Friday, July 10, 2009

taking tea

As if a lightening bolt had cleaved my head, in a Covent Garden's tea shop I had an epiphany. I’d always known I didn’t like the taste of tea but it wasn’t until the moment that I inhaled some fragrant blend that I understood my distaste for the drink went deeper than whimsy. As soon as those volatile oils hit my olfactory senses a searing pain went through my temple. I realised black tea and me could never be friends.

Having a similarly dislike for patchouli I could never be a hippy but developed a fondness from herbal teas in my teens. Around the time I discovered tofu - rosehips, hibiscus and lemongrass also came into my life. As a student in New Zealand living in draughty dank shared houses through endless winters, large pots of herbal tea got me through the darkest months.

Fortunately in London I lived in a house with vast jars of wholefoods in the cupboards, beancurd in the fridge and array of herbal teas. My pregnant housemate drunk buckets of raspberry leaf but there was almost every other herb under the sun on hand. But once out of the house there was a problem. I soon discovered that in the land of tea drinkers saying no to a cup of tea was just not on. A cup of the awful swill was an invitation to share a person’s company and refusal was tantamount to a slap in the face. It took a London friend to spell out this strange social ritual and come up with a solution that perhaps only a wacky Antipodean could get away with, for the next year I carried a supply of herbal tea bags with me so I could whip one out whenever the offer of tea arose.

British coffee, at home or in cafes, was so awful in the ‘80s that I gave it up. I had to go to France to get a decent cup!

These days most the herbs I drink are fresh from the garden. A handful of peppermint or lemon balm can be refreshingly cooling on a summer’s day. But in winter a rich, warm blend born in those chilly student houses comforts me to my core.

Hibiscus flowers dry to a deep crimson and are often used as a natural colour booster in tea blends and punches. They taste quite astringent with a citrusy edge. After infusing for a while the tea turns the deepest of reds, with an intense flavour. Like many red plant foods, scientists are turning to hibiscus as a possible source of antioxidants. The herb is a favourite in Egypt and most hibiscus tea on the market still originates from that country.

I’ve been asked to share my winter tea recipe and must admit that I'd never considered posting something so simple before. Quantities are to taste as each palate is different. The longer it infuses the deeper the flavour and it becomes quite a different drink. To see if you like it, make a decent sized pot of the blend and pour a small cup to sample every five minutes til you find the perfect drawing time for your desires.

As with all teas, quality is paramount. By organic herbs if possible but freshness is paramount. Always store dried herbs in an airtight jar and keep in a cool dark place. Heat and light are the enemies of flavour and old or poorly stored herbs can taste dull and dusty.

As for tea bags, keep them for emergencies only or when visiting Britain.

Winter warming tea

The combination of the acidity of the hibiscus and acridness of the ginger is mellowed by the natural sweetness of liquorice. The longer it is brewed the more tangy heat the ginger imparts.

2 parts dried hibiscus flower

1 part dried liquorice root

1 part fresh ginger root, finely sliced (of a pinch dried)

Warm your favourite teapot, add the herbs and cover generously with boiling water. Let it brew for at least 5 minutes.

What is your favourite herbal tea combination?

This post is part of Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Cheryl at Gluten Free Goodness. Incidentally my winter tea is gluten-free, sugar free and lactose free, unlike the black chewy confectionary also known as liquorice!

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Blogger Johanna GGG said...

It was an epiphany for me to discover I didn't like tea - the moment I realised a-ah so that was why I kept drinking it so weak! But I love herbal teas - I quite like liquorice and also love the raspberry and cranberry which comes in a packet - have got out of the habit of loose leaf tea - partly because I haven't drunk it a lot lately. I love the fresh mint tea in morrocan restaurants - so refreshing!

11:05 pm  
Anonymous Lucy said...


I love the idea that tofu, rosehips, hibiscus and lemongrass arrived in your life at the same time. That's given me an idea...

Anyway, I'm off to track hibiscus and licorice root down right now.

(Thank you!)

8:49 am  
Blogger Caleb said...

I found your food blog going through a few links. Glad I ran into it. Didn’t know that the food blog/recipe community was so big online. I love your posts!

I was wondering if you would like to exchange links. I’ll drop yours on my site and you drop mine on yours. Email at or stop by my site and drop a comment. Let me know if you would like to do a link exchange.


10:21 am  
Blogger Antoinette said...

yum! That looks lovely. My favourite winter tea is plain ginger. Strong.

I'm not fond of black tea either, although I can tolerate it better than I used to. I drink a fair bit of green tea these days as I no longer drink coffee.

7:34 am  
Blogger GS said...

Docwitch - ginger and winter are just made for each other :)

Caleb - I don't do link swaps and only periodically update my links, sorry I am just slack. If you like my blog and want to link that is wonderful. I look forward to seeing your blog when I have a bit more time.

Lucy - packet of hibiscus. here. with. your. name. on. it!

Johanna - glad to know I am not a freak :) I've found some of the fruity teabags actually add scents/flavours to them, which is cheating in my book :) It always pays to read labels even on natural products. Though its got to still be better to drink than popular fizzy brown soft drinks.

12:25 pm  
Blogger Ms Alex said...

I tend to drink ginger, lemon and honey in the winter and I play around with the herbal honeys. I love the idea of ginger and licorice with something so bright and sharp to bring them together. I'll be trying the combination out. :)

10:19 pm  
Blogger GS said...

Ms Alex herbal honeys sound like a wonderful idea. Are you using herbs infused in honey or honey produced from bees feeding on selected herbs?

10:50 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

wow..a tea recipe...that seems refreshing..I have never seen a tea recipe on the net..

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10:25 pm  

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