I was brought up in a household where the first noises I woke up to in the morning were of my Nanna filling the kettle at the porcelain sink in the kitchen and clanking it onto the iron hob of her ancient gas range.
You can’t smell tea permeating a house like you do coffee when it’s brewed but if you are a tea lover then none of that matters. All that is really important is that beautiful liquid dancing on your tongue and rolling away down your throat with a cleansing orgasm of tannins.
Nanna had lived through the Great Depression, so her favorite brew was a pot of extremely strong black Robur tea. She made a huge pot of it to lay on the breakfast table and all the family partook of it – even the children.
I grew up learning how to carefully hold my cup and to blow on the surface and only gently sip the hot liquid so I didn’t scald my mouth. There was no molly coddling in those days, no half milk half tea concoctions. I learnt to drink as the adults drank their tea, with the only proviso being that I drank under supervision and with care.
When my own children came into being, I passed on those lessons to them. So they also grew up loving a good cup of tea, hot, not lukewarm, and sipped slowly with pleasure.
My grandchildren today do the same and the family tradition thrives. After a day of excursions, when they arrive back home, the first thing they want to do is to sit down and enjoy a nice hot cup of tea – and they are not yet adults!
Being as curious as I am, I once explored the reasons why tea had such a powerful effect on us all. I found myself absorbed by all the wonderful information to be found, such as that tea is full of natural anti-oxidants that enable the body to maintain good health.
I also discovered that tannins, like those found in tea, are what the leather industry uses to make dry skins soft and pliable enough to use as leather, which made me wonder if the unusually slow outward ageing of my older extended family members was due to such a well embedded tea drinking tradition.
Most likely, that routine of tea in my life and those later information explorations eventually led me to herbs and their medicinal qualities. Tea, after all, is a type of herb, derived from the leaves of a particular flowering shrub and processed by blanching, steaming, drying or fermenting until you eventually get those wonderful tiny rolled leaves to brew.
My first explorations of the medicinal qualities of herbs began in my kitchen cupboard. I studied herbs through books and courses but my first tisanes were made by taking ordinary cooking herbs and making a medicinal brew when my children got gastroenteritis and couldn’t keep anything down.
I’m famous in my family for that Tummy Bug Cure and the simple recipe has been passed on with little change. Basically, you take equal parts of fennel seeds, rosemary, and sage. You can also add chamomile and peppermint or spearmint, but the first three herbs are the most important. The fennel seeds quell the tummy gases that are so uncomfortable. The rosemary has a sedative effect and is also a disinfectant. The sage is a powerful germicide. You brew a big pot with a few teaspoons of the mix, and sweeten it to taste. It can be drunk hot or cold.
I used to give the first cup hot and then further cups were cold. At first, the patient cannot keep much down, so only a few sips at a time is fine. As they feel more capable, they take more and more sips, with the aim of being able to actually drink a whole cup at a time…and keep it down.
The end result was always good and this tisane was the only thing my family was able to keep down when they were sick like that. Yet those herbs and flavors were not what they would normally like to drink when they were well. It was as if their bodies told them that this would be good for them. They loved it.
Of course, having such miraculous evidence of the efficacy of even pre-dried kitchen herbs it was no wonder that I got deeper and deeper into the mysteries of herbal tisanes. I even worked for a herbal medicine company for a while, selling their products and learning even more about them.
While that career was shelved for other ones over time, my interest in and use of herbs has remained. My family share that interest and have added tisanes to their favorite beverages, alongside traditional teas. Herbal teas are a lovely variation on the old hot cup of tea we grew up with, and when you feel those essential oils doing their work inside you, enabling purification and healing on cellular levels, it feels even better drinking them.
I’ve learnt so much more about tea since we began selling tinned teas from Harney & Sons. I learned such things as green tea should not be brewed with water that has just boiled or the result may become bitter. You need to wait a little until the water is still hot but not scalding to brew green or white tea.
I learned that good leaf tea can be brewed more than once with the very same leaves and still retain a good amount of flavor – which makes a tin of quality tea bags a more economical option.
I learned that white tea, which is derived from leaves that have been barely processed at all, has the greatest amount of anti-oxidants to enhance good health and, despite having almost no color in the liquid at all, has a really beautiful and refreshing flavor.
I learnt that herbal tisanes can be extended after the pot has gone cold, by putting the brew into the refrigerator and having it as an iced tea (with added fruits and flavors, as desired). That way you are not wasting any valuable health benefits… and kids really love iced tea!
My favorite traditional tea may have started with Nanna’s deep rich Assam mix in the now defunct brand, Robur, but today I prefer an Earl Grey – a slightly smokey flavor that is enhanced by bergamot essential oil from bitter orange peel. I like to think of it as my ‘happy pill’ since bergamot is known for its anti-depressant qualities…and anyone who hangs around too long when I’m hankering for a cuppa I haven’t had yet will most likely agree with that. Never confront the lady until she has had her hit of tea…
“Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete”
– Eisai, a Zen priest (1141-1215 AD)
I totally agree with that.