Herbal tea: Basics

23 Mar
The other type of Herbal Essence. Tastier, too.

The other type of Herbal Essence. Tastier, too.

We’ve gone over blacks, greens, and whites. But what about the rest?

Herbal teas are a simple bunch: essentially, any not-tea plant that you can put it in hot water and won’t kill you.

This leaves* a wide variety of options.

Rooibus** tea, also known as red tea, is often used as a base for caffeine-free versions of blends like chai. This tea comes solely from Africa–an oft-overlooked member of the tea-producing family, yet one that is steadily gaining a name for itself thanks to companies such as Wanja Tea of Kenya and Upton Tea Imports. Rooibus has a distinct taste of fall, one that brings to mind trees decked out in red and gold. It’s also nearly impossible to oversteep. As soon as it hits maximum flavor capacity, it stays there no matter how long the leaves or tea bag has been left in. So on the off chance you make a cup and forget about it, you’ll only suffer the displeasure of a cold drink, rather than a bitter one. Given its autumn-y-ness, this tea lends itself to warm flavors: nut, spice, rich fruits, or anything else you’d use in baking.

Fruit tea is a sweet, sassy dame. And if you’re diabetic, paleo, or simply looking to reduce your sugar intake, then it’s the perfect answer to fruit juice. In fact, it’s better than juice–hot, delicious, and you’re getting all the fruits’ goodness into your system without worrying about what to do with the fifty million apple cores and orange peels that have taken up residence in your room. It takes a bit of coaxing to get the most flavor bang for your buck, so if you’re not hacking your cup, you’ll want to steep it for at least five minutes if not longer, using a couple of teaspoons or more. Bagged fruit teas usually have a strong hibiscus base, so they take less time to steep and come with an unmistakeable tang.

Herbal tea made from the leafy-flowery parts of not-tea plants will run you into the savory category. These teas pair up like a dream with anything you’d have with a green or white tea. Classic herbals are chamomile and mint, and these are usually the base for bagged blends. Like rooibus, it’s the ultimate lazy person’s tea–with no risk of bitterness from oversteeping, you’re free to leave the bag in and forget about it.

Spice tea is a real kicker. Beyond the usual cinnamon, ginger, and clove, anything in your spice rack can be brewed up to reveal a sultry side that you’ve never tasted before. They’re great for digestion, too. For an unusual–and unusually scrumptious–tea venture, give turmeric a try.

Another happy tidbit about herbals is that they’re usually cheaper than true tea. You can even blend ’em up for free using your own spices and seasonings! Just run a quick Google check on your intended ingredients to make sure that they don’t come with any side effects when brewed, like parsley.

To turn your cup into a medicinal powerhouse, use 1 part herb or spice for every 8-16 parts water (depending on how strong you want it) and instead of steeping, boil the infusion for 15 minutes unless otherwise directed.

What’s your favorite herbal?

*Pun intended, as always.
**Don’t ask me how to pronounce it. “Roy-bus”? “Roo-ee-bus”? Every barista is going to correct you and say something different. I just go, “Roo-oy-bus” and smush all possible pronunciations together–at least half of it will sound proper, right?

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