A Failed Science Experiment

Orange Pu-ehrSeveral 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.

Mandarin Oranges stuffed with Tea

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.


  1. If you put sugar in your tea, may I suggest that you flavor your sugar rather than your tea? All you would have to do would be to peel the zest off of the oranges using a paring knife or a peeler and placing the large slices into your sugar container. If you are worried about excess moisture in your sugar, you can place a slice of bread (wonderbread works really well-it won’t mold on you) on top of the sugar in a tightly sealed container. If you let the sugar sit for a few days it will be delicious and orange in flavor. I would not recommend just zesting the orange and mixing it with the sugar because then you will either have to sift the zest out later or live with orange peels floating around in your tea. Hope that helps!

  2. That is a really good idea. I don’t ever put any type of sweetener in anything myself but I would bet that orange zest infused sugar is a pretty fabulous thing. Thank you for the suggestion!

  3. I wonder if that experiment would work better here in California. 🙂

  4. I bet it would work a lot better in California. You have a much less hospitable environment for evil mold spores!

  5. Sounds good, I might try putting it my drying room, that sould keep the mould down!