Back in June, I was tagged in an Instagram post by O5 Tea. It featured a very familiar plant.
Pedro, one of the tea outfit’s co-owners referenced my first Ivan Chai article to go along with something they just produced for their brick-‘n-mortar shop and website. I remember having a conversation with Pedro right after posting the article. He mentioned they were heading somewhere to pick fireweed, and that I should join them. Up in Canada.
I declined because . . . well . . . COVID, but apparently he and one of the O5 Tea team—someone named Kseniya—went to Burnaby, B.C. to harvest. Not only that, but it was their second year doing so. Somehow, I missed the announcement that they did the same thing last year.
I’m no stranger to Pedro’s tea adventures. Heck, I even participated in one seven years ago.
But this one had a little more to it.
Team member Kseniya was of Ukrainian descent, and she possessed an old family recipe for making Ivan Chai. Yeah, the Russian herbal I’ve written a lot about this year. However, her family’s take was markedly different from the strongly oxidized Russian variant.
Most of the Russian Ivan Chai versions I’d encountered featured only the leaves. Sure, there were some Russian versions that included the flowers, but I hadn’t encountered many. One out of the last ten I’ve tried.
Well, her family’s recipe called for dried flowers, a lighter oxidation cycle, and a rolling process similar to a Yunnanese dragon ball puerh. Except looser compression, and a little rougher.
The process was uncomplicated in describing, but the actual means to do it could be a challenge. First, they picked the leaves. I mean, obviously that has to be done.
Secondly, they bruised them to allow the oxidation to occur. Then waited for fourteen hours. Then they dried the flowers, and—somehow/someway—re-added them. Following that, they rolled them into balls.
The original plan was to sun-dry the leaves. When Pedro and Kseniya made their first batch in 2019, they were able to take advantage of the good weather, and got a nice, even sun-drying done. This year, however, the weather wasn’t cooperating. So, they took the Ivan balls indoors and baked them—like an oolong!—for eighteen hours.
And that totally changed the game.
In typical tea blogger fashion, I asked Pedro if I could obtain a few Ivan balls to play with. He agreed, and a week or so later, they arrived. I got to the first Ivan ball almost immediately.
It was hard to pinpoint what the aroma was. At first, I was like, This smells like weed. But then I remembered, I thought all herbals smelled like weed on a casual sniff. On a more tuned-in second whiff, I was reminded of the first Ivan Chai I tried from Latvia. The aroma was all floral perfume and tartness. This had that only . . . toastier?
Brewed by the pot, the liquor darkened to a bold amber, like an oolong. And the taste reminded me very strongly of a light-roast, low-altitude Taiwanese oolong. Not sure which one, exactly. Only the more herbaceous lean gave away its botanical origin. Some of the honey profile came through on the finish.
On another morning before work, I took out a second chunk.
And did something completely different. We were expecting a heat wave, so I iced it. The notes were similar to the heated version, only sweeter somehow.
Both methods played to the strengths of the “tea”, but I felt I was missing something. Some other bit of untapped potential in this Ivan version that escaped my notice. At the bottom of the bag, I saw that some of the leaves and flowers had fallen off the last ball. I gathered some of those up . . .
And . . . um . . .
Gong fu’d it.
Straight-up oolong notes with a bit of floral tisane sweetness on the back-end. In every way, it reminded me of a Fujianese oolong scented with osthmanthus . . . dipped in Ivan Chai honey.
Every time I think I’m done being surprised by this herb, something like this crosses my cup. Just when I believe I’ve unraveled the “ball of mystery”, I realize it’s still holding together. Another steep, then, is in order.
To buy O5’s Ivan Tea, go HERE.
Margo E Hutchinson
Always nice to have a story to tell!!
You really go where no one has gone before.