Several months ago, inspired by the examples I had obtained of traditionally-prepared teas aged inside of citrus fruits, I decided to try making some of my own. This venture was also “inspired” by my inability to locate any dried orange peel. This led to a shift in concept when I was able to procure a nice bag of fresh Mandarin oranges instead. With a paring knife I was able to cut neat round holes in the tops of the oranges and I scooped out the fruit with a small spoon, trying to leave just the dry peel and none of the pulp. I then filled the hollowed out orange shells with some cheap Yunnan black tea. After all, this was a mad scientist experiment – I wouldn’t want to risk ruining any of the good stuff. The goal was to end up with black tea with the taste of orange infused into it through absorption of orange moisture during the drying process.
After stuffing them as full as I could without breaking the leaves or tearing the peels I placed the two very cute packages on a screened shelf in the kitchen and left them to dry. I kept an eye on them each day and the peel wrappers dried and tightened slightly around the tea, as I expected and intended. The outside of the oranges darkened slightly and hardened just like they ought to. The photograph below shows what they looked like after about a week. I admit that a lot of the reason I wanted this to work was because they looked so appealing.
After several weeks the outsides looked and felt as if they had completed their dessication and I decided it was time to try making some tea out of the contents. I pulled the top off of one of them and scraped out an appropriate amount of the tea. Upon doing this I was very disappointed to discover that during the drying time, the contents had acquired some dry grey/blue mold. The tea within did not even smell good. It smelled musty and moldy, liable to send someone with a sensitive nose into paroxysms of sneezing. There had been no mold detectable from the outside.
I live in an area that is particularly moist, and food items do tend to mold quite readily in my kitchen, but my hope had been that there would be enough air circulating around them and that the tea would absorb the moisture safely, avoiding what I knew was the likeliest reason for failure – an attack of mold. I do not know whether this is an impossible thing for anyone else to do themselves – Perhaps someone in a drier climate would have success. But it is possible that those great little tea/citrus packages can only be made using secret preparation techniques that include aging in caves or in specially designed ceramic canisters in China. In any case it was an interesting, although failed, experiment.