This article is brought to you by our friends at Electrolux as part of an ongoing series focusing on seasonal ingredients. This month we're talking fresh herbs.
Here at Food52, we love recipes—but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.
Today: Stop standing aimlessly in front of the packed tea shelves at the grocery store and build your own herbal tea blend at home.
Grabbing a new box of tea whenever you're at the grocery store—antioxidants! hydration! disease-fighting!—feels like the right thing to do. That is, until you try to shove it into your tea drawer, which is filled to the brim with boxes, jars, and questionably dated tins. Is that a stray bag of English breakfast stuffed in the corner? A handful of oolong on a saucer? You’re trying to ignore the definitely past-due open bag of Sencha, we know.
Investing in a box of tea commits you to one flavor for a very long time—you'll probably buy a new box before you've used it all. If you like to mix it up more often, here's our advice: Make cookies with your boxed tea and start from scratch on your own blends. With just a few loose guidelines and some herbs, you’ll produce something more delicious and, better yet, it’ll be your own custom blend. Plus, it's springtime, which means that fresh herbs are newly abound.
There’s a certain mystical quality to the art of blending tea. It’s esoteric, a bit hippie, and a lot exotic. You’ll be able to convince your friends you’ve just returned, enlightened, from a trip of self-discovery. Even if it was just to your garden and back. It’s not a dream or even a challenge—you’re just five steps away:
1. Choose your base (or don’t). Beginning with a teaspoon of simple black, green, white, or oolong tea is a great way to dive into creating your own herbal concoction (you can also start with Rooibos or mate, if you prefer). Choose a caffeinated tea if you'd like a little pick-me-up in your mug. If you aren’t looking for a kick in the pants, then all-herb is the way to go.
2. Decide on fresh or dried herbs, and pick your superstars. The best part about making your own blends is that you can adjust each to your mood and needs using fresh herbs, dried herbs, or a mix of both.
Keep in mind that a good guide for portioning is 2 teaspoons of fresh herbs to every 6 ounces of boiling water: You could try combining 1 teaspoon of base tea and 1 teaspoon of fresh herbs, or if you want to top off tea with just a few leaves or some non-herbal ingredients, that works too. You can even toast some chicory or barley to give your tea some nuttiness.
These herbs (fresh or dried) can often be found at your local farmers market, co-op, or specialty food store. Good ones to build around or combine are:
- Lemon verbena
- Anise hyssop
- Holy basil (tulsi)
- Apple mint
- Bee balm
- Lemon balm
- Pineapple sage
- Rose hips
There are endless ways to combine your favorite herbs (and incorporate non-herbal ingredients)—it’s all in what you like. Here are some of our favorite ideas:
- For relaxation: Blend equal parts holy basil, chamomile, lemon balm, and lavender. This mix also works well when combined with 1/4 teaspoon of white tea.
- To soothe an illness: Mix equal parts peppermint, rosemary, thyme, and lemon verbena. Add a 1/4 teaspoon of green tea and see your sickness to the door.
- Dial in your focus: Combine 1/2 teaspoon each of ginkgo and St. John’s wort with 1 teaspoon of goji berries and a sprinkle of licorice.
3. Wrap your wares. Now that you have your tea, here's how to pack it up. Add a couple of teaspoons to a sachet (more if you like it stronger) or keep it in jar to measure out later. Remember that if you're using fresh herbs, your blend is best used that day, but you can store your dry blends in airtight containers for more cups of goodness down the road (just don't forget about them at the back of the drawer).
4. Measure out your tea and add boiling water. Fresh herbal teas can steep a little longer than your regular Earl Grey—somewhere between 5 to 10 minutes. If your herbs are dry, it’s probably best to stay on the shorter side, 3 to 5 minutes. If you’re going half-and-half on base tea and herbs (fresh or dried), follow the tea instructions and taste—and then, if you want it stronger, you know what to do.
More: You've made your blend, now you need to know how to brew the best cup possible.
5. Dress it up or cool it down. Once you’ve brewed your perfect cup, drop in a dollop of honey or stir a little steamed milk into black- or yerba-based blends. For iced tea, add your tea to several cups of cold water over ice, grab some tumblers, and if it moves you, some crumpets. Garnish your glass with extra herbs and a citrus wheel and it’s like you were never, ever chilled over the past few months.
What would your dream herbal tea blend be?