Season’s Greetings with Holiday Teas12/20/2016
When the holidays begin, we offer a few teas that provide a taste of the season. For a limited time, Winter Solstice, Holiday Breakfast, Holiday Blend, Peppermint Chamomile, and Dark Chocolate are available on our website to spread a bit of cheer and festivity in a tea cup.
Teas with holiday-themed spices like cinnamon, clove, and orange use the same kind of spices you see in mulled wine or cider. It’s fairly common to find tea blends like that and at one point we had a single origin black tea with just clove and allspice. I wanted to take the tea blend a bit farther. With those seasonal spices in mind, I set out to create a tea that was both familiar and yet more complex, something that would stand apart from the pack. Winter Solstice came about as an unexpected gift that drew inspiration from a mistake.
A couple of years before we introduced Winter Solstice, our Earl Grey accidentally was scented with vanilla, creating a batch of tea we couldn’t sell but that tasted good. Vanilla’s sweetness paired with the pungent, perfumey flavor of bergamot surprised me how they played well together. I filed that flavor pairing away in my mind. When I began crafting the blend that would become Winter Solstice 10 to 12 years ago that recollection came back and informed the final blend.
Black tea provides a good base and body for a winter tea so that’s where I started with Winter Solstice. Where this tea gets set apart is we use a combination of four black teas: Darjeeling, Yunnan, and two Ceylon teas. They come together in a satisfying way that can’t be found elsewhere. One of the two Ceylon teas comes from Ratnapura and lends a unique, flavor-forward taste for a robust brew, perked up by cinnamon, allspice, and a touch of cloves. We add vanilla for sweetness and two kinds of citrus, orange and bergamot for an extra flourish of holiday flavor.
With so many ingredients, it could be easy for the flavor to be muddied, but I spent a long time developing this tea, especially iterating with the teas. Each ingredient offers a choice: orange peel from the U.S. or Spain offer different flavors. Do we want the sharp cinnamon flavor we typically use in chai when the lighter, less pungent cinnamon from Indonesia syncs up with the other ingredients better? Every year this blend is a little bit different, but it stays balanced. Winter Solstice evolves along its own path. Every year, I enjoy hearing from people well associated with the blend what they taste.
Winter Solstice is a bold brew with a lot going on. I like to drink it straight and while it wasn’t created to be a milk tea, it’s also pretty great with a splash of milk and dab of honey.
HOLIDAY BREAKFAST TEA
For Breakfast Tea lovers, our Holiday Breakfast is a real treat. Breakfast black teas are typically a black tea blend with teas of more than one origin with no flavorings added. English Breakfast became the term for the house blend at tea companies. It’s a great tea for tea drinkers who want a straight black tea or perhaps want black tea but don’t have a specific style in mind. During the holidays people treat others and themselves, so with that idea in mind, all the teas in this blend are self-drinking (that’s tea nerd speak for teas that are good on their own and require no blending—teas that are too good to blend). I played with the idea of an easy-drinking tea that’s balanced and elevates the breakfast tea experience by introducing teas you would never find in an English Breakfast tea.
Holiday Breakfast costs more than English Breakfast because the teas are better. We include a good Darjeeling tea as the center of Holiday Breakfast that’s a brisk second flush tea—this hefty tea is not the typical flavor associated with a Darjeeling. Keemun tea from China is present in this blend too. Keemun’s toasty, woodsy aroma fits the winter season. We also include Yunnan with its sweet, lovely flavor that makes the other teas taste even better. Holiday Breakfast has been a classic winter tea of ours for 25 years! It was the first tea I ever created in my training years ago with Jim Reynolds, my tea and coffee mentor.
DARK CHOCOLATE TEA
Dark Chocolate adds a decadent tea to our winter holiday collection. Cacao nibs and shells infuse their cocoa flavor into black tea while we add a touch of vanilla for sweetness. This tea gets its name from the idea that dark chocolate is less sweet with a more astringent flavor which pairs with the astringency naturally in tea. Add milk and sugar to Dark Chocolate tea and you turn this blend into a Milk Chocolate tea. You can enjoy it both ways depending on your preferences. We don’t add sugar to this blend, so drinking it straight might be more akin to experiencing an 80% dark chocolate bar and it’s quite nice this way. There are bits of cacao oil clinging to the shells and nibs that get brought out by hot water while the tea is steeping. When people first try it, they think hot cocoa, but it’s definitely tea first with chocolate in it. Adding milk and sugar transforms this tea into something even more indulgent.
Peppermint is popular in the winter, which is kind of interesting. Peppermint has a cooling effect on your palate even though when you drink it, it’s hot. So, even though it’s cold outside, peppermint works as a winter flavor because of its sharp, crisp coolness that’s a bit of a paradox. Our Peppermint Chamomile, formerly known as Xiao’s Blend is a rejuvenating herbal tea that combines mellow chamomile with peppermint and rosehips. I drink black and green tea all year long until it gets cold outside or I get a cold—then, all I want to drink is Peppermint Chamomile. It’s also a great tea to drink at the end of the day when I want a cup of hot tea but not the caffeine. We find herbal teas become quite popular during the holidays, perhaps because of the cold air or because it’s the season when sniffles and sickness seem most prevalent. Peppermint Chamomile’s a comforting caffeine-free tea.
For fruity tea lovers, our Holiday Blend is a cheerful tea that’s also really beautiful. Cranberry, orange, apple, papaya, peach, cinnamon, and almond come together with black tea for a taste that’s light, sweet, fruity, and spicy. Where Winter Solstice is bold, Holiday Blend leans much more toward a fruit flavor profile with some spice. It’s not a hardcore straight or classic black tea drinker’s tea, but a blend that’s fun and adventurous. This tea would be a good one to serve at holiday parties, brewed in a glass teapot so people could see it steeping. You could call it a tea party tea. This blend is not a milk tea, but instead would be well suited to drinking straight. Holiday Blend leans toward being a fruit tea with black tea in it. So, your turn—is there a tea that puts you into a festive mood during the winter? What tea do you like to drink during the holidays?Author: Eliot Jordan