What Is Kouridashi Tea?
It was one of Olmsted’s sommeliers who brought over the kouridashi—or ice-brewed—green tea to the brunch table I was sharing with Rebecca Firkser, Extra Crispy’s culinary editor. She presented our tea to us not unlike a bottle of Malbec that needed to breathe: “I’ll be over to pour it in a few minutes.” Served in a curved glass cup like a stemless wine glass, the Gyokuro tea leaves—grass green and spindly—steeped in water under three giant cocktail ice cubes.
The Kouridashi method of brewing tea is not very well known—it’s certainly not nearly as well documented as coffee’s cold brew method. But tea connoisseurs are quick to tell you how transformative it is. Jeff Ruiz, Olmsted’s wine director and formerly the tea curator for Atera in Tribeca, turned the whole team on to the process. The slower, ice-brewing method concentrates the flavors of the cup, without rapidly extracting the tannins in the same way that normal hot brewing does. That means full flavor, without the astringency that caffeinated teas often have.
As it brewed, Becca and I watched the glass like a small aquarium while we had bites of gravlax and butternut squash bread. Sure enough, in 10 minutes, the sommelier returned with another glass and a cocktail strainer—”Not quite traditional,” she joked—for the first tasting.
The first pour was a pale, glowy green and tasted almost floral, with light, subtle flavors a bit like chamomile. It provided a sharp contrast to the rich and boldly-flavored foods on our table. Just one sip felt like enough to gently reset your palate. When the somm came by for the second pour about 15 minutes later, the color of the tea had grown richer—imagine a translucent matcha—and so had the flavor. The grassiness of the Gyokuro blend had come out: It tasted as bright green as it looked. By the third and final pour, the tea’s hue had deepened, and the flavor had settled into something earthy and almost sharp, sort of like a mellowed citrus rind.
The experience was akin to a wine tasting, of course. Tea, like wine, has its own terroir, and is affected by the same things wine is—storage, oxidation, extraction method. But having this experience with one beverage instead of several was novel. You pay attention to changes over time, rather than being forced to make comparisons. And I think because of this, our meal at Olmsted felt luxuriously long.
It’s not often at brunch that you’re forced to be thoughtful about what you’re eating and drinking. Brunch is so often a means-to-an-end—to get caffeinated, to get drunk, to see your best friend from college, to get a picture of a perfect stack of pancakes. And all of those things are great. But there’s something to be said for a brunch experience that makes you stop for a second and actually consider what you’re consuming in that moment—how it tastes and how it changes and what pairs with this or that. With a few pours of an oddly-brewed tea, Olmsted managed to turn a meal into an experience. And that, of course, makes it just my cup of tea.