Tea and Not Tea

I drink tea. Brewing a pot is the first thing I do most days and enjoying it while I catch up on my reading is a morning ritual I’m loath to give up. I made the switch from coffee a number of years ago, and while I still enjoy the occasional cup of joe, it’s tea I more often turn to when the situation calls for a stimulating hot beverage. We’re lucky to have a great tea purveyor in town who operated a lounge where I would go and write on my days off. It closed to the dismay of many, but they have re-emerged in another location as a tea bar so I can restock easily whenever my supply of favorite leaves gets low. Having such easy access to great tea and the good advice of a knowledgeable vendor let me become a tea snob. Specifically, if it wasn’t the leaves of Camellia sinensis, it wasn’t tea. And, to be fair, that’s strictly accurate. True tea only comes from this one shrub and any of the so-called teas that don’t contain it are more properly called tisanes. (See how I get!)

Photo Jul 23, 9 33 54 AM

I was a little leery, then, when a couple of our very best friends gifted us with a tin of “herbal tea” last year. They volunteer at the Enfield Shaker Museum where the gift shop sells blends of herbs from the gardens of the historic village. I put the tin on the shelf with the real tea and didn’t give it much thought until one chilly winter afternoon. I wanted something hot but thought it was a little late in the day for caffeine. I brewed a pot, poured a cup, and immediately changed my opinion of tisanes. It was delicious! Our supply was gone in  a few short weeks. I made a note of the ingredients and made sure they were included in the herb patch on this year’s garden plan. Some mints I was already growing but I bought another, labeled peppermint to make sure I had the right one. Lemon balm I had grown unrestrained before so I knew I had to keep it in a buried pot. Lemon verbena was a new one to me but we managed to find a plant at the nursery.

Photo Jul 23, 6 42 25 AM

All have grown well and I’ve made two harvests of their fragrant leaves. I dried and crushed the first batch and it made a nice little jar full but I’m stocking up with more to get me through the year.

Photo Jul 23, 9 29 14 AM

This whole adventure has loosened up my attitude about what I brew now. I’ve even started experimenting with adding dehydrated orange peel to my tea. Turns out it’s great with black tea, not so much with the whites. In any case, I know I’ve just scratched the surface of what I can grow for brewing tisanes and tea blends. Maybe this winter I’ll do some more reading and tasting and what I learn will be reflected in 2017’s herb bed. What do you brew? Please share any suggestions in the comments!

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12 thoughts on “Tea and Not Tea

    1. Oh, yes. Chocolate anything is good! I suppose I could try adding cocoa powder straight to the pot for starters. Do you have a chai recipe you like?

      1. To be honest I’ve always bought chai in teabags rather than making up my own. Chai lattes in coffee shops are nice but apparently often very sugary and bad for you – which will be why they taste so nice!

  1. How strange! I just tasted the Lemon verbena lately and I have decided to grow it when I can get a plant. I already collect the flowers of my Lime tree (Tilia platyphyllos) as they make my favourite tisane. Just as a change try brewing a two or three cardamom seeds with a strong black tea for a spicy change. This year I have been experimenting with new Raspberry leaves and mint. I can dry the leaves easily enough but storage is a bit of a problem. Amelia

    1. I like these ideas! We don’t have T. platyphyllos here that I know of but lots of T. americana and the flowers are very fragrant. Problem is they’re usually at least thirty feet up! I have dried some elderflowers but haven’t steeped them yet. They smell a little funny. Love cardamom. I’ll be trying that soon. Never heard of using raspberry leaves but I know I can grab some at our community garden. Thanks, Amelia!

  2. Qwis

    I’ve never tried creating my own blends, but you’re making me think that I want to try.

    I prefer drinking assam tea when I can get it. At work I tried a chocolate rooibos chai by Zhena’s Gypsy Tea company and bought my own tin to enjoy at night once the weather cools down. Finally, I was gifted a make-your-own-chai kit which I like to brew on the weekends when I have the time.

  3. A good autumn-winter chai beverage is the following: orange pekoe tea (brewed)+ some pomegranate juice (better pure one without sugar) and 2-4 pieces of cloves. It’s very pleasant and refreshing! Enjoy your tea!

    Best regards,

    Maria

  4. Chocolate mint is running rampant around our homestead (from one little plant we brought from the our last house.) You’ve inspired me to try it as a tea…er, excuse me, a tisane! Cheers, Ben

  5. Great post, Mark! I feel I should look into brewing more herbal tisanes. I’ve experimented a little in the past, with sage and with nettles, but we have lots of different herbs in the garden that could make a nice brew. Hmmm…. you’ve got me thinking now…..! Sophie 🙂

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