I wasn’t always an herbal tea drinker; I remember impromptu childhood tea parties, steeping Mom’s pride-and-joy oolong, and sipping it from tiny dragon teacups. My body since then decided it wanted nothing to do with caffeine and thus the adventure began, a hunt for novel tea blends besides the tried and true trio --chamomile, hibiscus, and peppermint. At first, “herbal tea” for me meant sacrificing dynamic flavors and resorting to the same ones because, “Sorry, everything else on our menu is caffeinated.” When I began to explore more underground blenders and tea houses, I finally realized herbal tea had much, muchmore to offer than meets the eye. You just have to venture outside of your typical neighborhood café.
Antioxidants! Fat-burning! Reducing allergies! I heard it all when it came to herbal tea’s health benefits but what I wish I’d discovered earlier was its special niche between the tangy world of juicing and the punchy, caffeinated world of teas and coffee roasts. In my head, tea was equivalent to leaves. Technically, it is but there’s a whole world of herbal blends out there using “tea” as an alias, crafted from roots, herbs, spices, fruit, natural sweeteners, flowers/buds, beans, seeds, and even vegetables. Then you start throwing in post-blend ingredients like coconut/almond/soy milk, citrus infusions, and the options are endless. It took me years to graduate to these kinds of blends. I languished over sad teabags of Sleepytime Mint and Calming Chamomile too long, oblivious to (and slightly intimidated by) the terminology being thrown around when I set foot in tea houses. Turned out those words “tisane” and “infusion” were keys to the kingdom.
What all does a blend have to offer that a bare tea doesn’t? Well, for starters, the element of surprise. A tea blender might tell you your tea will have a distinct pineapple body paired with the tang of papaya; all of the brightness without the citrus bite because it comes with a touch of calendula. Sounds lovely but you really don’t know what you’re in for until you take that first sip. It’s quite the adventure, travelling the extra mile to find those vendors that offer this kind of experience. For the tea-lovers who want to play it safe, there are plenty of blends that honor the typical ginger, rooibos, and verbena flavor body with a little variation thrown in. For the more adventurous souls, the herbal tea world is your oyster.
Herbal tea is one dynamic niche if you still haven’t explored it yet. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new flavors and herbs you can’t pronounce. Maybe next time you’re out craving a relaxing iced drink, swing by your local tea house instead of your go-to barista. For sure, you’ll get a great dose of those antioxidants and fat-burning allergy-killing juices! But even better, you’ll have the opportunity to intrigue your taste buds.