I have a tea drawer, which is hard to explain to those who either don’t drink tea or don’t drink so much that they actually need a designated tea drawer. “What do you do with it?” ask bewildered guests suspiciously eyeing the dozens of packages that I keep in a credenza in the corner of my dining room. (Those guests become even more bewildered when they see my perfume shelf, but that’s another story). Although all tea comes from the same plant, camellia sinensis, it exists in such a range of flavors and tastes that one box of Earl Grey simply doesn’t cover all of my cravings. But since high-quality tea is best bought in small quantities and drunk as quickly as possible, the bulk of my tea drawer is made up of herbs and dried flowers that I use for tisanes.
Tisane usually refers to a non-caffeinated beverage made by steeping flowers, herbs, or spices in water. I’m very sensitive to caffeine, and after 6pm I don’t drink anything caffeinated. For this reason, linden blossom or cinnamon and honey tisane is one of my favorite ways to wrap up the day. Some infusions like linden, sage and ginger have health benefits, but I drink them for their aroma and taste. It takes less than 10 minutes to brew rose tea, but the boost you receive from a steaming cup that smells like summer itself lingers for hours.
I’ve already shared one of my favorite non-caffeinated drinks, ironically named café blanc, and here five other aromatic tisanes and infusions.
Linden or lime blossom (tilleul in French) has a lush orange blossom and honey perfume. When the trees bloom in May, I get drunk on the aroma of linden just by throwing open my windows. In a cup, the intoxicating sensation is much more delicate, but few things are as effective in brightening up a dull, cold evening. I pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 Tablespoon of dried flowers and let them infuse for 5-10 minutes. Besides its honeyed scent, linden tisane has relaxing, calming properties. It’s a perfect cup of tea to have before bed.
A touch of orange blossom water in linden tisane will accentuate the white floral notes.
Dried Roses and Honey
This is another beautiful tisane that’s worth making in a transparent cup so as to enjoy the soft petals unfolding in the hot water. You can experiment with the quantity of rose petals in your infusion, but start with 1 heaped Tablespoon for each cup of boiling water. Honey is a perfect partner to rose, since their aromas share much in common. To create the illusion of a blooming rose garden, add a twist of lemon and a splash of rosewater.
Rose is also a good addition for mixed floral teas, such as linden, lemon verbena, or chamomile.
Chilled Hibiscus (Karkadé, Flor de Jamaica)
Made from the dried sepals that surround the flowers of a roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) plant, hibscus tea will give you a sensory boost not through its scent but through its vivid color. It also tastes exhilaratingly tart and fruity. It’s the hue of crushed pomegranates and deep crimson roses. You can brew hibiscus hot, but I prefer a cold infusion, which makes for a drink with a more rounded flavor. I discovered the idea in a New York Times article on cold brewing tea and coffee by Harold McGee. You cover 1 cup of dried hibiscus with 4 cups of water and leave it for 4 to 12 hours. Strain and chill.
Sage and Honey
Sage tastes of sun burnt grasses, baked earth and musk. It’s an acquired taste because of its camphorous bite and lingering bitterness. I first tried it when a Greek friend brewed it for me, explaining that in some parts of the Mediterranean, sage tea is considered a panacea. I don’t know about curing all ills, but sage is very rich in antioxidants. Sage tea is comforting, and I love its bitterness that tastes the way the Greek countryside smells. I add 1 teaspoon of sage for each cup of water, let the herbs infuse for 10 minutes, strain, and stir in a dollop of honey.
Ginger and Cinnamon
When I need a cup of something warm without a jolt of caffeine, I opt for ginger and cinnamon tea. One sip, and I feel the warm wave moving through my limbs. To make it, slice or grate a piece of ginger (about 1/2 inch long) into a cup of boiling water, add 1/8 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and honey to taste. It will pleasantly burn your lips and make them tingle, and if, like me, you get chills easily, it will become your winter staple.
Another delicious warming variation is a traditional Korean jujube tea. Red dates (jujubes) have a caramel and dried pear flavor, and when boiled with slices of ginger and cinnamon sticks, they make a spicy, rich drink. I’ve long enjoyed it at my Korean friends’ houses, but thanks to my reader Anne, I now make my own. If you would like to try, here is a Jujube Tea recipe that I like. As Anne explained, you don’t need a pressure cooker to make it, but the dates should be boiled for at least an hour and a half. It’s worth making a large quantity and reheating the tea as needed. Red dates are found at Asian grocery stores.
Do you have any favorite tisanes?
Photography by Bois de Jasmin