When I was growing up the entrance of our home was flanked by two bountiful kumquat (cumquat) plants in shapely Italian terracotta pots. My sister and I loved to play with the ‘little oranges’, daring each other to try to eat the sour fruit without squinting. At that time, Asian food (and fruits) were not so common in Australia and my mother did not have many recipes for cooking the kumquats. (Although she did once try unsuccessfully to preserve them in brandy.) A shame she had not yet been introduced her to Taiwanese cuisine, which finds all sorts of uses for kumquats — including the deliciously tangy sweet kumquat tea.
Kumquat tea (金桔茶) is a staple at night marketsm where it is often sold cold as a refreshing citrus drink. In trendy teahouses and cafes it is also served hot in glass teapots, decorated with kumquat rind and other pieces of fruit. I always thought there was a magic art to making kumquat tea. Actually, like many homestyle Taiwanese recipes it is very simple. In fact you could just make it just from kumquat juice, sugar and hot water.
But I like my kumquat tea strong and sweet, so thanks to a basic recipe provided my culintary talented Taiwanese friend Mei, I have come up with modified version to suit my own (Western and very sweet) tastes. In Taiwan it is common to add salty plums to the kumquat tea to add extra flavour, but it is fine to omit this (I did). And it is also common to add lemon, transforming it into Kumquat lemon tea (金桔檸檬茶).
For a 500ml teapot
50ml kumquat juice (I used nine small cumquats)
1/2 small lemon or lime
1 tablespoon rock sugar or honey
1 salty plum (optional)
4-5 kumquat rinds (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons black or green tea
1. Squeeze the kumquats. As they are tiny, this can be a little fiddly. (I ended up with a squirt of kumquat juice in my eye on my first attempt!) Through trial and error, I worked out that the easiest way is to perch the tiny kumquats on top of the juicer as if they were a ‘hat’ and gently press down to extract the juice.
2. Squeeze the lemon or lime.
3. Add the sugar, kumquat and lemon/lime juice to a teapot. Add in some half-squeezed kumquat rinds, and if you wish some additional chopped fruit and/or a salty plum. Add in one to two teaspoons of tea leaves (if possible, use a teapot that has a separate section for stewing tea leaves).
4. Pour over the boiling water and allow to steep for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy hot or cold.
Note on the tea: I used a mild, slightly-smokey black tea grown in Taoyuan, northern Taiwan. But any tea is fine, depending on what you prefer. The citrus flavours are quite strong so the tea only provides background depth to the drink.