March 16, 2022

Winter Melon Tea 冬瓜茶

Winter Melon,tea,drink,冬瓜茶,chinese,recipe,taiwan,

This delightfully soothing and refreshing Winter Melon Tea 冬瓜茶 is something we recently discovered when eating out at a local Taiwanese restaurant.  It was so refreshing and good I couldn't believe that I'd never come across this delicious drink before!  Apparently it's a widely enjoyed beverage in Taiwan and super healthy to boot, chock full of vitamin C (boosts immunity!), antioxidants, magnesium, phosphorus and calcium.  Super good for your health!  Winter melon is considered cooling to the body in Chinese medicine so this is the perfect refreshing drink as the weather starts to warm up.  

It was a serendipitous discovery as I've been obsessing recently over the issue of drinks and the fact that modern life seems to requires that a lot of drinks be purchased and lugged home.  I always wondered, what did folk do for drinks back in the days before supermarkets and convenience stores?  They made them at home, of course, and thus my search has been to discover traditional healthy teas and tonic drinks that can be easily made at home.   What a cool thing it is to have a constant supply of delicious easy to make healthy tea/drink in fridge to sip whenever one is thirsty!

Winter Melon,tea,drink,冬瓜茶,chinese,recipe,taiwan,

Winter melon tea is made from, well, winter melon.  Winter Melon 冬瓜, also known as wax gourd or ash gourd, is a fruit that looks, in its mature form, rather like a watermelon.  The mature melon has a thin dark green skin that is sometimes (depending on the variety) covered by a layer of white powder, thus earning it the traditional name of "winter" melon.  Just to note that we seldom encounter the frosted type, usually only seeing the plain dark green skinned type these days.  They are usually sold pre sliced in thick slices as shown in the photo above. 

You also might sometimes see small winter melons, small enough to hold with one hand, and covered with fuzz.  These are very young winter melons and are usually used to serve as containers for individual servings of winter melon soup.  These individual servings are newfangled, the traditional style of winter melon soups very grandly used the large melons, cut in half, flesh scooped out, green skin carved with patterns, as a soup tureen for a delicious winter melon soup.  (That one definitely on our recipe to do list.)  

Winter Melon,tea,drink,冬瓜茶,chinese,recipe,taiwan,

When buying winter melon make sure that the melon slice looks fresh and white and is quite firm and unblemished.  You can find winter melons at asian grocery stores and locally, at the wet markets and sometimes at supermarkets.  The veggie sections of HK supermarkets sometimes leave much to be desired :(

The taste of the winter melon is like a cross between cucumber and water melon rind but more subtle and super duper refreshing which is why it makes the most excellent tea!  The texture is firm but slightly spongy making cooked winter melon a most delightful texture food, its soft spongy melty texture thoroughly absorbing the flavors it cooks in.

But enough winter talk, let's on to the making:  Slice off the rind of the winter melon and then dice.The seeds and pithy middle should be sliced away and discarded.  (Some folks just toss in the pith and the seeds in as well but I wanted to make the squeezing of liquid from solid easier so no seeds.)

Winter Melon,tea,drink,冬瓜茶,chinese,recipe,taiwan,

The next step is to macerate the fruit.  Maceration is the process by which fruits or vegetables are mixed with sugar and left to soak for a time, in order to draw out the natural juices inside.  I've done this plenty with fruit and it is soooo amazing how this process can transform, intensify and make fruit more tasty.

Winter Melon,tea,drink,冬瓜茶,chinese,recipe,taiwan,

This is the winter melon after maceration.  See how the cubes have become limp and the juice of the melon has been drawn out.

Note: TBH I'm not totally convinced that the maceration was necessary.  The traditional recipes all call for it.  But it seems to me the point of maceration is to transform uncooked fruit and then serve them in that uncooked state.  As the fruit in this recipe is then simmered, I feel that the long cook time should serve the same purpose as a maceration, ie, completely getting all the delicious liquid out?  What do you think?  Anyhoo, next time I make this tea I'm going the try just simmering w/o maceration.

Winter Melon,tea,drink,冬瓜茶,chinese,recipe,taiwan,

Next step is the long simmer.  The winter melon is cooked over a low heat until the melon is translucent.  Then use a hand blender to puree all the winter melon solids.  Finally everything is strained through a cheesecloth to squeeze all the liquids out from the solids.  

Winter Melon,tea,drink,冬瓜茶,chinese,recipe,taiwan,

This resulting syrup is a deliciously clear dark amber in color.  This is concentrated winter melon tea syrup and should be mixed with water at a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio for drinking.  I like to mix it up a tall pitcher at a time and keep it in the fridge so that my little girl can just serve herself.   But you can also keep it in syrup form and just mix it up whenever you would like a glass.  

When mixed up and served this winter melon tea  冬瓜茶 is a delicate golden amber in color.  The taste of the winter melon is actually really subtle but as you sip your tea you will find you cannot stop, that this winter melon tea is just the right thing to quench your thirst in the most lovely tasty way possible.  Ahhhhhhh….you’ll sigh… so yummiliciously refreshing!

Winter Melon,tea,drink,冬瓜茶,chinese,recipe,taiwan,

Winter Melon Tea Recipe  冬瓜茶
(makes 1 1/2 cup concentrated syrup). Prep time: 1 hour  Cook time: 1 1/2 hr

5 lbs of winter melon, 2.2 kg
1 1/2 cup brown sugar, 300g
1 big lump rock sugar

Slice rind off the winter melon.  Cut away the pith and seeds in the middle and discard.  Dice the melon into 1/2 inch dice.  Put winter melon dice and brown sugar in a bowl, toss to combine and let macerate at room temperature an hour.

Scoop the macerated melon into a cooking pot, add rock sugar and enough water to just cover and let simmer over low heat until the winter melon is transparent, around 1 1/2 hours.  Check occasionally and top up with a bit of water if needed.  

Use hand blender to puree the water melon (optional).  Pour out into cheese cloth set over a strainer over a bow. Use cheese cloth to squeeze out as much liquid as you can.  This is the winter melon syrup.

Pour concentrated winter melon syrup into a sterilized airtight jar.  Will keep in the fridge for 10 days or so as long as you use clean, dry utensils to touch it.  When making winter melon tea add 1 part winter melon syrup to 2-3 parts water.  Serve chilled.  Enjoy!

More Delicious Drinks at The Hong Kong Cookery:

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