Over the weekend, browsing at a book store, I saw a book, The Wisdom Of Tea: Life Lessons from The Japanese Tea Ceremony by Noriko Morishita. It is an account of the reporter/writer’s introduction to the Japanese way of tea, or sado. With the synchronicity that comes into play when you least expect it, I was also introduced this week to kouridashi, the Japanese method of steeping tea in ice.
I happen to be a fan of cold brew, especially when it comes to a white or green tea. I like the lack of fuss, and the flavours the water extracts overnight in the fridge. And kouridashi seems like a natural extension of this, with ice instead of water.
Spotting a batch of this summer’s Cold Brew from Dorje Teas on my shelf, I decided to try the kouridashi style. It doesn’t call for complex teaware (although a kyusu is always nice to use) or techniques, just ice and tea. And patience. Along with Dorje’s Cold Brew, I also decided to steep a Darjeeling bai mudan and some gyokuro left over from failed attempts to steep it right and enjoy the promised flavours.
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To steep tea in the kouridashi style, take one to one-and-a-half teaspoons of whole leaf tea and a couple of large ice cubes (basically, enough to make a small, 200ml cup of tea. You can start with two cubes and add more if you think you need it). As the ice thaws at room temperature, it will extract the flavours. It doesn’t matter what goes in first: the tea or the ice.
This slow steeping—a couple of hours or more at least, depending on how much tea you are making—produces a concentrated, flavourful tea with less of that bitterness you get when you over-steep with hot water. Not unlike a cold brew method but this is quicker than the cold brew—though not as quick as making a hot tea and adding ice to it.
While I waited, I returned to my reading of The Wisdom Of Tea. For 25 years, Morishita has learnt and practised the way of tea. Every Saturday, from the time she turned 20, she has attended lessons in tea. From questioning the insistence of doing things a certain way, to changing with the seasons, to practising repeatedly until her hands knew what they had to do, Morishita’s simply narrated book captures the entire journey, from the initial frustration of following the rules to the eventual acceptance of it for harmony.
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I have never had to work so hard to slow down, to pause and be in the moment, as I do these days. As I wait, I feel my eyes dart from the book to the phone, to the painfully slow melting of ice—it happened to be an overcast and cool Bengaluru day. Perhaps the lesson and wisdom of tea I seek is to tame the chronic restlessness of an overstimulated mind.
I do wonder if the wait will be worth it. While the cold brew (with surprising smoked notes) and white tea are expectedly pleasant, it is with the gyokuro that I finally find what I have long sought: a tea unlike any I have tasted, with thick umami flavour and no bitterness. A small cup of a special tea.
Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.
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