While cold-brew coffee is officially a thing — you can buy it by the bottle at just about any grocery store now — cold-brew tea gets a lot less attention.
For a taste of a high-end product, head to downtown Tacoma’s tea lounge, Mad Hat Tea. Earlier this year, co-owner Tobin Ropes started playing around with cold steeping several of his higher-end estate teas as well as the botanicals, tisanes/herbal combinations his business partner Maureen McHugh blends.
So far, he’s experimented with about 50 of Mad Hat’s teas and blends. Of those, he’s dismissed about 20 because they just don’t work to his liking.
His method is simple.
He uses only his high-end teas and tisanes (Read: don’t try this at home with the cheap supermarket stuff). He uses purified water, steeps the tea overnight and chills it to 38 degrees. The result is a smooth, ice-cold drink that might stretch your interpretation of what tea is supposed to taste like.
He’s particularly proud of his oolong.
“I made a cold-brewed oolong that could sit on the table at Canlis next to a bottle of Puligny-Montrachet,” he said. (Puligny-Montrachet is an expensive French wine).
Would he consider bottling it for people in search of higher end non-alcoholic drinks at linen tablecloth restaurants? Ropes is mulling the idea.
For now, find about six varieties daily at Mad Hat.
The flavor profile of cold-brew tea is vastly different, said Ropes, due to the extraction that happens during the brewing method.
“The tannins don’t come out, you don’t get the astringency,” he said. “Some teas are very astringent when treated to hot water, but with cold tea, just steep it and the next day it’s so smooth.”
It’s the same general idea with coffee. Cold brewing avoids the rough edges of those compounds that can turn coffee bitter.
Oolong and black teas have been his favorite, especially the high-end estate teas for which his tea cafe has become known. He sells tea in small or large quantities along with steeped tea by the glass in a lounge with two seating areas. The shop also has sidewalk seating.
I’m familiar with the cafe’s lemongrass-ginger-hibiscus blend Sunset in the Meadow, but I barely recognized it after trying it in the cold-brew version.
As Ropes noted, the astringency was minimized, leaving a smooth swirl of ginger and lemongrass and a bright, tart hibiscus finish. I wanted a glass of it with a plate of spicy Thai food (conveniently, Galanga Thai is nearby).
The list of teas changes almost every day, so visitors might find a different set of chilled teas and tisanes from visit to visit.
About the only tea Ropes said he’s not yet successfully cold-brewed is the family of greens.
“Green tea doesn’t translate well. I can’t brew it into something I like,” he said.
However, Ropes said he’s still experimenting, so he might eventually land on one that works.
The cold-brew tea is $4 and that includes an all-you-can-drink experience so you can try all the cold teas available on a single visit.
Ropes said that the cold-brew tea is not going to be just a summer thing. He’ll continue cold brewing through the winter.
Mad Hat Tea
Where: 1130 Commerce St., Tacoma.
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 12-5 p.m. Saturdays.
Contact: 253-441-2111; madhattea.com.