Erin is the Communications Manager at Mountain Rose Herbs and an apprenticing herbalist at the Columbines School of Botanical Studies, where she botanizes and wildcrafts medicinal plants in the magnificent Oregon Cascades. www.mountainroseherbs.com
The allure of tea has captivated the world for more than 5,000 years. I, too, have been an enchanted teahead since the delicious liquor of Orange Pekoe first passed my lips. While my friends were slurping down sugary purple sodas and syrupy chocolate milk, I filled my cup with Dad’s iced sweet tea. He made a fresh pitcher every few days, brewing the tea to a strong black amber and then whipping sugar into the hot infusion before tossing just-sliced juicy lemon wheels into the dark swirling goodness. So refreshing during hot summer barbeques, the tea’s sweetness and astringency cut right through the wonderfully salty and greasy southern cooking of my childhood.
Beautiful whole leaf Oolong after a quick steep.
Photo by Erin McIntosh
The diverse world of tea blossomed for me 10 years ago when I moseyed into a new little tea house in my funky neighborhood. I stood at the counter in complete awe of the tea rainbow that surrounded me. Not knowing where to begin, I decided to try them all and ordered the first green tea on their menu. Within a few weeks, my kitchen cabinets were spilling with bags and tins of Assam, aged Pu’erh cakes, Dragon Well, Yunnan Golden Tips, fluffy sweet rose petals, vanilla chai, and smoky Lapsang Souchong.
I soon discovered my six must-have favorites …
1. Oolong: My absolute favorite green oolong is grown in the high mountains at elevations reaching over 3,500 feet. Each leaf is tightly rolled after withering in the sun and undergoing light oxidation. Boasting a sweet and flowery perfume, this tea is wonderfully floral and buttery, with a gorgeous green-gold liquor. Amazing!
2. Matcha: This delicious brew is made from young tea leaves that are crushed into a fine and glowy green powder. It can have a milky texture because you actually drink the whole leaves, instead of removing them from an infusion. Matcha is prepared and served during traditional tea ceremonies in Japan to imbue the spirit with humility and calm. I like to use the powder to make the most incredible lattes and ice cream!
3. Jasmine Pearls: Imagine a mouthful of flowers at sunset … that‘s the experience this tea provides. To make this elegant brew, the young downy tea leaf shoots are rolled into pearls and covered with fresh jasmine blossoms. Once the delicate tea leaves have absorbed the flowers’ sweet perfume, the pearls are separated and ready to steep.
Wonderfully fragrant jasmine pearls have absorbed the perfume of fresh jasmine flowers.
Photo by Thomas Dick
4. White Silver Needles: The first and most tender wooly leaf buds of the Camellia sinensis tree are hand-harvested every spring for just a few days to produce this tea, which is delicate and smooth with light floral notes and a soft nutty finish. Extremely rich in antioxidants, too!
5. Vanilla Rooibos: This African red tea is Aspalathus linearis, a shrub in the Fabaceae family that is rich in antioxidants, trace minerals, and nutrients—with no caffeine! Red Rooibos is oxidized and produces a stunning garnet infusion that is lusciously smooth, with a mellow sweetness. I like it perfumed with vanilla beans, but it’s lovely alone. Some people like to brew it strong and use shots of it in espresso-styled drink concoctions. You can also find green Rooibos that is completely unoxidized.
6. Yerba Maté: I love maté! The dried leaves from this tropical South American shrub (Ilex paraguariensis) should be steeped in hot, but not boiling, water. Though it is traditionally served in a gourd with a metal straw called a bombilla, I like it paired with orange peel or mint, and I sometimes make iced maté lattes with creamy coconut milk. Gently stimulating and nutrient-rich, maté is always a marvelous treat.
This tea blend is a delicious and colorful Evening Repose herbal tisane.
Photo by Thomas Dick