally, this vegetable – known as a fruit – becomes available in early spring, right about now. (With climate change – global warming – who knows when spring truly is?)
From a flavor standpoint, it seems that hibiscus and rhubarb, both tart ingredients, dance well together. The resulting perky beverage can be served hot or iced (if you wish to serve it cold or iced, let the mixture cool down and then refrigerate in a container with a tight fitting lid. Use within a couple of days).
Here’s how to prepare it to yield 2 generous servings:
2 ounces dried hibiscus flowers (available in Hispanic markets labeled Jamaica– pronounced Ha-my-ka)
12 ounces filtered water brought to the boil
2-3 stalks of fresh rhubarb, about 8 ounces, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 to 3 ounces (approximately 1/3 c.) granulated sugar
8 ounces water
4 to 5 grams black tea of your choice (I tend to use Sri Lankan teas. but Indian blacks, such as Assam and Nilgiri would also work well), brewed in 16 ounces 212 degree F. filtered water, for about 3 minutes (Don’t overextract the tea; taste the infusion frequently during the steeping since each tea may reveal its best character with shorter infusions)
Additional sugar to taste
Soak the hibiscus flowers in the boiling water until they are softened and the resulting liquid has a vivid ruby color. Pass the mixture through a fine meshed sieve, pressing hard on the solids to extract as much of the liquid as possible. Reserve the liquid. Discard the solids.
In a heavy medium-sized sauce pan, gently cook the rhubarb with sugar and water just until the fruit softens slightly. Press through a sieve and use the resulting liquid for the beverage. Save the solids to serve over vanilla ice cream, if you wish (sweeten them further with granulated sugar or a mild honey, if you’d like) and then top the whole thing off with crushed bits of ginger snaps.
Combine the hibiscus and rhubarb liquids. To serve the beverage hot, divide the liquid between two heated tea cups and top with the brewed tea. Sweeten further to taste, as desired.
Shameless plug: I will be presenting a session at the upcoming World Tea Expo in Long Beach, CA on Saturday, May 31st; I will be pairing teas with cheese and teas with chocolate. Hope the Tching audience will be out in droves! For more information and to register and sign up for my session, go to the World Tea Expo, click on Schedule and Events and then go to Education Conference Sessions.
MAIN: Image of rhubarb provided by contributor.