5 Tips for Making Your Own Tea Blends

Herbs and spices to create your own tea blend.

Herbs, spices, flower petals, and more can be used to create your own tea blend.

Making your own tea blends is a fun way to play with your tea and allow you to make a one-of-a-kind creation for yourself or for a special event. Before pulling out all the spices you can find, you should keep in mind the following.

    1. Bad tea is bad tea. No matter how good your spicing or flower mix is, it cannot cover up bad tea. If you want a good tasting blend, you need to start with good quality tea. If you are contemplating blending to try to use a tea you do not like or tastes slightly off, put those tea leaves in your flower bed or compost pile, your plants will love you and you do not have to drink bad tea.
    2. Less is more. When working with spices and herbs like cinnamon, mint, or lavender, a little bit goes a long way. Tea is hygroscopic, which means it absorbs all odors in the air. It only takes thirty mints of exposure to mint, that is just sitting next to it on the counter, for mint flavor to appear in your tea, adding that to the spice itself amplifies its effect. Start with these spices and herbs at 1/8-1/4 of a teaspoon per ounce of tea and work your way up to a flavor profile you like.
    3. Work in small batches. Black tea can have a three year shelf life, but few additives can last that long. If you are making a blend, work with no more than 2 ounces of tea, which makes thirty cups.
    4. Use dried or fresh edible flowers, but brew them first by themselves. To brew them by themselves, you will want about 1 gram to 1 ounce of water, bring the water to a boil and steep for 5 minutes. Sorry, but a scale is necessary when handling flower petals, there is no direct conversion to teaspoons as their weights vary dramatically. This will mimic what will happen when it is in the tea and give you an idea of what flavor it can add to the mix. Dried flowers, like calendula (marigold) are frequently added to tea for their appearance but they have their own flavor. By itself, calendula tastes like leather, but in a tea it adds depth and a full mouth feel. Keep in mind number 3 when working with flowers as well.
    5. Size of ingredients matter if you are planning to store the tea. Small ingredients will fall to the bottom of your container, if you size the ingredients to the size of the tea you have a better chance of it remaining blended evenly while in storage. If that isn’t possible, you will want to pour out the dried tea, stir and then scoop out what you need to brew a cup or pot.

We have several tea blend recipes for you to play with including Almond Tea, Kashmiri Chai, and Masala Chai.

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Almond Tea: How to Make Your Own

Almond blossoms and the fruit which is found in almond tea.

Almond Blossoms by flickr user Victor R. Ruiz (CC BY 2.0)

Almond tea is becoming harder find, and that is not surprising. Most almonds in the United States are grown in California, which is suffering from a record drought. Like any orchard crop that requires water, when it doesn’t get enough it will not produce enough high quality final product. This sends the cost sky rocketing, making it harder for for industries that use almonds as an ingredient to keep their costs in line with what consumers expect. Adding higher cost to an ingredient that dramatically cuts the shelf life of your end tea product already, and eliminating almond tea makes good economic sense for most high quality tea producers. However, that doesn’t mean an end consumer cannot make their own almond tea in smaller batches to enjoy at home.

Before we get to the recipe,there are a few things you need to know about almonds.

Shelf Life of Almond Tea

Nuts and tea have very different self lives making it very tricky for a tea blender to come up with a high quality product, in a quantity that is cost effective, that features a nut as the main flavor component of the tea. Most nuts, once cut or crushed start to release their oils and in return take in air, moisture, and bacteria, which starts the spoiling process. Almonds are usually only good for two months, under the best storage conditions, once they have been cut. If you are blending that with a tea that is good for 24 to 36 months you have effectively killed the shelf life of your tea. So to ensure a good quality flavor and try to keep your tea from going rancid because of the nuts, extracts are used to apply the majority of the flavor. In fact, if you look at most teas with a nut like flavor, you will not find nuts in them, but extracts and flavors, which bring out the nut taste. Citric acid and other preservatives can be applied to the nuts to slow the degradation, but that is very tricky in tea as the boiling water will release the preservatives, usually causing a bitter flavor. Now, at home, the use of preservatives is not necessary as you will be making smaller batches that are not traveling to various stores and sitting in storage for who knows how long before being consumed. So we will use a combination of extract and almond pieces to make our tea recipe.

Almond Flavor and Size

Almonds have a very subtle flavor, which usually comes out bolder when toasted or cooked. So you would think boiling an almond would help bring out more flavor, but it doesn’t. To really get an almond flavor after applying boiling water, you need extract. Just putting in almond pieces will not get you the flavor you are after. When blending tea, we are constantly worried about the size and shapes of ingredients so that they all balance together to distribute evenly in the bag that is going to be shipped and stored in fashions out of our control. So we have the ingredients cut to the right size to complement the size of the tea leaves being used. At home, this may not be much of a concern to you but if you care about the almonds being distributed in your tea evenly you will want to follow our instructions on creating the almond meal instead of just using the sliced almonds. If even distribution does not bother you, then free to use larger almond pieces.

Almond Tea Recipe

Almond Tea usually includes extract to bring out the flavor.

Home Made Almond Tea

This recipe is geared to get you 15 cups of tea. If you do not think that is enough, you can double this recipe, but don’t go too large as the almonds will only keep for maybe 1 to 2 months (Do you really know how old that almond is you just bought off the shelf?). 2 oz of tea is about 30 cups or 1 months worth if you drink a cup every day.

1 oz of your favorite straight black unflavored tea (English Breakfast is my favorite for this. If you use Irish Breakfast, add an 1/8 teaspoon more extract)

3/4 teaspoon of almond extract

1 1/2 tablespoons of almond pieces or slices (skip the roasted or salted ones – look in the bulk food aisle of your grocery store)

For easier grinding, lightly heat the almond pieces in a dry cast iron pan. You can leave them in their long enough to toast them, but really you are just warming them up. Be careful not to burn them as it will ruin the tea.

For even distribution of the almonds, buy slivered almonds and put the warmed almonds and extract into a mortar and pestle and grind down until it looks like corn meal. Scrape into a glass jar (quart size or larger) or ziplock bag and then add the tea. Shake until everything looks evenly distributed. Pour the tea out onto wax paper and allow to dry at least 12 hours. At first this is going to have a very heavy alcohol smell from the extract. Don’t worry, as it dries that will disappear. You will notice after a few hours the smell gets smoother and more almond like. You can then put the tea back into the sealed bag, glass jar or air tight container, remember to keep it in the dark. If you need to speed up the drying process, you can use a dehydrator at its lowest setting for about 1 hour, check every 20 minutes as you run the risk of burning the tea.

You will brew this like any other tea. 1 teaspoon or 3 grams per 8 ounces of water, steep in boiling water for up to 5 minutes. Don’t be surprised if it is a little cloudy, that is the oil for the ground almonds.

Now that you have a base recipe for almond tea, you can get creative and try it with other subtle flavored teas like Vanilla Yunnan. Enjoy your new tea and don’t forget to drink it more frequently so it is gone before the almonds go bad!

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Matcha Macaroons

After writing the prior blog on tea parties, I started looking at different recipes for cookies that are typically served with tea. Macaroons are mentioned, so I thought it would be fun to use Matcha instead of the green food coloring typically used in Pistachio Macaroons to make Matcha Macaroons. A traditional macaroon always contains nuts, usually almonds or pistachios. I was surprised to find that the matcha and pistachios got along just fine when it came to flavor. I filled these with chocolate buttercream to help soften the green tea taste of the cookies. However, you can make whatever buttercream filing you like to put in the middle of the cookies.

Macaroons made with matcha spread out on a cookie sheet.

Matcha Macaroons before baking.

Matcha Macaroons

1/3 cup pistachios (these can be replaced with almonds)

2 tsps Matcha

3/4 cup powdered suger

2 large egg whites

1 tbs sugar

Chocolate Matcha Buttercream filling

1 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature

2oz semisweet chocolate, melted

1 tsp matcha

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cup of powdered sugar

 

Grind the pistachios, powdered sugar and food processors until the nuts are as fine as the powdered sugar. You may need to stop and scrap the bowl down a couple of times to ensure you got as much of the nut pieces as small as possible. In a metal bowl, whisk the egg whites until fairly stiff and then dust them with the tablespoon of sugar. Then whisk until very stiff peeks forms. Fold into the egg whites the nut mixture about a quarter cup at a time. If the oil from the nuts causes the sugar to clump, just run the mixture through a sifter as you add it to the eggs to separate it. The mixture should be fully incorporated with the egg whites.

Pipe the mixture onto cookie sheets to get round circles. You will need either greased parchment paper or Siltpad in order to keep the cookies from sticking to the baking pan. The goal is to get an even number of cookies that are relatively the same size so we can incorporate the filling. If you do not have a piping bag and tips, just cut the corner off a ziplock bag and use that. They will not be as perfect, but still nicely round. You should get around 24-30 cookies depending on how big you make them. Bake for 8-12 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from oven and allow to cool on tray above a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before handling.

Fresh Macaroons Made with Matcha

Macha Macaroons

To make the filing, using an electric mixer beat the butter until pail and then add in the chocolate followed by the matcha and powdered sugar. The mixture will start to lighten in color and expand in the bowl as the sugar is incorporated. In judging whether to add additional sugar, look at the shininess of the cream and don’t be afraid to stop the blend and take a small taste. The filing needs to stay creamy, hold its form on the spoon (turn the spoon up-side down, if it starts to drop immediately you need more sugar) and not feel grainy on the tongue, which will happen if there is too much sugar added.

The filling can either be spooned onto the bottom of one cookie or piped on with an icing bag if you would like precision. An icing knife or straight edge can clean up the edges for you. Add around 1/2 tablespoon of the filing. Of course you can add more, it just may squeeze out the sides and become a bit messy when you bite in. (My six year old thinks this is one of the better features of this cookie). This will make somewhere around 12-15 cookies.

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Tea Culture in Afghanistan

In looking at the per capita consumption of tea across the globe, it was hard not miss the fact that Afghanistan imported almost 10 pounds of tea per person a year. That is enough to make over 1,500 cups per person per year. This type of consumption implies that there is a strong tea culture within Afghanistan that is worth exploring.

Tea culture in Afghanistan developed in part due to geography and trade.

Map of Afghanistan (Public Domain)

Geography and Tea

Afghanistan is a landlocked country, just about the size of Texas, that serves as the gateway to Asia from the Middle East. Being seen as corridor to Asia by land has subjected this country to constant invasion by all sorts of foreign countries from the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great, to the more recent invasions by the Russians in 1978. This location bred great ethnic diversity. While the formal census of Afghanistan people does not include ethnic orientation, the 2004 constitution lists 14 different ethnicities (Central Intelligence Agency, 2015). This same location introduced the tribes in Afghanistan to tea early on, as China sent traders out to get other goods in return for silk and tea. Given its arid climate and poor water supplies, tea gave the tribes a beverage that was non-alcoholic and easy to transport.

Hospitality and Afghan Tea Culture

Afghan tea culture comes in part from the tradition of offering food and beverage to guests

Traditional Samovar – By Kmrhistory (Own work) – CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Even though there is great ethnic diversity in Afghanistan, there are several cultural norms that cross all beliefs. Hospitality is the main one. Hospitality is so important in Afghan culture that it is embedded in children stories and considered a reflection of personal reputation. It is always expected to give food and/or beverages to everyone who is visiting you. Both will continued to be served until the guest signals that they are full and even then the host is expected to ask if they are sure and it is not uncommon to hear the host say “But you have not had enough.”

Tea culture plays a large role in showing hospitality. It is not uncommon to be offered tea when entering a business or a friend’s home. A common tea served in Afghanistan is called Kahwah. It is a combination of green tea, cardamom pods, cinnamon bark, and saffron strands. It may also include peppercorns, ginger and almonds. Much like the traditional Masala Chai Tea from India or Kashmiri Tea from neighboring Pakistan, each family has their own recipe. These ingredients are typically mixed with boiling water in a samovar. The tea is dispensed from the samovar and sugar is added before serving.

So you too can share a small piece of Afghanistan hospitality, below is a recipe for Kahwah Tea that serves 4 (so invite some friends over).

Kahwah Tea

4 cups of Water

4 cardamom pods, cracked

½ inch piece of cinnamon

4 strands of saffron

3 teaspoons of green tea

1 tablespoon sugar or honey

4 blanched almonds, chopped into small pieces

 

Add the cardamom pods, cinnamon, and sugar to the water and bring it to a boil. Allow to stay at a boil for 5 minutes and then remove from the heat source. Add the green tea and saffron, put a lid on the pot and allow to steep for 3 minutes. The saffron will cause the liquid to turn a light orange color. Strain the liquid into a teapot. Put the almond pieces into 4 tea cups and pour the tea over the almond pieces and enjoy.

 

Sources Cited
Central Intelligence Agency. (2015, May 27). The World Fact Book: Afghanistan. Retrieved from Central Intelligence Agency: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/af.html

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Matcha Smoothies – A Summer Treat

With summer already appearing here in the DC region, well before its due date, finding cool ways to consume your morning tea, makes it high on my priority list. While usually a purist when it comes to consuming my tea, I will make an exception for matcha smoothies. When cooking with tea, matcha is truly versatile as we’ve illustrated in previous blogs with matcha recipes for ice cream, cookies, and more.

Matcha Organic Cooking Grade

Cooking Grade Matcha Poweder

What is Matcha?

Matcha is typically ground gyokuro though it can be made from other Japanese teas. It generally has the taste of fresh cut grass. Not necessarily my favorite flavor, but it compliments other fruits and vegetables well. Below are a handful of smoothie recipes that allow you to get your morning tea and maybe venture into appreciating Matcha.

Spinach and Matcha Smoothies (Makes 1 16oz glass)

These bright green matcha smoothies are going to taste more like a salad than matcha.

  • 1 cup of loose Spinach leaves
  • 2 oz Silken Tofu
  • 1 Stalk of Celery, trim off the ends
  • ½ cup of water
  • 1 tsp of Matcha
  • 1 tsp of Agave Nectar (or more if you like sweet smoothies)

Blend together until the celery pieces are to a size you like.  Can be poured over ice if you prefer.

Blueberry Matcha Smoothies (Makes 1 16oz glass)

Ingredients for Blueberry Matcha Smoothies

Blueberry Matcha Smoothie Ingredients

This recipe makes great smoothies if you do not like the color green in the morning but still like the flavor of matcha.

  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2oz Silken Tofu
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp Matcha
  • 1 tsp Agave Nectar

Blend together until slushy and blueberry pieces are small.  This will taste more like Matcha than Blueberry.

Banana Mango Matcha Smoothies (Makes 12-16oz glass)

The matcha in this recipe makes turns this drink green. However, the banana and mango will dominate the flavor of this smoothie.

  • 1 small banana
  • 3 medium mango slices (If you cut your own Mango, figure about a quarter of the Mango)
  • ½ cup water or your favorite milk or nondairy milk if you would like it a little creamier
  • 1 tsp Matcha
  • ½ tsp of Agave Nectar

Blend together until smooth.  Add more water if it is too thick for you.

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