Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sweet Birch Iced Tea

Some folks have asked about this tea since our last post.  Here's how we make it. 
  1. Materials:  We use loppers, half-gallon jars with tops (Mason jars), and a jelly bag. 
  2. Gather:  We prefer sweet birch, also known as black birch, (Betula lenta) to yellow birch (Betula lutea), but both make a wintergreen tea.  The other birches are not worth gathering in our opinion.  I cut a 2-3 foot branch with loppers. 
  3. Cut:  We use the loppers to cut the branch and all of its twigs into 7 inch lengths so that they fit easily into our jar.  Sometimes we give Yub-yub a butterknife and have her scrape at the bark of the larger twigs to reveal the green living tissue beneath it.  This, however, is mostly a babysitting tactic and is not necessary unless your three-year-old insists on being part of the process.  
  4.  Steep:  The molecule that gives birch tea its most important flavor is volatile.  Practically speaking this means that you don't want it to get too hot.  If it does, you're tea does not taste as good.  We usually pour not-quite-boiled water over the twigs or let the water boil first and then let it cool a bit.  Then, we put the cover on the jar.  This may be an old wives' tale, but I think it helps improve the flavor.  The key with birch teas is to let them steep for a long time.  We steep for about 45 minutes.  Arthur Haines (one of New England's premeire botanists and author of Ancestral Plants) recommends even longer, 2-3 hours.  We've recently taken to putting our tea in the fridge afterward.  It's very refreshing on a hot day. 
  5. Filter:  If you don't mind solids in your tea, it tastes fine straight up.  We, however, screw a jelly-bag over the jar to catch all the bits.