You’re having a rubbish day and need something to take the edge off. Your mind strays towards the prospect of a sugary treat – the high will buoy you up for a while – but then jumps forward to the sugar crash later on. Perhaps a cup of herbal tea would be the path of least destruction. You’re faced with another fork in the road: teabags or loose leaf tea? The agitated, drained part of yourself veers towards the idea of a teabag you can tear out of its envelope and throw into a cup. But again, your higher self prevails and guides you towards loose leaf tea. You’ve come this far on the path of righteousness, after all. Now what? How do you turn leaves and water into something out of this world and divine? This is where our step by step guide to brewing the perfect cup of herbal tea comes in. Learn these steps and never be thrown off course by a shitty day again.
The tea – quality and quantity
The best place to start when making the perfect cup of herbal tea is with… herbal tea. Make sure you’ve got a lovely loose leaf tea of good quality. Organic is ideal, but not essential. Keep your tea in an airtight container away from heat, moisture and direct sunlight. For a small cup of tea (250ml), use 1 – 1.5 teaspoons of loose tea. The great thing about herbal tea is that, unlike black, green or white teas, you can’t really make it too strong. Too weak, however, and you’re left with a watery cup of disappointment.
Just as the type of glass you drink wine from affects its taste and enjoyment, drinking tea from the right mug makes the difference between a mediocre cuppa and a fantastic one. This is more a matter of personal preference. I prefer a nice, wide mug. But recently am finding lots of enjoyment from sipping from a small vessel and topping it up more often.
The water – type and temperature
Some people swear by using mineral water for brewing tea. And indeed, if you happen to be in an area where drinking the tap water is not advised (not a problem here in the UK), then bottled water is the way to go. From a taste point of view, filtered tap water comes out tops. If you can, buy a water filter. If you live in a hard water area, the inside of your kettle will thank you too. The ideal temperature for brewing herbal tea is around 90oC: less than for black tea. Using water that is too hot can scald the herbs and dissipate some of their medicinal qualities. We usually boil the kettle and then wait a few minutes for it to cool down (opening the lid of the kettle helps) before pouring water over the tea.
We’ve written a whole other blog about how to brew loose leaf tea without a teapot. We’ll be posting it next week, so check it out here if you don’t own a teapot and need some inspiration. Otherwise, a teapot or infuser is perfect for making that perfect brew. The important thing is to cover the tea while it is brewing to retain the lovely essential oils contained in the herbs. It really will affect the depth of flavour of your brew. If you are going the teapot route, investing in a tea cosy is a must. You wouldn’t think a piece of fabric would keep a pot of tea warm for so long, but oh, it does.
Here at Herbaceous Blends we love our herbal tea strong. For that reason we leave our tea steep for a long time, only removing the infuser when the tea is at optimal drinking temperature (for us that’s at around 70oC, usually even cooler). Because most herbs don’t contain tannins, unlike black tea, you can’t really ruin a cup of herbal tea by over brewing. However, if your tea contains rose, we advise that you keep brew time to 3 minutes, as rose does become slightly bitter if over-steeped. For all other blends, brew for a minimum of ten minutes, although fifteen to twenty minutes is even better.
The trick to ensuring that your mug or cup of herbal tea tastes its best is to stop and sip it mindfully. Even if just for the first few sips. Another age old technique to enjoying the perfect cup of herbal tea is to have someone else make it for you!
Herbal tea as a pathway to enlightenment
Zen Buddhists revere tea as much more than a liquid used to quench thirst or warm the cockles. They see the process of making, serving and drinking tea as a focus for meditation. The ritual of preparing herbal tea (or any tea), to be consumed by ourselves or others, can act as an anchor for our minds and as respite from the churn of our busy day. Use it as an opportunity to slow down a bit. Whatever it is you were doing will be right there when you finish that mug of delicious tea.