Part of me was saying, "maybe this wasn't such a good idea," as I carried a cooler of homemade tea ice cream into the fanciest hotel in Aspen.
Ryan Hardy, the executive chef at Montagna, the renown restaurant inside said fancy hotel (The Little Nell), had agreed to taste six different ice creams I made with two leaves and a bud tea. This is a guy known for pioneering the "farm to table" movement in Aspen — his own 15-acre farm serves as the source for this fine dining establishment. He's been a James Beard nominee for Best Chef in the Southwest three times. He's known for his own curing room with various charcuterie, making his own cheese and preserves, and being an all-around affable guy.
Maybe that last part is why I decided to bug him.
I am just someone blogging for a tea company who spent several hours making various batches of ice cream because I thought it would make a good blog post. Did I mention that I'd never made ice cream before?
But as I mentioned in my last blog post about my adventures in tea-flavored ice cream, I wanted a real chef, with a real chef's refined palate, to tell me how my creations turned out. And Chef Ryan Hardy is the guy willing to play phone tag with a month so I can come into the Montagna kitchen during prime dinner prep hours with my samples of ice cream.
So, the results:
Ryan gets a handful of silver spoons and patiently watches me line up these six flavors in an order I think is conducive to tasting: Organic White Peony, Jasmine Petal, Alpine Berry, Organic Peppermint, Organic Mountain High Chai and Organic Earl Grey.
"How long have these been in your freezer?" he asks.
Uh oh. Busted. "Um. Over a month," I say. Is the taste going to be ruined?
"Considering that, this has really good texture," he says, digging into the White Peony. Even better news: He likes it! "This is delicious; it's got great flavor," he says. "I like the delicate floral flavor — I think it would pair well with fruit."
Ryan envisions perhaps steeping a fruit in with this tea and cream — lychee, he says, or white peach in the summertime.
Next up is Jasmine Petal, and he admits he's a green tea drinker (or peppermint, when he's not feeling well). He likes the ice cream, and says there's something to it that reminds him of Gelato Di Riso — that's ice cream made from rice in Italy. I don't doubt this — just consider the existence of Jasmine rice.
Time for some herbals
"This is my favorite so far," Ryan says, dipping into the Alpine Berry. "I like the fruit notes in it." The question is, would typical ice cream eaters? Not necessarily in this country, we agree. "In Italy, dessert might be a bowl of cherries, and then you might walk down the street for some gelato," he says. "Americans eat cheesecake and chocolate peanut butter cup ice cream. They really blow dessert up."
This ice cream is much more subtle where dessert is concerned, and Ryan says he thinks the Alpine Berry tastes even a bit like plum.
He also likes the Organic Peppermint. "It's great, but I'm not surprised," he says. "Although I do taste a different flavor because the mind is dried, rather than fresh. Fresh mint gives off a really intense flavor. Dried mint can taste stale or like cardboard, but this does not. It's a good balance — two leaves and a bud is good at what they do."
I knew Chef Ryan Hardy was the right guy for this job.
And now for the black tea ...
Well, it wasn't all sunshine and roses. While Ryan said he liked both the Mountain High Chai and the Earl Grey ice creams, he didn't think that either of them tasted as much like their respective tea of origin as they could have. He detected the cloves in the chai, but not as much cardamom as he expected. As for Earl Grey, he didn't think my concoction tasted as strongly of bergamot oil (the orange flavor Earl Grey is known for) as it could have.
If I had a world of patience and was willing to write yet another ice cream related blog post, I might try to re-make these two, steeping the tea sachets a bit longer, and using more sachets. But instead, I think I'll leave this up to you tea and ice cream aficionados out there who want to experiment on your own.
Ultimately, Chef Ryan Hardy seemed to feel the tea ice cream exceeded his expectations, which is always good. "These captured the flavor of the tea well, which is surprising," he said. "So many times, tea can be over-steeped, and then it becomes bitter, and I didn't taste that in these."
While he noted that plenty of other companies pair their products with ice cream giants like Häagen-Dasz for a special flavor ("This month, presenting Organic Peppermint ice cream from two leaves and a bud tea co.!" for example), and we could do the same, I'm just gratified that his tastebuds gave this tea ice cream the thumbs up. For the recipe, check out our last ice cream post.
Which of these tea ice cream flavors sound the best to you? Or would you try making ice cream with a different one of our tea altogether?