KUALA LUMPUR, May 8 — What’s fruity and floral and just a little bit magical?
Some of us may have encountered something of a party trick among tea aficionados: what appears to be a dried up bulb, when showered with a gentle pour of boiling water, suddenly unfurls its petals and lo, and behold! an entire “flower” blossoms before our very eyes.
These are known as flowering teas (or kāihuā chá in Mandarin). Also known as “blooming teas” due to its show stopping performances, these bundles are actually dried flowers wrapped up in layers of dried tea leaves.
Flower teas can truly be a sight to behold: from a dried up bud to petals magically unfolding. It’s flower power in full bloom!
Purportedly hailing from the province of Yunnan in China, the popularity of flowering teas has spread to the West as an Asian counterpart to classic French flower teas.
If you would select from lavender, chamomile or rose in a Parisian tea salon, then the menu in a traditional Chinese teahouse may offer osmanthus, jasmine or chrysanthemum instead.
And these are not the only flower tea cultures in the world. Closer to home, South-east Asian countries such as Malaysia and Thailand have their own traditions of floral cuppas with infusions of hibiscus, roselle and blue pea flowers.
Ah, but these floral flavours are always better if elevated with some fruity notes.
What could go better with flower teas than some tangy-sweet berries? Colourful and brimming with antioxidants and other nutrients, berries can easily be incorporated in our flower tea in the form of fruity homemade syrup.
Indeed, the only thing better than a flower tea or a fruit tea is a fruit and flower tea! Let’s call this our very berry flower power tea then.
And to prevent it from tasting too cloying, some dried spices such as cinnamon, cloves and star anise can add depth to our wholesome beverage. A more healing, soothing brew you’ll be hard pressed to find, surely?
VERY BERRY FLOWER POWER TEA
Use any berries of your choice — be it strawberries or raspberries, blackberries or blueberries. I am using berries here rather than other fruits as they match the flavour and fragrance of flower teas well, but also because these diminutive fruits break down faster when making the syrup.
Having said that, it might be helpful to slice up the berries before adding to the pot, if you’re using fresh ones. This will help them break down faster. Frozen ones can be used whole and don’t need to be thawed; throw them straight into the pot.
To brew the flower teas, you can actually simplify the clean up by using tea infusers such as a stainless steel infusion ball. Unlike loose tea leaves, there is less tea dust and scattering.
There’s nothing quite like using a clear glass teapot or even a large glass goblet, however. This way you can see the individual petals of the flowers (if you’re using loose dried flowers such as rose buds, chrysanthemum or blue pea flowers) or the spectacle of the “blossoming” (if using a flowering tea).
It is common practice to add some sugar or honey to flower teas, for sweetness. That’s not necessary here as we will be adding the berry syrup.
When “composing” your final very berry flower power tea, you may adjust the intensity of your tea by adding more or less berry syrup. It’s entirely dependent on your taste.
Or simply add a little syrup at a time to enjoy the tea at different concentrations. One cup could be nearly clear, with just a hint of colour from a drop or two of syrup. Another could be dark as molasses and taste nearly as sweet.
Experiment. Explore. Enjoy.
Ingredients: Very Berry Syrup
400g berries of your choice; fresh, frozen or a mix of both
150g caster sugar
½ stick of cinnamon
2 dried cloves
1 star anise
Ingredients: Flower Power Tea
7-8 dried flower buds or 1 flowering tea bundle
Add all the berry syrup ingredients into a pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once it reaches a boil, reduce the heat. Simmer for about 8-10 minutes until the berries have softened, releasing their natural pectin into the liquid.
Once the syrup has begun to thicken and the berries have mostly broken down, you may turn off the heat. Remove the cinnamon, cloves and star anise from the syrup.
Set the pot aside to cool before transferring into a sterilised container. Cover with an airtight lid once cool and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
You may keep some of this berry syrup aside for use immediately in the flower tea. If prepared in advance, remove from the fridge at least 10 minutes before using so that it doesn’t cause the temperature of the hot tea to drop too much.
To prepare the flower tea, add the dried flowers (or the flowering tea bundle, if using that) to a glass teapot or large cup/goblet. Bring water to a boil. Pour the boiling water onto the dried flowers and steep for 2-3 minutes.
At this point, you may strain the tea into another cup or leave the rehydrated flowers inside the tea for greater visual impact.
Do note that the flower buds will continue steeping in the tea so the longer you keep them in the tea, the bitterer the tea will taste. (This will be balanced by the sweetness of the berry syrup, however.)
Add the desired amount of berry syrup to your tea, say a teaspoon at a time. Stir well with the spoon so the syrup dissolves completely. Taste and adjust accordingly, adding more syrup if necessary. Serve immediately while hot.
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