Do Try This at Home

clovesI am usually disparaging of teas that are blends of different varietals or tea leaves with non-tea ingredients added to them. They usually seem somehow deceptive and incoherent to me. Naturally there are exceptions, Russian Caravan and Earl Grey being two that I enjoy drinking. However, in complete contrast to that purist tendency, I also have a bit of a mad scientist streak, so I sometimes get inspired to invent supplemented teas. Earlier this week I created a blend that I am very satisfied with. Its ingredients are: black tea, cloves, black pepper corns and dried orange peel. None of the non-tea ingredients are overpowering, and I think that they work well together. It has a nice dark, aromatic taste with that slight numbness produced by cloves. The black pepper is not overbearing, but adds just a little bite underneath the rest. The orange adds a lot to the whole, but the liquor definitely does not taste like oranges or orange peel – and most assuredly not like bergamot.

dried orange peelFor the base I used Foojoy “Yunnan Tippy” black tea. It’s a very low quality, inexpensive Chinese black (red) tea. I wouldn’t use higher quality tea in this sort of a melange because the precise nature of the tea would be lost or distorted by the non-tea ingredients, all three of which have strong personalities individually. I chose to use a Chinese black tea because I like the general character and flavor better than those of most Indian teas. And for pragmatic reasons it makes sense to perform these sorts of experiments with teas that are not $198.00 a pound. Most of Foojoy’s teas cost less than $5.00 for about 8 ounces.

black pepperThe cloves and black peppercorns that I used were both in whole form so I broke them up a little bit in a mortar and pestle to ensure that they would release enough flavor when they were steeped. The orange peel was already broken into the right sized pieces for this purpose so I did not have to do anything to it except toss some in. The quantities that I used were approximately a tablespon of pepper, two tablespoons of cloves, two tablespoons of orange peel and about 4 ounces of tea. when I tested the results a couple of days later I was very pleased.

I performed a similar experiment a while ago that failed miserably. I had used the same Chinese black with whole cloves, but since I was unable to find any dried orange peel I had cut up the peel of a couple of fresh Mandarin oranges into tiny squares. Figuring that the dryness of the tea leaves would absorb the moisture of the orange peel, and thus enhancing the flavor, I mixed everything together and put it into metal tins (recycled Tao of Tea tins, which are excellent). The peels did dry in the tea as I expected them to and the mixture smelled truly wonderful, but after opening and checking on it a few times in the subsequent couple of weeks, I was dismayed to find mold on the top layer of the tea and I had to discard it. This process might be successful in a container that allowed for free flow of air, but I was concerned that the tea not get stale. The proper balance between potential staleness and potential mold may be attainable through further experimentation.

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