Monday, December 7, 2009

Quick Hack and Holiday Gift: Homemade Gourmet Tea Blends

Christmas spice teaImage by hiromy via

Besides tasting lovely, tea is said to have many health benefits including increased energy, reduced blood pressure, immune system strengthening, enhanced concentration, and even healthier, younger-looking skin.

But contrary to popular belief, you don't have to spend a small fortune for gourmet tea. If you make your own, it's ridiculously cheap, especially if you grow your own herbs. But not to worry if you don't have an herb garden—all the ingredients for the following recipes are easy to find and can be acquired on the cheap at your local grocery or farmers' market. Moreover, when you make your own tea blends from loose tea, not only is the quality of the tea much higher, but it's more economical as well. In general, loose tea costs less than tea bags and you can resteep loose tea, thereby stretching your tea dollar, so to speak.

Make these frugal, gourmet teas for yourself or package them in neat jars or tins and give them as gifts to your favorite foodies/tea-lovers. Include an inexpensive tea strainer or infuser, maybe a small jar of honey or some homemade tea biscuits or scones and you've got the perfect gift for your favorite foodies/tea-lovers/anglophiles.

Don't forget to check the brewing tips at the end of the post!

On to the recipes.

This first isn't exactly a tea but rather a spice mixture. Add a bit to your favorite black tea along with a splash of warm milk, and you've got Chai (literally just means "tea," but is used worldwide to refer to Indian-style spiced tea with milk). This mix is a personal favorite and a result of lots of trial and (tasty) error. Perhaps the name is a bit biased, but so be it.

Perfect Chai (Indian Spiced Tea) Mix
Yields 3 cups of mix. (Each cup of mix makes 24 cups of chai.)

2 cups powdered sugar
1 vanilla bean
4 tbsp ground ginger
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
4 tsp ground cloves
4 tbsp ground cardamom
4 tsp ground nutmeg
4 tsp ground allspice


1. Cover the vanilla bean with the sugar and store overnight in an airtight container. The sugar will absorb the vanilla flavor. In the morning, remove the bean and throw it out.

2. Combine all the ingredients and mix well. If some of the spices are not ground to a fine powder already, pulsing them all together in a food processor should do the trick.

Add 2 tsp of mix to a half-filled cup of hot black tea, fill with warm milk, and stir.
It's also quite good cold; just sub iced tea and cold milk.

Gourmet Herbal Teas

Combine any flavors you like and mix with loose tea—red, green, or white all work well. For an even more thoughtful and personalized gift, choose herbs with target benefits to create a custom blend for your loved ones. (The links above are to the most economic bulk loose teas available on Amazon at the time of this writing.)

your choice of herbs
mortar and pestle (depending on your selection of herbs)
small jars or plastic baggies
basket or other gift container

Suggested Blends
(All herbs should be dried and either whole or crushed, not ground.)

1 part ginger root, 1 part cloves, and 1 part nutmeg
1 part chamomile flowers to 1 part peppermint leaves
1 part dried ginger root to 2 parts peppermint leaves
4 parts anise, 
1 part cinnamon
 bark, 1 part cloves, and 1 part vanilla bean

3 parts rosemary, 
3 parts lavender flowers
, and 3 parts marjoram

1 part cloves, 1 part allspice, and 1 part cinnamon bark
2 parts lemon verbena leaves to 1 part lavender flowers

Mix herbs thoroughly, toss the mixture with the loose tea of your choice, and store in an air-tight container.

Brew 1 tsp of tea in 1 cup of not-quite-boiling water.

Tea Brewing Tips
1. Most teas take between 30 seconds and 2 minutes to brew. Any more and you risk oversteeping, which makes the tea bitter.

2. Like coffee, tea doesn't take well to boiling water. I do recommend boiling the water to purify it, but just make sure you let it cool a few minutes before adding it to your teapot.

3. You can reuse or resteep loose tea leaves up to 4 times. Just let each brew steep a minute longer than the one before. Don't try this with tea bags; it won't work. That's a difference between loose tea and tea powder. Just another reason why making your own loose tea blends is more economical than buying boxed flavored tea or tea bags.

Want to get ahead on next year's gifts or just want to keep yourself in organic cooking and tea ingredients? Winter's a perfect time to start a little indoor herb garden.

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