A field of mint plants.
As we head into the holiday season, it is hard not to find a sweet or beverage that does not have mint. So let’s take a moment to learn a few things about the plant that creates this flavor and how it blends with tea.
- Human’s consumption of mint has been around a long time. Sprigs of dried peppermint were found in the pyramids of Ancient Egypt and carbon-dated back to 1000 B.C.E. The name mint comes from the Greek mythical nymph Minthe, who was a river nymph along the River Styx. Hades, the Greek God of the underworld, feel in love with Minthe. His wife, Persephone got jealous and turned her into the plant we know today. So that she would always be remembered, Hades gave the plant the ability to produce the aromatic oil we all know and use today.
- Mint is the first known addition to tea. Through the silk road, tea traveled from China into the Middle East and Northern Africa. It is here that it was blended with the tea to make a localized beverage. Moroccan Mint tea is the name commonly know today in Europe and the United States. However, it goes by the name Tuareg tea in the Middle East.
- Mint has a long list of uses for medicinal purposes. It is no mistake that there is mint toothpaste, mint mouthwash or mint flavored floss. Mint has been used for centuries to cure bad breath. It was also used to sooth an upset stomach and to relieve headaches (through the application of mint oil on the forehead).
- The United States is the largest grower of mint worldwide. Washington State is home to the most acreage with other Northwestern states like Idaho, not far behind. There is a push to grow it in the south, but it does require that nitrogen be added to the southern soil for it to grow properly and produce the expect amount of oil. There are over 71,000 acres of mint currently growing in the United States. The majority of the mint grown is used to produce mint oil, which is used to flavor all sorts of items that humans consume.
- Mint can be steeped alone as its own tisane. If you happen to grow your own, just pluck a few leaves and steep in boiling water for 7 minutes. It will be a minty mouthful. If your mint is not very minty, see the note before about your soil content. Mint needs nitrogen and a dormant period to really produce a strong oil.
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Yak dressed up in Tibet.
Here are 3 additions to tea to keep your eyes open for when traveling aboard or here at home at your favorite foreign cuisine restaurant. These are not the sugar, cream or ice that Americans know and love.
1. Yak Butter. This Tibetan addition to tea cannot be duplicated here in the US as yak milk and butter are not to be found in your local grocery store. The closest we can get is using water buffalo milk to make buffalo butter to match this beverage. There are a few water buffalo dairies in the U.S., so if you are ever in Ithaca, New York or Canon City, Colorado, you might want to have a look. Yak milk and buffalo milk have about twice the amount of fat as cows milk, so the butter is more like what American’s think of as soft cheese in consistency. To make yak butter tea, a black tea is steeped several hours and then strained off. Butter and salt are added and the mixture is whipped or churned until the butter melts. It is then left over low heat to keep it warm. When finished drinking, a dash of roasted barley flour is added to the bottom of the cup and rolled into a ball to absorb the last bits of tea and butter and then eaten.
2. Salt. Pakistan has a version of salt tea called Kashmiri Chai. Mongolia has a version called Suutei tsai. Both use a green tea base, milk and salt. The trick to the salt is getting just the right amount. Too much salt and that is all you will taste. The tea is brewed in water and then the milk and salt are added and warmed enough not to have the temperature drop. Both versions typically have the tea steeping for about 10 minutes.
3. Toasted Rice. Any fan of Japanese green tea will recognize this addition. Genmaicha is toasted rice and green tea (Sencha). Unlike our first two additions which are added after brewing, the toasted rice is brewed with the tea and it gives the tea a smooth popcorn smell and flavor. This one is easy to get here in the states, and worth trying at least once to see how it changes the flavor of Sencha.
While these additions are definitely outside the typical American experience with tea, as true tea connoisseur, you are honoring your favorite beverage by experiencing it through the cultures that have consumed tea longer than the U.S. has been in existence.
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Travel mug filled with baking soda, vinegar, and boiling water cleaning itself…
Well, we should start by admitting that cleaning travel mugs usually consists of a quick rinse of water to get out any leftover tea before quickly refilling it in the morning and heading out the door to work. So any true cleaning really doesn’t happen until the weekend, and that is only if we remember to do it. Well, that leaves us to the problem of a very stained travel mug that eventually leads to all the tea tasting the same. So what is the easiest way to clean travel mugs? Diluted bleach will do the trick, but I am not too fond of putting chemicals that could possibly poison me if I fail to properly rinse into a container I routinely drink out of. So I return to my favorite standby cleaners of baking soda and vinegar. It does a great job with zero elbow grease.
Cleaning Travel Mugs
You will need the following:
- A bowl big enough to hold the lid to your travel mug and possibly another bowl or plate to weigh down the lid if it floats once you fill up the bowl with water.
- Enough baking soda to put 1 tablespoon per 8 oz of volume of the travel mug, plus an extra 2 tablespoons for the lid
- Enough white vinegar to allow for 2 tablespoons per 8 oz of volume of the travel mug, plus an extra 4 tablespoons for the lid
- An old toothbrush
- A soft sided sponge, dish towl or paper towls
- Enough boiling water to fill the travel mug and submerge completely the lid of your travel mug in the bowl
One of my favorite travel mugs before and after cleaning with baking soda, vinegar, and water.
It is recommended you work in your kitchen sink just in case the baking soda and vinegar bubble over the sides of your mug. Start by adding the baking soda to your mug (1 Tbsp/8 oz in size) and then add vinegar. The travel mug pictured here is 16 oz, so I put in 2 tablespoons of baking soda and then 4 tablespoons of vinegar. It will start bubbling up but will likely not run over the sides. Allow the bubbles to decrease before adding in the boiling water, as the water will cause more bubbling. Place the lid of the travel mug in the bowl and put in 2 tablespoons of baking soda and 4 tablespoons of vinegar. Then pour boiling water over the lid until it is fully submerged. You may need to weigh the lid down with another dish if it floats. Fill up the travel mug with boiling water to the point that it covers all the tea stains. You will need to fill the travel mug slowly as the baking soda and vinegar will bubble again. At this point, set a timer for 1 hour and walk away.
At the end of the hour pour out the water and wipe the inside of the mug with a sponge or dish towel. The stains will come up easily. If it is too narrow for you to get your hand in, twist up the dish towel and push it into the cup using the tooth brush and twist it around to wipe off the stains. If necessary, use the toothbrush to wipe off the stains around the bottom edge of the cup where it meets the sides. Next, use the toothbrush on the lid to clean around the edges of the lid and the closure pieces. You will notice quickly that the toothbrush gets dirty, rinse it as you go. Once you can run the toothbrush over the lid and not have it come back brown you will know you got off all the tea build up. Last, rinse both the cup and lid with water to ensure the vinegar and baking soda are gone.
If you need to remove tea stains from your other tea accessories, take a look at this post on cleaning teapots, infusers and mugs.
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For some, finding the right sugar for tea is as equally important as picking out your favorite tea. There is nothing wrong with plain old ordinary cane sugar, other than it takes a while to dissolve in water even when it is at a boil. But, there are other great alternatives that dissolve quickly in your water regardless of the temperature and give you a new way to sweeten your favorite beverage.
Sugar cane from which molasses is produced. Public Domain – Care Of www.waterarchives.org
This staple for making Gingerbread Cookies is super sweet and dissolves quickly in hot water. Molasses is the left over syrup from extracting sugar from sugar cane juice. There are actually three forms of molasses – light, dark and blackstrap. The light molasses will not change the flavor of your tea much. However, the darker molasses will add a slightly nutty flavor to your tea. This stuff is super sweet so only use about 1/3 to 1/2 of what you typically would use for standard sugar. This sweetener will work well with black tea. It will darken your lighter colored teas, like green or white, but don’t let that stop you from trying it out.
Maple syrup goes great on pancakes, for sure, but also is great in tea. (CC BY SA 2.0 by Flickr user Lemsipmatt)
Much like molasses, maple syrup comes in many different grades. Grade A is the lightest, and not easily found in grocery stores. Grade B is the most common and usually what you buy in the grocery store. Our favorite comes from Highland County, Virginia where you can visit sugar shacks every spring, but great maple syrup options come from New England and Canada too. As a syrup it dissolves faster in hot liquids than standard cane sugar crystals and it will add a slight maple flavor to your tea.
Fruit Sugars (Coconut or Date Sugar)
Yes these are crystallized just like plain sugar, but their source is not sugar cane but their respective fruits. Both have a more butterscotch and brown cane sugar flavor than anything else. Date sugar can be made from any dates but you usually see it made from deglet noor dates. These dates are smaller than medjool dates and have a firmer texture. They are grown mainly in California. Coconut sugar has been around a long time in Southeast Asia and has only recently made an appearance in large volume in the last six years in the US. Coconut sugar is made from of the sap of the cut palm flowers.
These unique sugar sources are worth trying should you need something sweet in your cup of tea.
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Iced Ti Kuan Yin and Nilgiri
There are many teas that we associate with drinking hot that actually make great iced teas. It all comes down to getting your brewing time and amount of tea correct. Below are just five teas that people may overlook in trying to find new and fun iced or cold brewed tea options.
- Irish Breakfast – Yes, your favorite cup of black tea in the morning makes a perfectly good iced tea. You can thank the Assam tea from India that makes up the largest portion of this tea blend. Assam tea’s strong and astringent flavor holds over ice. This makes it a perfect tea for an Arnold Palmer(link to recipe).
- Sencha – This staple green tea from Japan is truly tasty cold brewed. If you not familiar with it check out an earlier post on cold brewing tea to find out how easy it is to have tea waiting for you first thing in the morning.
- Ti Kuan Yin – Also known as Iron Goddess Tea, this toasted oolong remains smooth and sesame in flavor over ice. It is a nice alternative to typical bold black tea used for iced tea. It also pairs nicely with strawberries or peaches, so feel free to add some to the pitcher or cup to change things up a bit.
- Moroccan Mint – This fragrant green tea is just as refreshing cold as it is hot. This one can be prepared either iced or cold brewed.
- Nilgiri – This beautiful black tea from India brews crystal clear and remains clear when cold, even after three days in the refrigerator. It also keeps its smooth woody and floral tea taste while cold. Lemon and sugar can be added with no problem. If you want to learn more about this beautiful tea and the region of India it comes from, check out this blog post.
These five teas are just the tip of the iceburg when it comes to ice tea options. So feel free to try your favorite tea cold, you may be surprised by how good it is.
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