I’m not, by nature, someone who loves winter (resignation just about sums up my attitude). But even I can admit there are redeeming factors: less to do outside allows for more time cozy inside, dark nights mean lighting candles while cooking dinner, and a craving for homemade polenta or pizza warms the apartment pleasantly, instead of turning it into a nuclear furnace like it would have in the summer. And, of course, there are the many, many cups of tea, which help too.
This winter, my partner experimented with making his own tea blends, some for holiday gifts and some to keep at home for us to use. It was a genius idea, and I wanted to share some of the ingredients we now keep on hand, and how to think through blending them.
It’s good to start with a couple of the plain loose-leaf teas you like best, perhaps purchased in jars in your local bulk foods aisle. If you always have a cup of black tea, that might serve as your base. I prefer herbal teas, so we bought rooibos (my favorite), chamomile, hibiscus leaves, and dried lavender.
To the store-bought teas, you can then add your own flavors. We dried lemon peels, orange peels, and ginger as additions, but other foods would be work too: sage or mint from indoor herb plants, turmeric shavings from a leftover root wilting in your crisper, or lemongrass cuttings from the recipe that didn’t quite use it all. Drying the peels and ginger proved to be much easier than I’d imagined: for the peels, simply remove the pith from organic citrus peels, chop them into thin squares or strips, and dry them, stirring occasionally, in a low oven (275 degrees). For ginger, same thing: to make it easier to shave into strips, we froze whole roots, allowed them to thaw slightly, and then used a peeler to peel them into wide, thin pieces that we slid into the same low oven.
Once you have a few different ingredients at the ready, blend away. We chose combinations like rooibos + ginger + lemon or lavender + chamomile + ginger. You could make a homemade chai, a blend for mornings and a different blend for evenings, a soothing recipe for a friend in need of comfort, or simply a homemade version of your favorite blend that you usually purchase pre-made. I find myself reaching for a pinch of dried ginger for tea most mornings, and it’s nice to have it on hand in a jar that’s easy to grab, rather than tucked deep in the freezer where using it is more laborious.
So far I’ve only made blends based on taste and common sense, but there are more formulaic and scientific ways to think through tea blends, too. Friends of mine who had the same idea last holiday season introduced me to this chart, which explains how to choose a base and several top notes that work well together.
I noted recently on Instagram that DIY projects are not necessarily more sustainable than their ready-made counterparts, but that they do give us the opportunity to choose materials carefully and thoughtfully, with an eye toward the sustainability of each. With this project, I think, that’s very much true. Making my own teas from separate components allows me to choose a base that’s bulk and fair trade and to cut down on food waste by throwing extra food into the oven and then a tea blend. It turns citrus peels from scraps to food, extra ginger or herbs from a nuisance to a delight, one jar of plain rooibos tea into ten different possibilities.
Have you ever made your own tea? Or other blend suggestions to share, or things to dry?
(Photos of me by Liliana Coehlo for Litterless).