Herbal tea is a wonderful drink.
Not every having been much of a tea drinker and always interested in herbs and lotions and potions, about 10 or more years ago I started to regularly drink herbal tea. Don’t get me wrong – I have drunk the usual shop-bought herbal teas for most of my (adult) life. But I wanted something more.
I became tired of insipid watery drinks that people passed off as herbal tea – sometimes not much more than slightly coloured hot water. I wanted flavour. That took me on a journey of playing with fresh and dried ingredients to make the best herbal teas.
What is Herbal Tea?
It is an infusion made from herbs and spices. It may or may not contain a few tea leaves. There is some controversy about the use of the word tea as in some parts of the world, tea refers exclusively to the leaves of the tea plant. Here, we use it as a term that implies infusion when preceded by herbal.
How to make a good Herbal Tea
I approach making herbal tea like making a stock – there are four main considerations:
1. ingredients that will provide the maximum and most pleasant flavours
2. fresh is best
3. a little bit of intuition about what combination of things will make excellent tea
4. access to ingredients.
I guess I started when I lived in Sydney, and had access easily to a great range of ingredients – both most excellent blends of herbs to be drunk on their own or mixed with others, and to fresh, dried, elemental herbs – things like red clover, beautiful yellow marigold leaves, a magnificent range of mints etc etc. In Adelaide that is SO so much harder.
So, these days, no longer in Sydney and only average blends available locally, I source some ingredients via the net, buy some whenever in Sydney, grow a lot myself. But it also taught me to look elsewhere, and I discovered all sorts of Asian things from the local Asian shops, and explored Persian shops, and Greek Shops, and realised that many dried ingredients can form the basis of teas.
The General Tea Making Method
Start with ginger. Fresh as you can get it. It forms a fabulous basis for most teas and is amazingly good for you. (Don’t use powdered ginger for a basis. It is Ok to add a pinch of powdered ginger to a tea, but it is a very different flavour to fresh ginger.)
Depending on the pot, put in 2 – 10 slices of ginger.
Add other ingredients depending on your mood.
Add water boiled to about 95C, or just under boiling.
Wait 3 – 5 minutes and pour. Please DO NOT seep for 10 minutes as you will often be told, unless you have hard woody ingredients such as dandelion root.
You can fill the pot again and again with boiling water without need to refresh the ingredients.
The Simplest and Most Beautiful Tea
My best simple basic tea is ginger alone or ginger with fresh lemon grass (or freshly dried lemongrass). Add kaffir lime leaves (1 or 2) if you have them. Delicious. I discovered this tea in Bali!
Start with ginger (fresh) and build up your repertoire from there. Add any dried herb – rosemary is good, small amounts of thyme, even a sprig of parsley is surprising excellent. Lots of mint. I mean LOTS of mint is good. Lemongrass. Kaffir Lime leaves. Even fresh orange peel and fresh or dried mandarin skins are great in teas. A slice of fresh lemon.
It was a surprise to me initially that herbs we think of as “savoury” ie would not be good in teas, really work well – parsley, rosemary, basil, for example. Just keep their proportion smaller than other ingredients. (But on reflection, basil is GREAT in fruit salads, so why would it not be great in tea?)
Using Dried Herbs
If you have access to good range of freshly dried herbs, roots and flowers, grab a range of them and keep them on hand to add a teaspoon here, a teaspoon there. Above all, avoid those dried things that look like they were dried before the Ark sailed! Fresh is best. Let me say that again. Fresh is best. That can mean freshly dried herbs.
Spices that go well are saffron, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, a couple of black pepper corns (yes, really) nutmeg, star anise and cinnamon etc. If you have them growing, add their leaves to the tea pot.
Dried liquorish root is also great.
Vary your teas by adding dried red dates from the Chinese Market, or those little dried rose buds. Try dried hawthorn and dried honesuckle. You will find a whole range of exotic tea ingredients in South East Asian, Chinese and Oriental food shops.
You can add genmachi, the Japanese popped rice tea, or roobos the South African root. You can even add a pinch of black or green tea. Don’t use white tea here – it is too expensive to drink this way and its taste too subtle to really add flavour. Drink white tea on its own.
They will be a god-send to you.
Develop your sense of what makes a good tea for you. Experiment.
My place is so well known for its teas, and my visitors expect nothing else. No coffee (although i drink it once or twice per day) or alcohol. They just want TEA.
Today my tea was simple – fresh ginger, kaffir lime, cardamom leaf, parsley leaf, and mint – all from my balcony pot garden except for the ginger which was from an organic shop. Added my Favourite Special Honey which I keep only for tea making. I am on my second pot already!
Drink! Play! Enjoy!
This post was updated on 22nd December, 2013