When you’re trying to kick a soda habit or cut back on caffeine, it can be hard to find an enjoyable replacement drink. Yes, water is the healthiest route. But if you want to keep things interesting, herbal tea is a worthy candidate. Hibiscus, peppermint, chamomile and so many more—each tea type has its own unique flavor and health properties.
Herbal tea is especially fun for DIY-lovers. You can buy pre-mixed blends at the store, but you can also create your own. Rewire connected with Roberta Fuhr, certified tea specialist and owner of Washington state-based Experience Tea, for a crash course in herbal tea blending.
While true teas–white, green, oolong, black and an aged tea called pu’er–are all made using leaves of the tea plant, herbal teas are different. They’re not made from tea leaves, and can actually include any number of different bases, from strawberry leaves to lemongrass, Fuhr said. Besides selling loose leaf tea, Fuhr also teaches classes, including a custom tea blending workshop.
Most herbal tea ingredients come with purported health benefits, but separating the truth from the hype can be quite tricky, she said. Does lavender really reduce the risk of stroke? Does rooibos actually lower blood pressure and improve bone health? Fuhr recommends relying on peer-reviewed scientific studies for information about the possible health benefits of herbal ingredients.
Regardless of its benefits or lack thereof, “tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world next to water, and can be found in almost 80 percent of all U.S. households,” according to a factsheet from the Tea Association of the USA, Inc. Millennials are the most likely group to drink tea—87 percent of us already do.
However, the way many of us are preparing our teas–herbal and otherwise–leaves much to be desired. If the only way you’ve ever experienced tea is via paper tea bag, consider upping your game: Loose leaf teas are higher quality, the Washington Post reported.
Ditching tea bags in favor of loose leaf varieties is the first step in creating a teahouse experience at home. But you can also become your own flavor mix-master and blend your own herbal tea varieties at home. Fuhr gave these tips for getting started:
1. Be mindful of your ingredient source
Quality reigns supreme when it comes to choosing a company to buy blending ingredients from, according to Fuhr, who has many of her ingredients shipped from the East Coast despite her West Coast location.
“You get what you pay for… I try to source organic as much as I can.”
She recommends staying away from the bulk ingredients sections of grocery stores and even health food stores, as it can be difficult to know how old those ingredients are, under what conditions they have been stored or how much they’ve been tampered with by other customers.
What about growing your own ingredients? Not only is that an option that requires space, time and other resources, but it has real potential to result in disappointment, because with, say, peppermint, there are many different hybrids to choose from, some of which will “taste terrible” when used as ingredients for tea, Fuhr said.
A good option is to shop online for organic ingredients. Don’t know what to buy? Think about what you’ve enjoyed in the teas you’ve had in the past.
2. Envision what you want to create
It’s time to start blending, and it’s best to “stay simple,” Fuhr said.
“Creating what you love is wonderful.”
Throughout this process, write down the types and amounts of each ingredient you use. That way, when you create a life-changing new blend, you’ll be able to re-create it later.
Add three tablespoons of a base ingredient to your mixing bowl.
The base is the ingredient that adds bulk to the background of herbal tea without dominating its flavor.
“It’s providing that space to add things to create more of a symphony,” Fuhr said.
You can use lemongrass, strawberry leaves, raspberry leaves, green rooibos and more. You can also mix more than one ingredient to create a blended base.
Add other ingredients in smaller amounts.
These can be anything from lavender to aromatic roses to cinnamon chips, shredded coconut and fennel seeds. Use less of the stronger ingredients. For example, you might only want to use one-fourth teaspoon of lavender to start. Also, don’t use too many ingredients; four of these is plenty.
Steep and taste your tea.
Do the ingredients you wanted to emphasize stand out? If not, you might consider adding more of them to your blend, brewing a second batch and tasting it again.
Have you created what Fuhr calls “a muddle,” or a blend where nothing stands out? Then you might want to start over.
Herbal tea is more than a beverage–it’s a multisensory experience. Don’t be afraid to add ingredients that won’t change the taste of your tea, such as cornflowers or marigolds, if it’ll make you feel good to create a tea that looks beautiful.
Fuhr noted that she often has customers come in and ask for “the tea with the little blue flowers,” even though the cornflowers she uses don’t change the tea’s flavor profile.
Rachel Crowell is an Iowa-based writer exploring science and math. Rachel lives with Delilah, a golden retriever a stranger once called “the cutest thing in America.” Outside of STEM topics, Rachel also welcomes writing opportunities on everything from art to finance. Follow them on Twitter at @writesRCrowell.