I didn’t always love tea and in fact it took me quite a long time to find it. Having the opportunity to spend a few years in the tea industry while sipping and studying my way through the major tea-producing regions of the world was a revelation of sorts. There is incredible complexity of aroma, texture, and flavor, quality is affected by origin and processing expertise, and the choices are almost endless when it comes to variety. My work in sourcing high quality spices is exciting for all of those same reasons, so naturally I like to bring tea and spice flavors together.
What Is Tea?
Tea, in the most basic and technical sense, is a drink made from steeping the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant in water. When we add spices or other botanicals we create a blended tea. When spices or botanicals are steeped in the absence of tea leaves, we’ve made an herbal infusion— most commonly called herbal tea. There are endless ways to use spices to compliment your tea drinks, below you will find just a few of my favorite pairings.
When we think of tea and spice combinations, there is no greater contribution than the masala chai of India. Strong black tea from the northeastern state of Assam, made in the CTC style (crush, tear, curl) looks almost like coarse-ground coffee and brews up rich and dark. A very bold style of tea is required to stand up to all of that spice flavor.
Classic chai masala spices like cardamom pods, black peppercorns, cracked cinnamon, and a hint of clove can be fortified with fresh ginger root and grated nutmeg to finish. Making the best chai at home takes a little time and effort. Our Chai blend of spices is a delicious quick fix if you’re in a rush, but slowing down and making chai from scratch will produce a next-level flavor experience. Here are a few tips to help get the most from your masala chai at home.
- Choose a strong black tea from Assam, CTC style in loose leaves or tea bags.
- Use full fat milk, making sure to carefully bring it to boil 2-3 times. Boiling changes the protein structure in milk, making it easier to digest and transforming its flavor to nutty and sweet.
- Coarsely grind your spices right before you use them. A coarse spice blend will produce the most balanced flavor as they release flavor into your steeping liquid.
- Add a small knob of crushed, fresh ginger root toward the end of steeping for brightness. Adding the ginger too early will give you only heat.
- Don’t skimp on the sugar. Sugar is an essential ingredient to balance the sharp heat of the spices and the richness of the milk.
Floral Infused Flavors
Scenting teas with flower petals is a centuries-old practice in Chinese tea production. Fragrant blossoms of osmanthus, jasmine, and rose, are picked and allowed to mingle amongst the tea leaves, imparting their subtle and soothing character to the finished brew. Try using Ceylon or Indian tea leaves steeped with just a few crushed buds of high quality lavender from our small-farm partner in Montana. Or, prepare a cup of Chinese black tea as you normally would and finish it with just 2-3 small drops of our pure distilled rose flower water and melt your stress as you sip.
Green Tea with Gusto
Green teas, while more delicate in flavor and aroma, pair particularly well with other flavors that are zesty and bright. Gunpowder green tea is inexpensive and can be earthy and slightly smoky from the drying process, making it the perfect companion for dried spearmint. Sweeten with a few shakes of vanilla bean sugar and you have an aromatic twist on Moroccan mint tea. If you enjoy a little more bite, add a touch of dried lemon peel to your leaves while they steep.
Japanese kukicha (stem tea) is a less expensive but still delicious alternative to sencha and is even more exciting when brewed with a few crushed sansho peppercorns. The bright citrus and electric mouthfeel of the sansho enhance the fresh sweetness of the tender stem and stalk material in the green tea.
Article by Alex Wilkens, VP of Product and Sourcing