The art of preparing herbal tea is a ritual that has been around for centuries. If you know me, you know I love to honour our ancestral origins of herbal medicine and its connection to the herbal teas we drink today. Some of the common herbs that we buy from our local grocery store grew wild during the time of the Ancient Egyptians, and are still used in much the same way. The best part is they were then and still are now, revered for the same medicinal properties. There are so many benefits to drinking herbal tea, which is why it is so popular and a regular recommendation by most holistic practitioners. By choosing the right herbal teas or herbal tea blends and brewing them correctly, not only will they then taste great, but impart a variety of therapeutic benefits that you are going to want to embrace every day. In this blog post, we will discuss how to make the perfect cup of loose leaf tea so you can make sure you not only get the most flavour out of your herbs but the potency of their medicinal benefits.
I began my journey with herbs when I worked in an apothecary in Melbourne over 20 years ago, during which time I was studying for my degree in Health Science, to become a Naturopath and herbalist. I would spend most of my shifts in the Wholefoods store opening the big glass jars full of all the herbs and spices you can imagine. I spent time filling them up, inhaling each one of their unique and potent aromas, and crushing them between my fingers. Each week I would take home paper bags filled with the herbs I hadn't tried or ones we were studying at the time and lovingly brew them up. Sometimes it would be a singular herb and sometimes it would be a blend of herbs based on a symptom or sickness I or anyone around me would have. Often they were delightfully palatable, but sometimes they were a quagmire of bitter unbalanced flavors that tasted just awful! Nonetheless, I learned very quickly about the subtle art of brewing herbs as an infusion/tea and how to capture the vibrancy and vitality of each plant.
One of the first lessons I learned as a young herbalist was when I tasted a simple cup of peppermint tea. A cup that I had brewed from the whole leaf peppermint that I had brought home from my last shift. The smell was so vibrant, which remained when the water hit the leaf in my teapot. After brewing for a few minutes I took my first sip and the vibrancy had steeped into the water and now I was enjoying this perfect cup of peppermint tea. Travel into the future a couple of days and I was over at a friend's house who was making us a cup of peppermint tea. Still reveling in my last cup of peppermint, I was looking forward to sipping the brew. My friend had bought a pack of peppermint tea bags from the health food store, one that we had brewed many times in the past. The first thing I noticed was the aroma; it was dull, slow to hit my nose, and not vibrant at all, it was almost non-existent. Wanting to understand why I opened the tea bag and found the peppermint was finely milled (what I now know as "teabag grade" herbs). Needless to say, the journey of understanding how to create the perfect cup of tea, began right there.
When it comes to making the perfect cup of herbal tea, there are a few key things to remember.
Number one; quality is everything. Following on from my previous story, using loose-leaf herbal tea is superior. Whole leaf herbs like peppermint and lemon balm or large milled chips of roots, rhizomes and bark like ginger, turmeric and cinnamon are the best. When herbs and spices are milled too fine (like in conventional teabags- known as "teabag grade") they start to degrade quickly and the first things to go are the essential oils and volatile oils that are responsible for the smell and taste you need to make a good cup of herbal tea. Therefore you want the least amount of degradation caused by overprocessing to keep as much of the good stuff for you to enjoy in your cup.
The second is making sure that the water can reach as much surface area of the herb as possible. The best brewing accessories are ones that allow the leaf to stay loose and in contact with as much water as possible. Teapots, Tea flasks, and our favourite Heart Therapeutics teacup infusers allow the leaf to have the most contact with the water. The benefit is all about getting as much of the goodness and flavour from each cup you brew. Accessories that crush the leaf too tight or don't allow the water to pass through easily will result in wasted herb that could not infuse its goodness properly.
Next is the amount of herbal tea to add. I love this part because this is where you can be creative. The general rule of thumb for tea brewing is 1 teaspoon per cup (250ml). I love to say that this is the minimum amount I would recommend but this is entirely up to you. I add up to a tablespoon per cup depending on the blend I am drinking, but I love a big robust cup of herbs- the stronger the better. If you are someone that prefers a softer flavoured cup of tea then I suggest sticking to the rule.
The same goes for the length of time in which to brew. 3 minutes is the absolute minimum in regards to brewing herbal tea. The longer you brew your tea the more flavour and medicinal properties you will extract from the herb. I like to brew for at least five minutes, but if I am making a blend with roots or bark in it then I will leave it to steep for up to ten minutes. It's important to add here that a lid is a necessary accessory in your tea brewing kit. Having a tea pot with a lid, or a covered tea infuser, or even a make shift cover like a saucer will help trap all the beneficial essential oils in your cup of tea. The more of the good stuff that's trapped in your cup, means all the more physical benefits for you.
Last but not least is temperature; boiling water is not always best! Some herbs are quite delicate and can be easily damaged by water that is too hot. I always recommend 90 degrees for herbal blends that are filled with leaves and flowers. If you are unsure how to achieve 90 degrees without fussing around with a thermometer then my best advice is to cover the leaf in your pot or infuser with a quick dash of cold water and then top up with boiling water from the kettle. If you're making something containing roots and rhizomes like ginger, turmeric, dandelion, etc then in this instance you want it as hot as possible to activate the medicinal properties locked inside the root structure. If it's just a good cup of flavourful herbal tea that you are after then don't get too bogged down in temperature and go with the temperature your kettle boils too.
At this point, it is probably important to mention that I am talking specifically about herbal tea, which by definition is a separate category from actual Tea. Hopefully, this has not caused your eyes to glaze over and not caused too much confusion. To be clear, Camellia sinensis is the plant responsible for the large category of actual 'Tea'. Green, black, white, and oolong are all a variation of this one plant and command and an entirely different set of brewing rules and instructions. I'll go into more detail on this in a future blog post, as it's a huge subject for discussion.
To finish off this topic I think it's also really important to mention the art of making herbal tea is a beautiful ritual that should be savoured. Taking time out of your busy schedule, even if for only 10 minutes, can have such an amazing impact on your general wellbeing. Give your nervous system some time to regulate by disconnecting for a small window of time. Boil the kettle and begin to brew at the same time as disconnecting from devices. You can implement some great breathing techniques as you wait for you herbs to steep. Once its time to drink your herbal tea, you will be in a more contented space and you will have created a beautiful new ritual to carry you through the rest of your day or night.
Enjoy the process! xx
So here's a quick summary of how to make the perfect cup of herbal tea:
~ Loose leaf tea is best -As unprocessed as possible preferably Organic
~ The general rule is:
- 1 tspn per cup (250 ml)
- 90 - 100 degrees
- Brew for a minimum of 3 minutes with the cup or pot covered
~ Enjoy it! This is a ritual that is good for your mental and physical health. My best advice is not to overthink it and enjoy every minute of the time you take to brew your herbal tea.
If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact us or leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you!
Happy Brewing! xoxo
Now that we know how to make the perfect cup of herbal tea let's look at some of my favourite blends.
Rise and Shine ~ On a base of organic lemongrass and ginger this blend contains a good dose of adaptogenic, circulatory, anti-inflammatory and immune herbs that makes a golden elixir and a powerhouse daily herbal tea blend that is so delicious you are going to love incorporating this into your day.
Digestive ~ This is your go-to herbal tea blend whenever your digestion needs a bit of soothing love and is an absolute must on your tea shelf at all times! A delicious blend of traditional herbs that will help digestive discomfort, nausea, and even period pain.
All Heart ~ Our most popular blend; This gentle herbal tea remedy will help to support your hardest-working organ system, increase blood flow to your extremities, add a good dose of daily protective antioxidants, support your body through periods of stress and nourish the heart both physically and energetically.