Smith Tea . . . ON NITRO! – Teashop Adventure Week
Two words that I greatly missed from my beer-drinking days. From what I heard from a master brewer once, the process of pumping a beer keg full of nitrous oxide was to mimic the character of cask conditioning. The result was a normal-textured, full-bodied beverage with a full, thick head of foam – differing from the fizzy head of modern conditioning techniques. Sure, a regular Irish stout was good, but an Irish stout on nitro was really where it was at.
It was one of those sacrifices I was going to have to live with . . . or so I thought.
Roughly a month ago, Tony Tellin, head tea blender at Smith Teamaker noticed me nursing a pot of Darjeeling in their shop. He came out to give greetings, and also to invite me back to their “lab”. Yes, they have a lab.
He wanted my opinion on a rather fizzy red beverage. It was “like” a regular iced tea, but the texture was entirely different. There were shades of vanilla, something nut-sweet, and . . . strawberries. A part of my brain – six months dormant now – wriggled a little, thinking, Is that a beer?
Tony answered my quizzical look with a description, “It’s our new Strawberry Honeybush Sparkling Iced Tea.” He then went on to explain how they used actual vanilla beans, steeped actual strawberries for a lengthy period of time, and brewed a condensed batch of honeybush. And the best part? Nitrous oxide. Yes, it was an iced tea on nitro!
That particular concoction was sent off to Portland’s own Stumptown Coffee per a new partnership. However, Tony assured me that there were a few other, similar recipes in the pipeline, and that he’d keep me posted on their progress. Along with another partnership project with a local ice creamery, Salt & Straw. I was familiar with both operations, but didn’t feel “Portlandian” enough to frequent either. That thought aside, I appreciated that Tony wanted to keep me in the loop.
Weeks went by with only a word or two exchanged between the two of us. Then one evening last week, Tony zapped me an e-mail, wondering if I had time that following Friday to stop by. I had already intended to drop in for a new masala chai iced tea they were test-driving, anyway. So, I zapped off a polite, “Hell yeah!”
The next day, I walked into the shop. The teaman at the counter, Aaron, looked at me and said, “Just go right on back.” As if I was expected. Awesome, I thought.
When I peaked in, Tony was already in mid-conversation with a group of other passersby, talking about their new masala chai iced tea. It, too, was on nitro! And served in a mother-f’ing beaker!
Because . . . lab.
Also present was their in-house homebrewer named Joe. Because . . . of course his name was Joe. I think it’s like a Portland bylaw that all homebrewers need to change their name to Joe. And grow a beard.
While Tony was explaining the process, my eyes honed in on a beautiful red and black pint.
I took a whiff and smelled . . . berries and crisp blackness. Tony noticed my distraction and segued into a description of that concoction. It was their Brahmin blend (an English Breakfast-inspired creation), brewed as a concentrate, and added to fresh-brewed blackberries – a process they called “fruitsmithing”.
I sipped a sample of the blackberry Brahmin first, and it was exactly what you’d think based on the name. An iced tea made from berries that could benchpress a house after a raging kegger. Tony also mentioned that it was his “favorite”. Not too surprised there.
The masala chai variant was a simpler recipe – spiced tea blend brewed concentrated, with ginger juice added, and then pumped with CO2 and N2O. The combination was what gave it the epic head of foam on the pour.
Between the two, it was hard for me to choose a favorite. The ginger-heavy iced masala chai was a good every-time-‘o-day drink, but the blackberry Brahmin just appealed to the parts of me that was a fan of all things MAN! All it needed to complete the ideal macho-tea-geek scenario was to be served by an owlbear.
(Look it up.)
Throughout the hour, various patrons were escorted into the lab to hear the spiel on the new creations. All the while, I hung back and sipped more than my fair share of all of them. Including a nice sparkling rooibos/marionberry fusion served in a wine glass.
As the iced tea event ended, then Tony presented me with a small paper plate. It smelled of vanilla-drenched butterscotch ice cream. But it was an oolong . . . with a few other things. It was their new blend, fittingly named . . . Oolong Ice Cream.
Taiwanese Jin Xuan milk oolong blended with vanilla and a few other bells and whistles. Brewed Western-style, it tasted like . . . well . . . an oolong that’d been drenched in ice cream. Seriously, I had difficulty pinpointing nuances. Especially amidst my Charlie Bucket-ish grin.
I had every intention of simply mooching the plate. But I was stopped.
However, Tony did part with a few sachets for me to play around with for a future write-up. I will definitely be going into that tea in further detai. In closing . . . I left all a-buzz and bubbly. (Bluzzably?) Like a Roald Dahl-esque child character that’d imbibed one too many fizzy lifting drinks . . .