Monday, October 29, 2018

Upton Tea Imports Uva Special BOP (Ceylon), continued: A Bit About Iced Tea, and What About This Cold Brew Fad?

I love iced tea. Always have. In fact, as I sit to write this, I am wondering to myself why I don't drink more of it? It makes a great afternoon drink, a minor caffeine bump to get through the rest of the day without resorting to coffee, which will mess up my sleep if I drink it after noon. I guess it's the activation barrier -- good iced tea requires multiple steps to make. and the pre-made stuff is usually way over-sweetened. There's a few brands out there that are reasonable with sugar adds, but I'd truly rather have none.

But what if? What if there were an easier way to make iced tea? What's the deal with all this cold brew stuff that's popping up like the latest fad and excuse for places with bad coffee to overcharge even more for it? And can it apply to tea? So, time for a bit of experimentation, I guess.

My personal experience with cold brew anything goes back to the summer of 2016. I'd seen the growing ads for "cold brew coffee!" starting to build, and there'd be pre-bottled stuff at the grocery store for way too much money (avoid it, it's universally bad!). But when we saw a "cold brew apparatus" (plastic brew pot with easy remove filter), we decided to give it a try. And man, I was shocked to find there's something behind the fad - it's really good. Cold brew coffee, made with the right ratios and steep time, is amazing. It gets as strong or stronger than traditional hot brew, but has this really smooth, rounded flavor profile, with less acid and bite. We spent most of that summer drinking it, then gradually fell out of the habit. Is it really less work? Well, yes and no. You have to prepare it ahead of time, so if you forget, there's no cold brew in the morning. And the apparatus requires just as much cleaning as the old drip pot. So, even though I love the stuff, I rarely think to make it, and typically brew hot coffee and chill it (I drink mostly iced coffee even through the winter).

But. What about tea? Well, at the same time, I experimented a bit with cold brew tea too. I found I genuinely liked cold brew green tea (enough that maybe it will get its own post), but black tea was trickier. It seems to need a longer steep time and closer balance with ratios of tea to water.

But, I have this great Ceylon, Upton Tea Imports Uva Special BOP, and planned to try it as an iced tea anyway. So why not get our science on and compare the two methods with the same tea - a horizontal tasting, as the whiskey bloggers used to say (still say? Haven't read a whiskey blog in years.) Should be perfect, I've always heard Ceylon makes great iced tea.

Uva BOP: Iced tea (traditional method)

So, up first, the tried and true stalwart method:  brew some tea and chill it with ice. Easy enough. I made a six ounce cup with a rounded teaspoon into boiling water and let steep for 3 minutes. Full disclosure, there was no "warming of the teapot" (mug) or anything fancy. I'm not convinced it makes that much of a difference. If any older British ladies read this, they may well be scandalized. But if things are close at the post, I'll get fancier, I guess.

First impression is that this is a great cup of iced tea. As I've mentioned in the past, most black tea needs adds for me -- milk and sugar to smooth out the rough edges of astringency. But as a plain black iced cup, this is smooth and an easy drinker. Still has an astringent bite, but wouldn't be tea without it. Some of the flavor notes that show up as hot tea are a bit more muted - the cedar chest note and wintergreen finish are present but not as strong. But it really tastes like a great example of how I think iced tea should. Interesting, and I will get some mileage out of this going forward. I'll maybe have to play with light touch sweeteners, too -- a splash of lemon and honey are a nice iced tea lift.

Uva BOP:  Cold Brewed Stuff

So, nothing fancy to the brew method. 1 rounded teaspoon plus a little extra per 6 ounces of water in a mason jar and left it overnight (about 12 hours). Strained and poured into a cup. There are pretty neat setups for this, with a brew pot and removable strainer, but I couldn't find ours, so went even more basic.

With coffee, I found the method really rounded out the flavor and texture. I always found it to taste stronger but smoother, with less acid. But it doesn't seem to work the same for black tea. The brew is a bit smoother in texture, but seems more bitter, with the bitter note overtaking and blocking much of what's nice about this tea (cedar and wintergreen). It's not bad, it's still a drinkable cup, but not nearly as good as the traditional method.

The Results!

Well, there you have it, folks. One man's opinion, but I think I'll definitely stick to drinking iced black tea the old fashioned way. However, it was nice to find that Ceylon does make some great iced tea, so maybe more to come of that in the future.

Coming up -- a really high quality green tea, again courtesy of the nice folks at Upton Tea. Hot, iced, and another go at cold brew with green.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Upton Tea Imports Uva Special BOP

Since revving up the engine on the old blog, I've been thinking about black tea, and why I haven't been drinking nearly as much as I used to. I think part of the problem is that of sugar. I truly like black tea "British style," with milk and sugar. I don't really enjoy black tea "black" like I do with coffee, since astringency comes out from tea a bit more. Unfortunately I also try very hard not to intake much sugar. So, rock and a hard place, and black tea becomes a more occasional drink for me.

So, for the purposes of writing up a decent review of a tea, I think I should try it several different ways - black, iced, and "British" at a minimum. If I wanted to get really fancy, I would even try different brew strengths and times, but I haven't found enough difference in the past to make that worthwhile.

So, on to the business of the day - Uva Special BOP. Uva is a pretty prominent Ceylon tea estate, and the Ceylon teas are probably the most productive area that I know the least about. Ceylon teas come from the island of Sri Lanka of the coast of India (Ceylon is an older British colonial place name that survives in the tea type). The central highlands of the country have the right mix of elevation, rainfall, and temperature bands to produce high quality tea, and there are a ton of estates scattered throughout. I enjoy that the names reflect modern day Sri Lankan and fanciful old-school British names.

BOP is of course broken orange pekoe, typically crushed tea leaves that may include some fannings. In my experience, the larger tea leaf surface area exposed to water means you get a stronger, maltier cup than with full leaf tea. I've found it interesting that the same tea at different grades can taste pretty different as different notes stand out -- BOP makes a good strong, pick-me-up tea with a bit more astringency.

Brewing recommendations are a teaspoon of tea to 6 ounces of water, brew at rolling boil for 3 - 5 minutes. As noted above, in the interests of a full review, I tried this tea black without sugar, and then with milk and sugar (iced will be it's own review, I think). As unsweetened black tea, the flavor notes are big, lots of cedar with a mild lingering wintergreen finish, but I find the astringency a little drying on the tongue.

So, another couple cups, this time with a teaspoon of sugar and about a tablespoon of whole milk. The adds really lift this tea up. Sugar balances out some of the astringency, and milk smooths out the body of the tea. The prominent notes are malt and cedar, and the milk and sugar do not diminish the mild mint or wintergreen in the finish. I've always thought of Ceylon as afternoon tea, and while I would happily have this as an afternoon cup, I think it's "big" enough for a morning cup too.

Available from Upton Teas here (shameless plug, I know, but well deserved!) Upcoming reviews will be iced and cold brew of this tea, and then a green, and maybe a couple more if I haven't fully lost steam. I'm trying very hard to stick to a once a week posting schedule (with limited success).