Yangmei, and Making Berry Iced Teas

'Tis the season for blueberries and raspberries in the US, and 'tis the season for yangmei in China. These little purplish red berries with a knobbly surface are all over the indoor and outdoor markets here in southern China, and I'm sure I'll find them in Beijing when I get back. They are also known as yamamomo in Japanese and red bayberry or waxberry in English. A new juice company has rechristened them as "yumberries", since cute names tend to sell previously unknown or odd-sounding foods (calamari, anyone?)

The poor berry has so many personalities that I'll henceforth refer to it as yangmei, as the Chinese has known it for ages. The taste is more tart than raspberries and blackberries, more like pomegranate juice. There's a pit inside the size of a cherry's. They are loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants and make a perfect snack for anyone under the weather, like I am right now.

After reading about the new Yumberry juice that aims to be the new Pom, I decided that the tart and slightly sweet yangmei would be ideal in an iced tea. Besides, little shops around southern China that sell medicinal teas offer yangmei juice as a "cooling" thirst-quencher.

If you can't get your hands on yangmei, you can also adapt the recipe for raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries; just use less sugar. Blueberries would need less cooking time, 10 minutes instead of 15. For yangmei, start with 1 cup sugar to 4 cups fruit while cooking the fruit, and add more later to suit your palate.


Yangmei Orange Iced Tea (see above on using other berries)

Makes 4 to 5 servings

4 cups fresh yang mei berries (also called bayberries, waxberries, yumberries), rinsed and drained 4 cups water 1 cup sugar, more as needed 3 to 4 bags green tea 1 cup orange juice Ice cubes

Bring water to boil in a large saucepan. Add berries and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Once they start to cook and soften, crush them against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon or heatproof rubber spatula. Towards the end of the 15 minutes, add sugar and stir slowly to dissolve. Remove pan from heat and let stand to cool, about 15 to 30 minutes.

Strain the juice through a fine sieve into a small sauce pot, pressing on the solids. Discard the solids. Bring juice to a simmer. Remove from heat, add tea bags, and let steep for 5 to 7 minutes. Discard the teabags and let cool to room temperature.

In a pitcher, mix together berry tea with orange juice. Taste and add more sugar if needed. Chill in fridge for up to 2 days. Serve tea over ice.