4 Easy Steps To Make Your Own Herbal Tea Blends From Scratch

We all know that tea is the nation’s favourite hot drink. Most people have a favourite brand – but whether you drink PG Tips, Tetleys or Yorkshire Tea, they’re all proprietary blends of black tea that have been carefully created to achieve their particular flavour. If you fancy a change from regular builders’ tea, how about creating your own tea blend?

Not as scary as it sounds, making your own custom loose leaf tea blends from scratch is actually remarkably easy and fun to do. Perhaps you fancy experimenting with different fruit, herbs or spices to give your tea some oomph, or maybe you’re thinking of making Christmas gifts for your friends? You never know, it could even open up a whole new career path for you!

So, what exactly is blended tea?

A tea blend is a mixture of various ingredients, the main one being tea or herbal tea. Traditional tea companies have professionals with very advanced palates who mix different types of tea from the tea plant camellia sinensis to create the sophisticated commercial tea blends that we all know and love. Don’t worry, we won’t be doing that here.

Instead, we’ll be starting with a base tea of your choice, to which an almost limitless range of ingredients can be added to produce your unique and exciting blend. You really can’t go wrong with any combination – some will be bolder or spicier than others – as long as the result is to your taste. Whether you choose herbs or spices, dried fruit, seeds or flowers or anything else, the only condition is that it can be steeped in boiling water and extract flavour.

Shall we make a start?

Step 1: Select your base tea

First off, you need to choose your base tea. This can be any loose leaf tea or herbal tea and will make up anywhere between 40% and 80% of the final tea blend by weight.

Popular loose leaf teas you could use include:

  • Black Tea including Darjeeling, Assam, and Ceylon from the Indian subcontinent, and Keemun or Yunnan from China
  • Green Tea such as Sencha (Japanese) or Gunpowder (Chinese)
  • Chinese White Tea
  • Red Rooibos or Redbush Tea, made from the Fabaceae bush indigenous to South Africa
  • Yerba Mate Tea derived from a South American tree from the holly family

Step 2: Choose your herbal ingredients

Now is the time to get creative. When it comes to choosing ingredients to add to your base tea, the only limitation is your imagination! If you’re stuck for ideas, take a look at the herbal tea aisle in your nearest supermarket or health food shop for inspiration, or peruse the herb/spice rack in your kitchen.

Favourites to use in unique tea blends include:

  • Peppermint, spearmint leaves, nettle, lemongrass
  • Chamomile, lavender, rose petals, rosehip, hibiscus, echinacea
  • Dried apple, lemon, cherry, red berries, elderberries
  • Cloves, pepper, dried chillis, fennel, cinnamon, cardamom, aniseed, coriander
  • Liquorice root, ginger, turmeric, valerian
  • Vanilla, cocoa nibs

Step 3: Blend your ingredients

This is where it gets interesting. Once you’ve collected all the components to go into your new tea blend, it’s time to get mixing. This is by no means an exact science – the result will come down to your personal taste preferences and it may take a bit of trial and error to get you there, adjusting as you go.

Start by taking a big enough mixing bowl for the quantity of tea you’re making and measure out your base tea – 40-80% of the total blend volume. Next, use your instinct and taste buds to guide you to the end result, tasting as you go. Blend it all together using a large spoon, or use a mixing jar with a lid and give everything a good shake.

While you’re experimenting, it is highly recommended that you keep an exact record of what you’ve been doing. Write down your blend and the precise proportions of ingredients used so that you can remember it when you go back to tweak it, should it be necessary.

When you’re happy with the flavour and aroma of your own master blend, keep your creation in an airtight jar in the kitchen cupboard ready for enjoying a cup at a time. Better still, make large quantities, choose the perfect packaging and turn your herbal tea blends into great looking gifts.

Step 4: Enjoy a unique hot beverage

Finally, it’s time to enjoy the fruit of your labours. Grab your favourite tea pot and brew your first batch of tea. For best results, make the tea according to the instructions for your base tea. Green tea, for instance, should be steeped for 3 minutes in nearly but not actually boiling water (80-85°C is ideal) so the tea doesn’t develop a bitter taste.

Again, it may take a bit of experimentation until you get the taste just as you like it – just make sure you keep a log of any changes on the recipe sheet.

Guest post by Dakota Murphey

Images provided by author

Tea Taste Profiling and Machine Testing “Tasting” – Part 2

Continued from yesterday’s post

It’s an interesting idea, that sensor testing might be able to do what both of those profiling systems just drew on, with the input an objective, measured assessment.  One problem: related sensor based aspect testing just isn’t there yet. It complicates things that when we taste foods we’re really sensing two different things (aside from feel aspects like astringency, and noticing aftertaste, which is something else).  We pick up basic flavors through our tongue (sweetnees, salt, sourness, bitterness, and umami, or savory taste), and also detect aromatic compounds through our nasal passages, a version of the sense of smell.

Electronic tongues and noses can replicate some of both, but there are gaps in getting them to cover our range as effectively, and even broader gaps when it comes to interpretation.  It’s all early in the research phase. If there was a strong commercial driver for machines to taste things as effectively as we do they probably would be a lot more advanced, even though most of the current simpler forms of sensing equipment, testing process, and analysis (AI function) have only been developed in the last 20 years or so.

Even the description of the research into that subject is a bit much:

Tea quality prediction using a tin oxide-based electronic nose: an artificial intelligence approach

In this paper, we have (analyzed using a metal oxide sensor (MOS)-based electronic nose (EN)) five tea samples with different qualities…  The flavour of tea is determined mainly by its taste and smell, which are determined by hundreds of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and non-volatile organic compounds present in tea. Tea flavour is traditionally measured through the use of a combination of conventional analytical instrumentation and human organoleptic profiling panels… The methods are also inaccurate because of a lack of either sensitivity or quantitative information. In this paper an investigation has been made to determine the flavours of different tea samples using an EN and thus to explore the possibility of replacing existing analytical and profiling panel methods…

This graphic combination of two sources shows a listing of measured compounds in teas (from here), with Wikipedia article reference to what some of those taste like.

I’d love to say more, and I did include a lot more detailed research findings citations in that recent post, but that long summary was still only a limited sample of the range of looking into the potential.  You can kind of see where it’s going, and a bit about how it works, but it’s all very complicated, technical, and at present very limited in function.  I’ve talked to the Teapasar vendor about it and there’s more to pass on about what they’re doing, but filling that in will require more research.

Images provided by author

Tea Taste Profiling and Machine Testing “Tasting” – Part 1

This title might seem to mention two different subjects but they do naturally link.  

I recently posted about a tea conference event in Singapore.  That was based on input from two acquaintances who attended, where the organizers (Teapasar) used an aspects range profiling system to help guide participants in what to try.  The input was from an online survey of preferences, about food types and such, which was converted to a profile mapping and set of tea recommendations. Very cool!

Teapasar profile system summary

This reminded me of getting into the subject of machine / sensor testing of tea flavor aspects last year.  That started more from the starting point of potentially measuring tea quality, more through markers than detailed analysis, but the review scope gradually shifted into considering general tasting.  Can a machine (sensors, and AI / artificial intelligence programming) “taste” tea? Not really, but there is research on a starting point, that gets further than one might expect. Explanation works better based on background about what people perceive when they taste foods first, but this is just a broad summary of some related ideas, not including that part (covered more in the second of two original posts on aspect profiling and machine tasting).

The Singapore event Teapasar organizer describes the system in general terms:

Our ProfilePrint methodology also identifies distinct taste profiles of each tea listed on the marketplace. At the same time, when customers create their personalised taste profile online, their unique preferences can then be matched to our database of teas, and the closest matches can be recommended.

Cedric Teng related his impression of it at that Singapore event:

…users were prompted to select their tea preferences based on 8 different tea characteristics, namely sweetness, umami, saltiness, sourness, astringency, bitterness, aftertaste, and richness. The online algorithm will then formulate an individualized Profile Print based on these preferences, and offer some suggestions for teas that you may enjoy and the percentage match…  With the number of booths available, it soon became more convenient to just go from booth to booth rather than follow the website recommendations, and I found myself sampling a bit of everything…

…Even though I started off preferring teas which were stronger and more bitter, I found myself gravitating towards sweeter teas with floral or fruity notes in the end, but I think more tea needs to be drunk before I decide on my preferred tastes.

Seemingly a well-organized event

It would be natural to want to try as much as possible of samples available at booths, versus working around any preconceptions or aspect mapping formula.  It’s a much different context than ordering tea samples online.

This is actually the second such tea aspect profiling system I’ve encountered, the first being early development of flavor mapping conducted in a Penn State Tea Institute group (my alma mater, by the way; I graduated in Industrial Engineering there long ago).  That earlier version was an tea tasting oriented approach that later initiated a private food-service profiling system, the Gastrograph application (available through Google Play), which does essentially the same thing the Teapasar ProfilePrint system is doing, just not limited for use for tea.

A Guardian article reviews this general theme and specific program features:

…Analytical Flavor Systems’ main data collection tool is its smartphone app, Gastrograph. The app’s central feature is a wheel with 24 spokes, where each sliver represents a discrete category of sensory experience – such as “meaty”, “bitter” or “mouthfeel”. Tasters map the contours of flavor perception by tracing the spokes corresponding to the qualities they detect, designating the intensity of each on a scale from one to five. A submenu allows for a more granular record of experience…

I did check out that app.  It’s simple to use, just not functional without more purpose or context.  There would need to be some equivalent to using a database to get suggestions, as in the Teapasar case.  If it was more customizable in format and export function it might work to retain tea reviews but written notes would seem more functional than a limited graphical list of aspects.

To be concluded tomorrow

5 Green Tea Smoothies That Will Make You Forget All about Coffee

Green tea is one of the healthiest beverages that you could possibly drink on a daily basis. It’s been present in people’s diets for centuries and for a good reason. As it’s full of nutrients and antioxidants, its effects are various and amazing. And if you combine it with some other healthy ingredient, you are destined to feel great, healthy, and energized.

Why is green tea so special?

Green tea does a lot of great things for our bodies. Its powerful antioxidants may even protect you from cancer, while its bioactive compounds improve our brain functions. There is even a correlation between drinking green tea and decreased risk of developing diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Thanks to the catechins in green tea, this wonderful beverage inhibits the growth of certain viruses and bacteria. As it helps to decrease the risk of infections, your dental health will also be improved. Lastly, green tea may slightly reduce your blood sugar level, meaning it helps fighting type 2 diabetes from developing.

Having a green tea smoothie as a morning energy drink

Green tea is also known to raise our energy levels, so it’s good to drink it in the morning instead of coffee. However, it’s is weaker than coffee, meaning it has less caffeine. That’s why a morning green tea smoothie is a great idea! You can make a perfect blend of different ingredients that will keep you energized for longer than if you just had plain green tea. If you mix this powerful herb with a couple of others, you’ll be amazed!

1. Green tea watermelon detox smoothie

Watermelon is a great choice for mixing with green tea. Its lycopene protects your cardiovascular system, while compounds like flavonoids and carotenoids act as anti-oxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties. That way, it will be a real detox beverage.

2. Citrus and green tea detox smoothie

When the day is hot and you want to detox and cool your body, this drink is a perfect choice. Whether you pick orange, grapefruit or lemon (or you blend them all together!), you won’t make a mistake. They all clean your blood and provide you with a large amount of vitamin C. This smoothie will also help you fight free radicals.

3. Blueberry green tea protein smoothie

If you sometimes feel like you’d like a bit of a crunchy smoothie with a perfect blend of sour and sweet, then this is the smoothie for you. Blend frozen raspberries and blueberries and mix them with cooled green tea. Finally, add a flavored vegan protein powder to the mix – whether you’re in the mood for chocolate, vanilla or some other taste, adding good vegan powder will keep you full and the fruit will boost you with vitamins.

4. Mint matcha smoothie

This type of smoothie consists of some of the best green food on the planet. You’ll need spinach, matcha and avocado (and, of course, green tea). Mint matcha will improve your digestive system and freshen up your breath, while avocado will help you fight inflammations and lower your sugar levels. And it will add a creamy touch to the whole mix.

5. Green tea mango smoothie

This green-colored smoothie gets its color from green tea and spinach, while mango and a banana will provide you with numerous vitamins and minerals. You can also try adding an apple to the mix.

All in all

It’s obvious why green tea is so great – not only does it have incredible effects on your body when you drink it, but it changes the taste and enhances the health benefits when you mix it with other nutrients So, start your day with a healthy smoothie!

Images provided by author

Georgia Tea Is Back! – T Ching

A little over ten years ago, I wrote a post for this blog–Tea from Georgia will have to wait–about the setbacks in the tea industry in the Republic of Georgia.  Just a few days ago, I ran across this article dealing with the revival of Georgian tea and I am pleased to report that we may be able to taste tea from this region in a year or two.

Over the years, tea has inspired poetry, art, and pottery–it has also been the subject of great innovation—and war.  Tremendous advances in sailing technology were made because getting tea from countries of origin to countries of consumption as quickly as possible was of paramount importance.  Now, given advances in agricultural practices, tea can be sustainably and responsibly grown on six of the seven continents on Earth. While every American school child knows the tale of the Boston Tea Party and its pivotal role in the American Revolution, J. Norwood Pratt makes the link between the tea trade and the Opium Wars.

The phrase “tempest in a teapot” has a rich history.  

As the tea industry balances greater demand with sustainable agricultural practices, readers of this blog are justifiably concerned that quality is not sacrificed for quantity, which has been a concern in growing regions like Georgia.  If the only tea available is lousy tea, consumers will make do, pay the going rate, and never experience high-quality whole leaf.

Delighted that Georgian tea is making a rebound, I am going to try to score a hundred grams of this tea.  Have any of you tried Georgian tea?

Image 1 Source
Image 2:  Yuri Tsintsadze (image used with permission from TeaJourney)
Image 3:  Retail display of Georgia tea (image used with permission from TeaJourney)

A New Breed of Tea Shops Opens in London

I’m always delighted to hear about new iterations of tea shops. Early this month, Covent Gardens in London saw the first of its kind when Teatulia Literary Tea Shop opened its doors. During the daylight hours, this tea shop operates like most traditional tea establishments serving a variety of whole leaf teas.  While the evenings offer tea cocktails on the menu, the innovation continues with a monthly “Living Bookshelf”. This curated selection of books is recommended by famous authors, actors, musicians, and filmmakers, the first one being selected by actress Tilda Swinton.

“We are giddy with excitement about the opening of our Tea Bar v2 in Central London!” writes CEO Linda Appel-Lipsius, adding, “With a bold new style and branding, the introduction of extraordinary crafted tea cocktails and collaboration of the amazing Tilda Swinton, Teatulia continues to “wake tea up” by doing things differently.”

According to an article in the World Tea News, the tea shop “…sources its tea at a USDA organic certified tea garden in the Tetulia region of Bangladesh, located near the Himalaya Mountains, north of the Brahmaputra River valley. The garden was planted on virgin land in 2000. Tea is farmed on 3,000 acres by 600 full-time workers who make up the Teatulia Cooperative, the first large-scale enterprise to operate in the area.” I really appreciate that Linda uses a tea cooperative in her tea purchases. Being socially responsible adds another component of value to her endeavor.

I think whenever innovation comes to a retail store, we all benefit. Tea consumption increases and people renew their excitement and enthusiasm for this ancient beverage. Keeping it fresh and current is something that all retailers must strive for. I think this one will be hard to beat.

Image Source

Blast From the Past: Georgia O’Keeffe and the cup of humanity

One of my favorite encounters with the spirit of tea came while touring the home and studio of Georgia O’Keeffe in Abiquiu, New Mexico. In her pantry, I spied two Mason jars on the wall. One had been hand labeled by O’Keeffe as Tea. Next to it was a jar with a label that read Good Tea. I laughed out loud. This is the moment of enlightenment all students of tea eventually discover along their way. Enlightenment begins the moment we realize there is tea, and there is good tea. Hopefully, we carry that awareness further into art and good art, food and good food, and life and good life.

My other lasting memory of that New Mexico visit was my awareness of space within the O’Keeffe home. The colors, the furniture, and the few select pieces of art were all in keeping with Okakura Kakuzo’s idea of harmony and simplicity as found in The Book of Tea. “Eliminating the insignificant” is what Frank Lloyd Wright called it. O’Keeffe was a second-generation disciple of Okakura. Her teacher at Columbia University had been Arthur Wesley Dow, a friend of Okakura in Boston. I knew The Book of Tea was one of her favorite reads, but I didn’t understand how much she loved the book until I came across Christine Taylor Patten’s book, Miss O’Keeffe. In it, Patton recounts the evenings she read sections of The Book of Tea to O’Keeffe during her last years.

I spoke by phone recently with Patten at her home in Santa Fe and we talked at length about her recollections of The Book of Tea. She vividly recalled O’Keeffe’s love for Okakura and spoke eloquently of the similarities between O’Keeffe’s life and the Japanese tea ceremony. “They were obvious – her constant manner, her humility, her exactness, her utterly respectful exactness,” she remembered. “A small act seemed to be a natural ritual – the folding of her handkerchief, for instance – as if it was the most important thing a person could do.” That bit of insight explained why I was drawn to O’Keeffe’s art long before I knew of her tea connection.

If we are mindful, we recognize the tea spirit in all our daily activities – making a cup of tea, gardening, painting, making music, writing, cooking, and even sweeping. Okakura reminds us that “one of the first requisites of a tea master is the knowledge of how to sweep, clean, and wash, for there is an art in cleaning and dusting.”

If we can find Okaura’s concept of teaism in the humble act of wielding a broom, we find contentment. Or, as the Tao Te Ching teaches, simply be. Or, as the English housewife instructs, have a cuppa tea. Okakura walked in the cultures of both East and West and recognized our common love for the ancient beverage he called the cup of humanity. Within that communal cup, the little thing becomes the great thing, and living becomes good living.

Image Source

Originally posted by Bruce Richardson in October 2011

Tea and Illness – T Ching

In mid-September, my husband woke up one morning half chipmunk-cheeked: something had caused one of his cheeks to swell up. On day three, when the swelling had not receded, he finally acquiesced to go to the doctor. The doctor’s finding was as expected: an infected tooth was causing the salivary gland to swell in reaction. Step one: a week of antibiotics.

Thus began my poor, beleaguered husband’s miserable week in bed as antibiotics and infection waged a bitter warfare within him. I worked from home for it so I could cook him the three meals that he needed to take three antibiotics (with food!) per day.

The other important thing that I pressed on him was, of course, fluids. It’s vitally important to push fluids when one is on antibiotics, in order to flush the toxins that are generated as a by-product of both infection and antibiotics. As such, I made him pot after pot of–did you see this coming?–TEA.

For both my husband and myself, tea has always been the go-to whenever ill. It was a regular occurrence in both of our childhoods that with illness comes the drinking of tea. We both grew up in a time that didn’t think twice about the caffeine content in tea having a negative effect upon children. And unlike the lemon-lime Gatorade that my father tried to ply me with when I was ill (to this day, I have a strong associative aversion to the stuff), tea is a constant source of comfort. It is always delicious, always welcome, always beneficial.

A pot of tea, a spoonful of raw, local honey. What could be more healing than that?

Hail Colombia!

Just when you thought you’d tasted a creditable selection of the world’s teas comes along a refreshing surprise—Bitaco tea grown in the Andes from Colombia where it is now spring, heading toward summer. As I sit contemplating the end of summer and confirming that fall is indeed here despite the summery weather, my thoughts turn to the fruits of the season—pears, apples, Asian pears, pomegranates, persimmons, even quince.

Here are fruits not just for eating on their own, and here’s a tea that brings uncomplicated pleasure in the cup but also is a perfect steeping liquid for the fruits of fall. Coppery colored, bright in flavor, this tea is as comforting in the cup as it is welcome in the dessert maker’s kitchen. It spells fall to me. Shorter days, cooler nights, and orchard fruit seem to be a perfect match. Seeing the bounty piled high in my local farmer’s markets, beckoning me with their burnished skins, a visual feast of red, golden, yellow, speckled green, brilliantly flame-colored–I can’t resist taking home armloads. Looking for ways to enjoy them beyond eating them out of hand (other than quince which are best cooked to become tender, aromatic and rosy colored), I brew some tea, spiced with a whole cinnamon stick and then sweetened with a tinge of honey and add an assortment of peeled, cored and quartered fruit. Turn the heat down low and let the fruits soften, absorbing the mellow flavors of the tea. Usually a half hour of patient cooking over medium to low heat transforms the fruit (the tea should barely cover the fruit in the saucepan; add more tea if you note that the liquid has evaporated too quickly and the fruits are still raw). To check doneness, insert the point of a knife into the fruit. When done, the knife should easily pierce the fruit. Continue cooking until you get to that point.  Remove from the heat, and then let the liquid and fruit come to room temperature. Remove fruit and poaching liquid to a non-reactive shallow dish. Chill covered until cold. Get the best local honey you can find along with a tart but not overly thick plain yogurt. Crush some buttery gingery cookies (homemade or storebought) and set aside.

To serve, arrange the fruit and some liquid in small bowls, dollop on rivulets of yogurt, drizzle the honey over all and then finally add some crunch with the cookie shards. If you’d like to gild the lily even further, splash a bit of good Cognac just before serving. And if it’s cool enough in your area, enjoy this dessert around the hearth, logs blazing and crackling, the colors of the flame matching the palette of fall fruits.  

Serves 3-4
The details:

  • 1 lb of fruits, peeled and cored and then quartered or halved, depending on size
  • 1 quart brewed Colombian tea
  • ¼ c. good honey
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Yogurt
  • More honey, as desired
  • Shards of gingery buttery cookies
  • Cognac, optional

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Blast From the Past: Ancient Tea Forest

Whisper in my ear.
Tell me your thoughts.

What hidden things stir your veins,
on the tree in the still of night?
Fragrant watery breeze blowing from nearby stream
Teasing you with fingers that never touch.

But that is the language of nature:
Touching without limbs
Seeing without eyes
Breathing without moving
Singing without a song.

Secrets told in invisible languages
Leaf to leaf.
Harmonies sung without words.
Your pulse quickens
As lush days turn into fecund nights.
To those without ears, the sound
Is impossibly beautiful.

Originally posted in October 2007 by Paul Rosenberg