Barrel-aged tea from Steven Smith and Rare Tea Cellar
The enemies of master tea blenders everywhere have always been aroma and moisture.
But Rodrick Markus, of Rare Tea Cellar in Chicago, and Steve Smith, of Smith Teas in Portland, Oregon, are harnessing tea's absorptive property for good, adding complexity and depth to their tea blends by aging them in used oak barrels.
Smith and his partner Tony Tellin first began experimenting with aging their tea in local Pinot Noir barrels. Their Méthode Noir ($18 for 2 ounces) is a subtle blend; the flavors from the barrel are like grace notes of oak and spice, close to what you might find in a great Oregon Pinot.
On the other side of the spectrum, Markus makes a piney, smok-y and lush Willet Rye barrel-aged lapsang souchong called Forbidden Forest. It evokes that teenage summer when you stole a bottle of booze and made out with your crush from across the lake.
The two companies are aging a wide array of teas (rooibos, oolong, green and pu-erh) in all types of barrels (rye, bourbon, port and wine).
But the quantities are low and the production tends to reflect the mood of the master blender, so jump on offerings early.
The teavolution has arrived; we'll never look back.
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