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JAPANESE TEA: ICE INFUSION

This week we have a guest writer for our teatip. Amanda Mayer-Stinchecum has written a series of teatips on Japanese teas which I know you will enjoy.


Kyoto in the summer. Hot, muggy, many "tropical nights," defined as night-time temperatures that don't fall below 77 degrees. People who persist in traditional style have over the centuries devised many strategies that create an illusion of coolness. Gauzey kimono with see-through sleeves (never mind all the hot undergarments and binding sash); sliding screens made of reeds that let a breeze pass through; paper folding fans, often decorated with autumn motifs-chrysanthemums, maple leaves, bush clover, autumn grasses-to turn the mind away from heat; chilled fruit served on a glass plate. Serving cooling foods and drinks in glass vessels-maybe because of their resemblance to ice--is a trope of summer in Japan.


Like a plunge into the cold waters of northern pond...
Chilled green tea is cooling to the eye, the tongue, the body. In a glass of hand-blown crystal or cut-glass, the translucent green liquid is like a plunge into the cold waters of northern pond. Tealeaves release their tannin, tea's naturally astringent element, only at 140 or above. So infusing green tealeaves with cold water brings out their innate sweetness, enhanced even further when you pile your glass or ceramic kyusu (the traditional small Japanese teapot, made of earthenware, stoneware or porcelain) with ice on top of the tea leaves. When the ice has melted, drawing flavor from the leaves, the resulting liquor is the green of peridot, intensely flavored, grassy and sweet. The process can be accelerated by pouring cold water over the ice and letting it infuse for as little as 20 minutes. Pour off the liquor into a beautiful glass. Adding ice cubes merely dilutes the flavor. Refill the pot with cold water and wait another 15 minutes or so. As tea strength is a question of individual preference, steeping time and the amount of tealeaves to be used should be adjusted to your taste. A good green tea will yield three infusions: unlike oolongs and other oxidized teas, the first infusion is usually the best.

This technique yields delicious results
Place 1-2 T. of green tealeaves into a 4-8 oz. glass or ceramic teapot. Fill the pot with ice cubes made from filtered tap water or low-mineral-content spring water. Let sit until enough of the ice has melted to produce a couple of ounces of tea liquor. Infusion time will depend on air temperature. Pour off liquor into individual cups or glasses. For the second and third infusions, wait until more of the ice has melted, or fill the pot again with new ice cubes and cold water. Infuse for 15-20 minutes or longer, to taste. This technique yields delicious results with both sencha and gyokuro, as well as Chinese green teas.


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