Anatomy of a Tea

Due to the ‘Weekly Ramblings’ posts, I am trying to make it a habit to take brief notes over the course of the week.  Easier to write something coherent when you have reference points.

If you follow me on Twitter (SageNatural), you may have caught some commentary on the creation of a new tea.  Realizing that I had entirely too much to say about the new tea, and the process of creating a tea, I decided it should have its own post.

The beginning of any tea, of course, is the idea – though the spark of inspiration can come from any of a number of different places.  We’ve had teas start as a name, with no initial concept for what they should taste like.  Other times we start experimenting with a new ingredient, and once I’ve established that it can be worked with, my mind floods with the various ways in which it could be utilized.  Conversations in a variety of venues (both in life and online) will  have me scribbling down notes on whatever is handy, for future teas (or coffees or cocoas.)

DSN - Recipe Box Diving

Mister Tea and I have acknowledged with a certain rueful certainty, that we will probably never run out of ideas for additional tasty or helpful things.  At times I think this is old writer/gamer mental muscles applying themselves to our current work.

The tea I have been working on this week was sparked by a *conversation on Twitter:

MDH:  “So…if you were planning a novel-revision all nighter, what would you bring to the party?”

DSN:  “One of our stronger black teas, bowl of nuts and fruit bits or something else easy to nosh without paying attention.”

MDH:  “ooooh yes. I have pecans, dried apricots, and Russian wedding tea. I also have chocolate.”

DSN:  “I should have thought of the chocolate, too. Always good for long nights.  Although now I want to make a chocolate caravan apricot tea.”

MDH:  “please make that!!!! That’s the tea I want!”

With this indication that I was not insane, and that at least one other person would want to drink the tea, I scribbled it down, and went on with the regular work of the day.  (There have been a couple of ideas that Mister Tea has proclaimed as “too weird.”)

I’d actually been feeling a bit stifled, these past weeks.  The “interesting times” 2015 has gifted us with had left me with a stack of backlogged things to do, and I hadn’t been able to settle down and create anything in weeks.  (Enough of them that it felt like ages had passed, continents shifted, and…  Well, maybe not quite that bad.  But if you are an artist of any sort, you probably understand what I was feeling.)

As strange as it may sound, creating a tea gives me a similar feeling of joy and relaxation that writing stories or music does.  And, just as in any other endeavour, sometimes it comes together easily, and sometimes I’m still wrestling with getting the right balance of ingredients after six hours of testing.  (Most of the time that happens with medicinals, due to our requirement that they should at least be something that doesn’t require holding your nose and drinking really swiftly, and we prefer for them to actually taste good.)

Once we have the idea, it moves into the second stage:  What, exactly, should be in this tea, and do we have it all on hand?

2015-ACRC-Ingredients on mezzaluna 3

With this week’s project, I was in luck.  Cacao Nibs and Russian Caravan tea are two of our relatively standard ingredients, and I’d chosen freeze-dried apricot as a “fill in the order for better shipping” on one of our fruit and nut orders.  It isn’t always that easy.  We still have a few tea ideas waiting out around the edges that haven’t happened because I cannot find the things I need to make them.

After acquiring the ingredients comes the getting to know them.  Whenever I start working with something new, I have to test the taste of it, and see if it is going to require any extra work to turn it into something that can go into a tea and work correctly.  This can range from just breaking up whole berries right up to grating the root and then leaving it in the dehydrator for a decent chunk of a day…  An example is Nutmeg, which I actually wrote a post about.

2015-ACRC-Adding Apricot to the Mezzaluna Closeup

Apricot was a new one for me.  So I brewed a cup of what we had on hand, as if it were a tea.  I could taste it, and it might have worked on its own, but I didn’t think it would stand up to anything with a truly strong flavour.  So I dug out one of our mezzalunas and the cutting board that goes with it, and diced a bit of the apricot down into smaller pieces. More surface area = more flavour.  This is a truth we have discovered again and again, especially when working with fruits and nuts.

The test cup after dicing was far better, actually tasting more like liquid apricot.

2015-ACRC-Apricot Part 1 5

However, as I was still a bit worried about how apricot was going to work with the fairly bold flavours of Russian Caravan tea and Chocolate, I decided to take the additions one by one.  I’d done a bit of work with peach late last year, and it left me leery of working with more delicate stonefruits and black tea.

That first cup of chocolate and apricot was staggering, in a very good way.  The apricot didn’t completely overwhelm the chocolate, but it was almost as if the chocolate flung a gauntlet and the apricot picked it up and grinned – perhaps even asking the chocolate if it was feeling lucky.  Fiddled with the ratios a bit more, with Mister Tea weighing in on the balance, before finally deciding I was happy with it and moving on to the final ingredient.

Now, I love Russian Caravan, I really do.  I was blissfully happy when we finally found an organic Russian Caravan, not just because of the options it opened for the teas we could create, but because it meant I could finally drink one of my favorite teas again.

However, it is not a delicate flavour.  Far from.  If it were a character in a game it would probably have a lot of facial hair (possibly braided) and wield a large sword or an axe or something else hard to ignore.

From the first moment the idea had popped to mind I had worried that combining apricot and Russian Caravan would turn out to be impossible, given our guidelines for what we use to make our teas.

2015-ACRC-Mixed Tea

So, with a bit of trepidation, I blended up a small amount, brewed the cup…  and the smell alone was incredible.  The taste was blissful.  It took an act of will to leave the cup to cool (since we always test our teas both hot and cold) and not just wander off with it, possibly finding a book to read on the way back to somewhere comfy.  When Mister Tea came home and tasted it, he concurred that I’d likely gotten it right.

I’m not quite done with this tea, as yet.  When initially creating, the test batches are as small as I can possibly manage with the ratios I have in mind, so that if I get it horribly wrong, not too much has been wasted.  I still need to figure out what the weight on an actual batch will be, and how many cups of tea that will produce.  We also need to name it, and create the labels, and….  But the most important (and usually the most fun) step is done.

Hopefully this has given you a better idea of how we approach creating a tea.  I also hope it hasn’t convinced you I am a complete loon – unless, of course, I am a complete loon in just the right way.

*Conversation reproduced with permission.

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8 Replies to “Anatomy of a Tea”

    • *beckons Dix to the tea side of the force*
      In all seriousness, there has to be something I could create that you would enjoy….

  1. I love reading about what “blends” you when your trying/testing a mix of ingredients for one of your tasty herbal teas. Ms. Dix should take you up on your offer. Perhaps a colorful blend to go with her many lovely precious and semi-precious stones, a pick me up for busy mornings and afternoons as she’s always on the go, and a decadent indulgence like chocolate or or a favorite fruit to taste it to her liking, all combined in a tea bag so she’ll be tempted to heat some water and try a wonderful multi-faceted cup of tea 🙂

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