Tea sommelier Sara Silbiger Shacket ’98 shares the joy and how to make perfect cold brew.
By Mat Johnson
“I started drinking tea really young,” says Sara Silbiger-Shacket ’98. Some of Shacket’s earliest memories are of visiting her Eastern European grandparents, drinking tea around the table as a family. Her grandmother would drink tea with a sugar cube in her cheek to sweeten it, while Shacket would steal and eat the other cubes when no one was looking.
After double majoring in psychology and communications at Geneseo, Shacket started a career in broadcast operations with Showtime networks, where she remains to this day.
“My job is very technical,” she says, “and I was looking for a creative outlet.” While at home on a maternity leave, she was inspired to start writing a tea blog.
“Tea makes me feel joyful, which is why I called my blog Tea Happiness,” explains Shacket. In addition to blogging, Shacket is a certified tea sommelier. She serves as a consultant, teaching Tea 101 classes, guiding stores through the tea selection process, working with businesses to set up tastings and writing freelance articles about tea.
“Tea is the second-most consumed beverage after water, so it’s extremely popular,” she says. “There’s so much history behind every country’s tea culture.” In Japan, for example, it’s “steeped in Buddhism and mindfulness,” and it takes many years to become a Japanese tea master. Shacket adds, “In different cultures around the world, if you visit someone’s house, one of the first things they do is offer you a cup of tea.”
Even though Shacket’s relationship with tea started brewing at a young age, it developed further when she started traveling the world. No matter where she goes, she’s always able to learn more about tea. On a recent trip to South Korea, she says that “being in a tea field, and seeing and smelling the field, and feeling the energy of that tea field, was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before… The Koreans’ love and passion for tea was so clear, even though we weren’t speaking the same language.”
Shacket describes tea as “a unifying communal force” that “makes you stop and focus. It gives you something to do that has nothing to do with what’s going on in the world.” She even compares the process of preparing, drinking and sharing tea to a “form of meditation.”
“Tea is not just a beverage for me. It’s something that helps me destress. It lets me pause from my day. It lets me be more mindful,” Shacket says. “It helps me learn about different cultures around the world. It’s just a really diverse beverage and there’s always something to learn.”
HOW TO COLD BREW YOUR OWN TEA
Tea sommelier Sara Silbiger-Shacket ’98 shares how to (easily) make your own cold-brewed tea. “Cold brew tea is different than making iced hot tea because when you make hot tea and then you ice it down, it can be bitter and the ice can dilute the tea. Cold brew tea is smoother and has a lot of nuanced flavor to it.”
- SIMPLE PREP
All you need is a jar, water and tea. Any kind of tea you like will work well.
- LOOSE-LEAF VS. BAGGED
If you’re using loose-leaf tea, use 2 teaspoons per cup of water. If you’re using bags, use 2 bags of tea per cup of water. For bagged tea, you can use store-bought or fill empty tea bags with your own loose-leaf tea.
- INFUSE WHILE YOU SNOOZE
After adding the water and tea, put a lid on the jar and stick it in the fridge overnight. You can infuse it for 8 hours, you can infuse it for 12 hours, you can even infuse it for 18 hours. The tea will change, so taste it, and if it tastes good, it’s done. If you want it stronger, let it keep going. Depending on your preferences, you could also add fresh herbs or sliced fruit to infuse with the tea overnight.
- POUR AND ENJOY
Just strain the tea when you pour it into a cup and you’re all good. If you use bagged tea instead of loose leaf, you can skip using a tea strainer altogether. Once you’ve poured it out, you could add more water to those same leaves and keep it going for a few more batches. If you like sweet tea, you can sweeten it with simple syrup to taste in the glass. (Sugar or honey won’t dissolve in a cold brew, so be sure to use a simple syrup instead.).