KITCHEN OBSESSION: Spicy Iced Summer Tea

I make such a terrible Martha Stewart.

Jul 13, 2012 at 11:30am | Leave a comment

Baking has never been my strongest suit -- it’s too precise, too scientific, and my cooking style, if I can be said to have one, is more improvisational than is useful for most baking activities. Even when I pledge to follow a recipe precisely, I will at some point find myself adding or subtracting, or thinking I can get away with eyeballing measurements.

This is usually fine, but baked goods need things to be in the correct amounts and order or else the whole product falls down. The mad-scientist aspects of baking, the same ones that got me started on learning to cook years ago, appeal to me still, but I satisfy them in projects less likely to create a result that belongs in the trash.

Instead, I do a lot of experimental cooking and make a lot of tea, and just buy my cookies and bread elsewhere.

I rely on tea for a lot of things, one of them being my sanity, and I don’t just mean in a medicinal sense. The ritual of tea-making itself is as close to meditation as I have time or focus to get these days, and part of me believes that if for some reason I was to be robbed of my tea-making capacity, they’d probably find me curled up like a dessicated insect on the kitchen floor, so unsure of how to go on living that I simply laid down and waited for death to wash over me like a cleansing wave.

Or, for someone else to bring me a cup of tea.

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Self-portrait with tea. And just-out-of-bed hair.

Point being, I enjoy the process as much as I enjoy the drink, and I have kitchen shelves and countertops bursting with tea and other steepable herbs to prove it. I’m also always looking for new options to include in my repetoire, so when I found a sizeable bottle of rose water -- generally, something used in that accursed field of baking -- in the gourmet food section at Marshalls last week, the large portion of my brain dedicated to tea-thoughts started churning.

Tea with flower water is common in certain parts of the world, but the Internet seems to prefer calling it either “Persian tea” or “Lebanese tea,” although I expect the folks in Iran and Lebanon probably have as much variety in what they add to their tea as anywhere else. Persian tea can be made with either rose water or rose petals. Rose water is a little easier to work with, but less pretty; if you go for petals instead, make certain they’re food-grade and not intended for floral arrangements -- the ones people buy to dump over the tables at a wedding reception may be treated with chemical preservatives you’d really be better off not drinking.

The thing with flower water -- and rose water especially -- is that a little goes a very long way. In my initial experiments, I brewed strong tea, which I then diluted with hot water, and added a few drops of rose water. It was good, but probably would have been better iced. With less rose water in it.

So I did some experimenting, and yielded a spicy tea that I am now obsessed with.

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The nutmeg. I kinda want to use this as my iPhone wallpaper now.

I started with nutmeg mostly because I just got a new nutmeg grater I wanted to try out. You’d be surprised how often a kitchen gadget inspires my cooking -- when I got my ceramic ginger grater I was putting ginger in damn near everything for awhile. So, I grated some nutmeg -- eyeballing, and added that and a few cardamom pods to my mortar. Or pestle. I always get confused which is which.

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The cardamom. A lot of times what you get in the supermarket is bleached white; I like the green cardamom better.

I also dropped in some white peppercorns, because they were nearby, and bashed it all a few times, just to make sure everthing was broken real good.

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Bash bash bash

The first time, I stuck the spices in a mysterious wicker basket infuser that’s been in my tea cupboard for ages, because my everyday steel infuser needed cleaning, and I thought, “Oh, this will be prettier in the photographs anyway!”

Except I must not have used that basket thing before, because when I poured the hot water in it infused my would-be tea with a gross sludge -- I have no idea what it was but I threw both the tea and the infuser away. Lesson learned: Don’t use kitchen products whose provenance is a mystery to you.

When I started over, I just went with a tiny teapot instead. Not pictured: teabag. I know I am always all “LOOSE TEA IS THE BEST” but I do enjoy a PG Tips teabag a lot of the time, just for simplicity’s sake.

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My tiny cast-iron teapot. It's like doll furniture or something.

I poured it through a tea strainer because I’m trying to look all tidy and Martha-Stewart-y here but the truth is I often just dump the spices in the bottom of the cup, take out the teabag once it’s done steeping, and let them sit there while I drink my tea. Unless you’re slamming down tea like so many cheap tequila shots, the spices will just congregate unobtrusively at the bottom and not bother you.

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My collection of tea infusers and strainers is pretty nuts.

Finally, I added a few tiny drops of flower water -- I’m using bitter orange here but rose water works too. You can sweeten it, or not (I don’t). VOILA, delicious spiced tea. 

But because it’s summer and a little warm for boiling hot tea all the time, I should tell you that this tea is EVEN BETTER when served cold -- just brew the tea extra strong and pour the whole thing over ice cubes. If you want to get extra Martha-Stewart-y you can even make rose water ice cubes by adding a drop to each section of the tray before you freeze them. That's one of those special touches that I think about as a lovely little detail but I will never actually do.

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You can find flower water at the appropriate ethnic markets -- Cortas brand is made in Lebanon -- or in gourmet food shops, although obviously it'll be more expensive in the latter.

And there you go: a thousand words of evidence as to why I am not and never will be a lady lifestyle blogger. Help me out here: Are you tea obsessed? Do you have a tea concoction I should know about? I’m always on the lookout to expand my teamaking expertise.

ExperTEAse. Hahaha. Oh crap, I'm going to get fired.