I was making up a batch of Masala Chai the other day, when inspiration struck.
As I watched the root ginger and spices simmering in the pot, it suddenly occurred to me that a similar technique might also work when attempting to make orange flavoured shou pu-erh.
This, as regular readers of this blog might just remember, was something I attempted some time ago, but put on hold after a series of less than satisfactory results. The project itself was kick started when all of a sudden orange flavoured shou pu-erh became *cough* flavour of the month, and, amongst other things, everyone seemed to be ordering, drinking, and absolutely, positively raving about White2Tea’s “Channel Orange“.
Anyroad, back at our kitchen in the here and now I began wondering if it might not be possible to extract the flavour of orange peel in the same way as I do when preparing Masala Chai, namely by simply popping it in a pot and simmering it for a while.
It being near Christmas our home is positively chock-a-block with oranges of all descriptions, and so for my first experiment I chose satsumas as the peel donor fruit.
I took the peel from 2 smallish satsumas, gave it a good rinse off, tore it up into smaller pieces, and then dropped it into the 1 litre capacity pot I use for Masala Chai. I filled up the pot with cold water, slowly brought it up to a boil, dropped the heat down to a low simmer, and let it sit there for about 10 minutes or so.
As with my earlier experiments, the base tea was a “good but not great” loose leaf shou – “Golden Sail” brand S 272.
I brewed up the tea Western style as I usually do – 4 heaped teaspoons in a 400 ml Ikea Upphetta pot, steeped for 4 minutes – using the pre-prepared orange water.
This first trial was less than encouraging. What orange flavour there was was totally overpowered by bitterness. By the time I’d drained the pot I had a theory as to why – the bitter pith of the satsuma comes away from the flesh of the fruit along with the peel.
This led me to wonder if I’d be more successful with just the zest of a larger orange.
So, I then washed and thoroughly dried a good hand sized orange. I dug out my orange zester tool, and removed the zest of the orange, being careful not to go over the same area twice, as this might inadvertently dig into the pith once the zest itself had been removed.
Once again, the zest was placed into a pot with cold water, brought up to a boil, and then simmered for a short while.
When steeping the tea this time, however, I upped the duration to 5 minutes, thinking that a stronger brew might be less inclined to be overpowered by the fruity flavour.
Oh, this was good! All the earthy flavours of the shou were still there, but a wonderful orange note sat on top of it, not masking the shou but working with it. No bitterness this time, either, just a nice, clean, fresh sweetness complete with a citrus twang.
The bronze colour of the soup had also picked up an orange tint.
The next day in the name of experimentation I made up a second batch, this time using the zest of 2 oranges, just to see how far we could push the fruity envelope. This resulted in a tea where the orange flavour was starting to dominate a little too much for my liking, so at a guess I’d say that the natural limit would be somewhere in the region of the zest of 1½ oranges.
Obviously you’re going to get different results depending on type/size/age/etc of your starting fruit, not to mention the precise nature of the base tea, but at least I now have a good point to start from.
A successful conclusion to Project Orange Shou, and no mistake. Hurrah, etc!