“In Ireland, you go to someone’s house, and she asks you if you want a cup of tea. You say no, thank you, you’re really just fine. She asks if you’re sure. You say of course you’re sure, really, you don’t need a thing. Except they pronounce it ting. You don’t need a ting. Well, she says then, I was going to get myself some anyway, so it would be no trouble. Ah, you say, well, if you were going to get yourself some, I wouldn’t mind a spot of tea, at that, so long as it’s no trouble and I can give you a hand in the kitchen. Then you go through the whole thing all over again until you both end up in the kitchen drinking tea and chatting.
In America, someone asks you if you want a cup of tea, you say no, and then you don’t get any damned tea.
I liked the Irish way better.”
I’ve been told that I offer tea at the slightlest provocation. Really, that’s alright with me. Tea is life, and any day without tea hasn’t really been a proper day at all.
If you are anything like me, you have succumbed to spending far too much for fancy (fantastic, fragrant) blended teas at certain places that shall not be named (though they *are* the only reason to go to the mall anymore). I hoard every teaspoon of those teas, dolling it out, trying to make it last like it is some rare and precious commodity- which, lets face it, it is. I enjoy every drop of those specially crafted, carefully brewed teas.
But you know what?
I make some that are just as good in my own kitchen.
Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely blends at those fancy places that I just can’t duplicate (dried orchid flowers? Golden Monkey tea? Powdered essence of rum? Yeah, these are not things I have in my cabinets). But some of the basics most people have in their homes already, and some of them are worth tracking down.
Frugal Friday’s tip this week? Buy a tea strainer. A small one if you only drink a cup at a time, or a larger one if you tend towards less moderate quantities. Heck, brew it in quart mason jars if you like for enough to share. And tea is one of those things that you can feel *good* about being a bit immoderate about. The health benefits of green tea especially, but also in black teas and herbal teas, is staggering and not something I really need to go over here. And if you are concerned about the caffeine? You can make your own blends with decaffeinated teas or straight herbal. You never have to worry about a certain flavor not coming in decaf. It’s all under your control.
Start with basic flavors you know you like. Orange peel and cinnamon? Lemon and clove? Peppermint and green tea? Even chopped, dried fruit can be added to your mix. Start basic, just one or two spices, at least a half teaspoon of each added to a teaspoon of loose black or green tea per cup (6-8 oz), or a teaspoon of each if you aren’t adding any regular tea. You’ll want somewhere between two teaspoons and one tablespoon of total tea, depending on how strong you like it. Whole or coarsely chopped spices work best here, not powdered. Crush them slightly with a mortar and pestle if you have one. Bring a pot of water to a boil and then let it rest for a moment to that the water stops bubbling. Most teas are best made with water just below the boiling point. Let it steep for five minutes or longer. Many of the herbs and spices taste better with longer steeping times, so especially if you are not using tea leaves (which can get bitter if left steeping too long), keep in mind that a longer soak will improve the flavor.
Then start tweaking. Like the orange and cinnamon but want a stronger cinnamon flavor? Add more! Think the peppermint would taste good with some tarragon instead? Go for it! Once you find a flavor combination you like, you can mix up a larger batch so that the flavors can meld better before they even reach the strainer. Use the same proportions used in the smaller batches, just scale up. A tablespoon of tarragon with a teaspoon of peppermint is 3 parts tarragon to one part peppermint. Mix up a batch, perhaps containing 3/4 of a cup tarragon and 1/4 cup peppermint. Putting together blends ahead of time works great for those that contain heady spices like cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. The oils from these spices will infuse the whole mixture, giving you an even better cuppa.
Store your personally blended teas in air tight containers in a dark place and use within a year.
If you want to make large batches of teas, buying loose tea and spices in bulk is your best bet. Healthy Food stores, Asian and Middle Eastern markets typically carry them, though you can also order online through places like Rose Mountain Herbs or Frontier. Even if you don’t want more than an ounce or two, it’s always cheaper these routes than buying those tiny glass jars at the grocery store. In general, I buy my spices (the ones I haven’t been able to grow myself) this way and save oodles on the ones I use the most frequently.
But even beyond the basics of things you might usually have in your kitchen, there are so very many flavors to try. Give hibiscus a turn, add rose hips to your cup or chop up those vanilla bean pods left over from jam making.
One of my favorite teas out of my kitchen these days follows. This is a naturally decaffeinated blend, featuring red rooibos tea. My version includes fruit that we dried this autumn, as well as foraged rose hips. But all of the ingredients are fairly easy to find to purchase. It is tart, fruity and very slightly sweet. I normally don’t add sugar to my tea, but this one is perfect with a bit of honey stirred in. It is perfect as a hot tea on a cold day, but equally enjoyable in the warmer months over ice.
Red Delicious Tea
1 cup loose leaf red rooibos tea
1/2 cup dried hibiscus flowers
1/4 cup dried rose hips
1/4 cup chopped dried apples
1/4 cup chopped dried cranberries
Mix all of the ingredients together and store in an airtight container, away from light. To brew, use 1 tablespoon of tea per 8 oz of nearly boiling water. Let steep for 7-10 minutes. Sweeten to taste and enjoy.
Here are some other flavor combinations that I particularly enjoy. Experiment and have fun!
-Black tea, dried lemon, cloves
-White tea, dried apricot, clementine peel
-Green tea, dried apples, rosehips
-Rooibos Red tea, vanilla, shredded coconut
- Hibiscus, rose hips, orange peel
-Spearmint, peppermint, tarragon
-Green tea, dried pineapple, sage
- Black tea, cardamom, coriander
Linked at Little House in the Suburbs