Mint: 5 Facts about the first addition to tea

Mint plants

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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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Cleaning Travel Mugs, No Elbow Grease Required

Travel Mug Cleaning

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
Travel Mug Before & After

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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Earl Lavender Tea Muffins

Mug of tea and three muffins drizzled in earl lavender glaze.

Earl Lavender Muffins — fresh from the oven with tea.

Earl Lavender tea muffins are easy to make and a tasty breakfast treat. I have prepared these in miniature muffin tins but they can be done in a full sized one, just add about 7-10 minutes to the cooking time on these muffins. If you do not have Earl Grey with Lavender tea, don’t sweat it. It works just as well with your favorite black tea.

Earl Lavender Tea Muffins

Prepares 12 muffins in a regular sized pan & 24 in a miniature pan

1 1/2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons of Earl Grey with Lavender tea
16 ounces of water
1 stick of butter
1 2/3 cup of all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Optional:  1 teaspoon dried lavender flowers, chopped

Earl Grey with Lavender Glaze

1/2 cup of confectioners sugar
2 Tablespoons of brewed Earl Grey with Lavender (You may want additional if you want a thinner glaze on the muffins)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Next, you will need to melt the butter with 2 tsp of the Earl Grey with Lavender tea in it. Start by putting the stick of butter in a pan with the tea.

Bring the 16 oz of water to a boil and put in the tablespoon and half of the Earl Grey with Lavender tea. Allow to steep for 5 minutes and strain off the tea. You will need to reserve 8 ounces for the recipe and possibly as much as 1/4 cup for the icing. So the remaining 3/4 cup is for you to enjoy while you cook.

In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, salt, and baking powder.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg and slowly add the sugar making sure to incorporate the sugar fully into the egg. Then mix in the vanilla extract. Pour the cooled butter through a strainer, to remove the tea leaves, into the bowl and stir until combined. Then pour in the cooled cup of Earl Grey with Lavender tea and stir. Next pour the wet ingredients into the bowl full of flour. Mix until fully combined.

Next pour the batter into the muffin tins just shy of the top of the tin.

When using a miniature muffin pan, cook for 20-25 minutes and test the center of the muffin with a tooth pick before removing. For a full size muffin tin, start with 30 minutes but you may need as long as 40 minutes to make sure they are done.

Plate of Earl Lavender Muffins

Fresh Glazed Earl Lavender Muffins

While the muffins are cooking, it is time to make your glaze. In a bowl, put the half cup of confectioners sugar and pour in the first tablespoon of tea and stir. Then pour in the second tablespoon of tea and stir completely to make sure there are no clumps of sugar. If you end up with clumps, use a fork to break them apart. If you would like a thinner batter, add additional tea 1 teaspoon at a time until you reach the consistency you want.

When the muffins are done, allow them to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes and then remove. To glaze, put the muffins on top of a cooling rack on wax paper. Brush the glaze over the top of the muffins. The glaze will drip off, which is why you want the wax paper below the cooling rack. It will take a few minutes for the glaze to set. The muffins are then ready to serve. They can also be put in the refrigerator and will be good for about 4 days.

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Chai Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

Banana chocolate chip bread drizzled with chai tea icing.

Moist banana chocolate chip bread with chai tea icing.

Nothing like browning bananas to prompt the search for a banana bread recipe, like Chai Banana Chocolate Chip. This recipe can also be baked  as cakes or muffins, which I have included in the instructions below. This banana bread incorporates Chocolate Chai tea, giving the bread a nice spice. I have a tendency to treat banana bread as a dessert, so I have included a recipe for Chai icing as well. You can actually use any of your favorite chai teas in this recipe.

The great thing about this recipe is that it starts by making yourself a good cup of Chai, most of which you can enjoy while baking.

Chai Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

1 tsp Chocolate Chai Tea

8 oz of water

4 small to medium sized really ripe bananas (You are looking to get to about a cup when smashed)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup of granulated sugar

1/3 cup canola oil (or other mild flavor oil)

1 tsp of vanilla extract

1 cup of semisweet chocolate chips (optional, can be replaced with walnuts)

Start by making yourself a cup of Chai tea. Bring the 8 oz of water up to a boil and then pour over your Chocolate Chai tea leaves and allow to steep for 5 minutes. While that is steeping preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and lightly grease your cake,bread or muffin pan. When your tea is done steeping, reserve a 1/4-1/3 cup of it to mash into the bananas and another 2 tablespoons for the icing recipe. Take the remaining tea and doctor how your chose,so you can enjoy it while you are cooking.

In a medium sized bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and salt together. In a larger bowl, mix together the sugar and oil, then add the bananas. Stir in 1/4 of the chai tea and the vanilla extract. Mix thoroughly. If batter appears dry, going a teaspoon at a time,stir in more of the chai tea. Next stir in the flour mixture and chocolate chips until just incorporated.

Fill your muffin, bread or cake pans about half way full. This batter rises a lot.

For muffins and small bundt cake pans – Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown and the a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

For bread pans – Bake for 40-45 minutes until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean

For cake pans – Bake 30-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

While it is baking, this is the perfect time to making icing. Follow our recipe for Chai icing to add a little more tea flavor to this treat.

 

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Enjoying the Moment – The Tea Ceremony

Tea readily lends itself to rituals and practices that us slow down. It allows us to take in not just our surroundings, but our state of mind and the characteristic of the beverage we are patiently awaiting. Not surprisingly, Chinese and Japanese developed formal rituals around tea that are worth exploring as they explain both the culture of tea of those countries and some of the historical manufacturing processes.

The simplicity of the Japanese Tea Ceremony has inspired other accessories.

Japanese Kyusu – Inspired by Japanese Tea Ceremony

Japanese Tea Ceremony

The Japanese tea ceremony originated with the Buddhist monks, who incorporated the preparation of powdered tea into their meditation rituals. The accessories and steps taken in the tea ceremony are focused on the comfort of the guests and the preparer. The ceremony appeared in Japan during the 15th century, being created and documented by Sen No Rikyu, a Japanese Buddhist tea master. In his book, the Way of Tea, Rikyu not only lays out the steps of Chanoyu, the Japanese Tea Ceremony, but discusses the philosophy of tea and how tea helps to reinforce the contemplative experience of life and man’s interaction with other men and material objects. Rikyu used the Way of Tea to invite all who believed in harmony, respect, purity and tranquility to become masters of tea, opening up the beverage and the tea ceremony to the masses, effectively taking it out of the temple and into the upper classes of Japanese society.

The ritualization and formalization of the tea ceremony is still seen today in the accessories associated not just with Matcha but with Japanese green teas. Kyusu’s, Japanese tea pots used to serve whole leaf green tea, are either a solid color or decorated with pictures of nature, which are always on the side of the pot that should face the guest when serving the tea. Rikyu is also given credit for having created the bamboo whisk and scoop used in the preparation of Matcha.

Chinese Tea Ceremony

Small Chinese Tea Ceremony Cups

Chinese Tea Cups for a Tea Ceremony

The Chinese also have a tea ceremony. It is lesser known than the Japanese one but it still has its own beauty. Done with whole leaves instead of powder, it is a simple presentation of a kettle, teapot and handle-less cups. The preparation is done simply with few gestures of significance and little concern to the type of pottery or other accessories. Unlike the Japanese ceremony, there is discussion with guests, usually around nature, the tea being drunk and other topics usually related to nature and man’s place in it. The leaves will be infused multiple times by the host as conversation continues.

This informal ceremony reflects the very informal view of tea in China. However, informality should not imply a lack of importance. Tea is considered one of the seven critical items for a healthy life and is consumed throughout the day, every day, by most Chinese.

Creating Your Own Tea Ceremony or Ritual

It is not hard to create your own ritual around your cup of tea. It could be something as simple as taking a few minutes to hold still and breathe while you allow your tea to steep. Alternatively, you may prefer to sit with a pot of tea and a book in your favorite chair. The Chinese and the Japanese both got it right in focusing on tea’s tie to nature and its ability to allow people to slow down and contemplate their place in it. My favorite ritual is enjoying a cup of tea at my kitchen table looking out the windows and watching the stars fade and the sky fill with early morning sunlight. What is your favorite tea ceremony?

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