[W]e’re swapping sandals for sweaters and trading in bright, summery sips for warming steeps. As we wrap our hands around heated cups and bury our faces into the steam, let’s consider a tea that’s more than just hot to the touch. In this cooled season, steep a cup that will reward you with roasted, smoky, or spicy notes that cure the common chill. Add hojicha green tea, lapsang souchong black tea, and a spiced masala chai black tea to your steeped repertoire.
Hojicha is a Japanese green tea made of bancha green tea leaves and stems that are harvested in the summer after the spring sencha. The green leaves, rather than being steamed, are pan fired and slow roasted over charcoal. The image of smoking coals alone can warm our imagination. The reddish-brown leaves brew to reveal an earthy, roasted, nutty sip that is smooth and has a clean finish. There is a toasted, soothing quality that is reminiscent of a sauna or steam bath with an earthiness of faded fall leaves and aged cedar wood. The subtle sweetness conjures tastes of toasted walnuts and doesn’t offer any astringency, but rather has a mild mouthfeel that washes your palate clean with a subtle, roasted aftertaste. It’s a comforting tea that you can turn to on a crisp, rainy fall day. Best of all, it can be enjoyed well into a firey fall sunset as it is known for being low in caffeine. When steeping, opt for water that is approximately 185 degrees and a steep time of three to four minutes.
For those who can linger by the kettle, experiment with several re-steeps of lapsang to extract fruitier notes hiding behind the smoke.
When the brisk night air makes your crave a crackling campfire, seek out lapsang souchong tea. This Chinese black tea undergoes a final drying over a smoking pine fire, infusing the tea leaves with a rich, smoky aroma and flavor. A hint of sweetness lingers at the end of deep smoked notes conjuring thoughts of pipe tobacco or a refreshing menthol taste. Crisp and piney, this black tea is your wool sweater of steeps when you need to bundle up with bold, smoked flavors. This golden brew is said to aid in digestion, a perfect choice to end hearty fall meals before heading out into the cold. Choose boiling water and seek a longer six-minute steep to extract the robust aromas and tastes. For those who can linger by the kettle, experiment with several re-steeps of this tea to extract fruitier notes hiding behind the smoke.
Right behind popular pumpkin spice flavors, you’ll find that Americans favor chai. However, this tea is correctly referred to as masala chai since in Hindi “chai” simply translates to “tea,” while “masala” refers to the blend of spices. Originating in India, masala chai is composed of an Assam black tea blended with an array of aromatic spices. Traditionally made with cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and peppercorn, other ingredients are making their way into this spiced sip (think coconut, vanilla, chocolate, fennel, and orange).
As the base, Assam tea is known for its malty, woodsy, musty, and sweet baked fruit flavors that stand up to spices and favor an addition of milk. This cozy steep finds its way into many comforting variations: brewed in water, brewed in milk and water, brewed in milk, brewed in water and splashed with milk, or even blended into a condensed milk concentrate. Traditionally, the milk, water, tea, spices, and sweeteners are all simmered together and then strained. This incredibly aromatic tea will scent your kitchen with warming spices that may draw a small crowd to your cup. Try the traditional steep and then express your creative side by mixing in coconut or pistachio milk, a splash of rosewater, a floral or toasted honey, and even pinch of turmeric. Keep in mind that just–off-the-boil is the ideal water temperature and three to five minute steep is ideal (note: an extended steep may extract the bitter notes from the spices).
Add these teas to your fall collection and you’re sure to find a favorite that will be just as long-lasting as your well-worn sweater that you unearthed from your closet for the new season.
—Alexis Siemons is a tea writer and consultant. She blogs about her steeped adventures at teaspoonsandpetals.com.