There are countless tea blends on grocery store shelves for tea lovers, so why make your own at home? One answer is expense—you can save a lot of money by buying favorite ingredients in bulk or growing them in your garden. The most compelling reason to make your own tea blends, though, is simply the ability to be adventurous and concoct flavors that aren’t available at the store. Once you’ve learned how to make and brew your own blends, the possibilities are endless.
Keep in mind that the various tea bases have their own recommended water temperatures and brew times. Green tea, for example, is best brewed for no longer than three minutes at around 170 to 190 degrees, while black tea can be brewed a little longer and at a higher temperature range of 190 to 209 degrees, for three to five minutes. These are just basic guidelines, though. The important thing is to discover what your individual palate prefers. Just remember, if you want a stronger tea, simply add more leaves as opposed to extending the brew time, which releases more tannins and can make the tea bitter.
Because the term “herbal tea” is more of a blanket term that includes flowers, fruit, woody stems, roots and seeds, there is no one perfect brewing temperature. Consensus seems to be to steep herbal teas for about five minutes at just below the boiling temperature, or 209 degrees, the same as black tea. Yet, more delicate herbs such as mint, or flowers such as chamomile, taste better when steeped at a lower temperature like that used for green tea. And other ingredients such as ginger or turmeric root can be boiled for several minutes. It can be confusing, but when considering brewing temperatures and times, consider the plants’ physical properties. If they seem delicate, start at the green tea temperature: 170 to 190 degrees, and brew for five minutes. If the flavor isn’t there, slowly increase the temperature but keep the brewing time the same. For woody stems, roots and barks, consider bringing out their essence with a full rolling boil, then simmering for five to 10 minutes—they can take the extra aggressiveness.
Central Texas offers many local flavors that lend themselves to a delicious cup of tea, and you can further enjoy the unique terroir of each blend knowing it came from your own backyard—either literally or figuratively speaking. The peel of Texas-grown Satsuma oranges, the leaves and flowers of lemon balm, lavender, blueberry and even foraged ingredients, such as edible sumac, mint and yarrow, all make excellent teas. For a uniquely herbaceous flavor, consider herbs usually reserved for culinary use, such as parsley, sage or basil. For a sweeter tea, try steeping local fresh or dried stevia leaves.
The difference between using fresh and dried herbs in a tea is usually just the amount required. Typically, about two to three times as much fresh plant material than dried is the recommendation. And fresh ingredients can often benefit from a quick muddling in the pot or cup.
These recipes each make one, two-cup pot. They’re great for the sniffles, or just as a healthful nightcap. Mullein is a mostly tasteless herb with great anti-inflammatory properties—the recipe calls for a lot because it’s rather fluffy.