Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tulsi Tea with Calming Herbs

Yesterday I brewed a large pot of chai and then I drank several cups over the course of the afternoon.

That evening I had enough caffeine and chai spices in me to blast a small rocket into space. In other words, I didn't sleep well last night.

Today, I'm feeling an aversion to black tea, in fact caffeine of any kind. So the tea recipe I'm sharing is non-caffeinated and calming.

My friend Cindy, whose tea recipes these are, has made a variation of this particular brew for me on a number of occasions. Even though I generally choose a strong-flavored black tea over herbal, I have to say, I've always enjoyed the aroma and delicacy of this one.

Tulsi Tea with Calming Herbs
Into a tea pot toss the following:
1) Several leaves of holy basil or tulsi (from the garden or you can buy it dried).
2) A sprig of fresh rosemary
3) Half a stick of ground cinnamon
4) 1 teaspoon of dried or fresh lavender
5) About 6-8 cardamom pods, slightly ground. If you don't have a mortal and pestle, use the back of a wooden spoon to grind the pods on a wooden cutting board.
6) About four allspice or four black peppercorns
7) 1 teaspoon of dried ground licorice (not in pic above)
8) Pour 2-3 cups of water into pot and steep for about 10 mins.

Steeping will result in a subtle, delicate brew. For a stronger, more intense flavor you can put spices into a pot on the stove, add water and simmer on low for about 10 mins. Try both methods and note the difference.

In Australia a "cuppa" tea is usually had with a small biscuit (cookie) on the side. It's a British tradition we inherited. In fact the tradition of breaking for a mid-morning and late afternoon cuppa with a biscuit or piece of cake or crackers with cheese is still common, more so in rural areas than in the cities.

My mother always had several tins in the pantry filled with either home-made cookies or some sort of slice or fruit cake, all of which were on hand to have with a cuppa.

When I had afternoon tea with my grandmother (my mother's mother), who liked to imagine an affinity with the now deceased mother of Queen Elizabeth (they were born the same year), it was quite a performance.

The table was set with fine tea china (cup and saucer) including silver teaspoon and a side plate for the cookies she like to have with a cuppa. I recall enjoying these teas with Nana because of the melt-in-the-mouth butter cookies she'd serve; they were far fancier than the oatmeal drops my mother made for tea (my version in the pic above).

Afternoon tea was a ritual for my grandmother. It involved setting the table and boiling the kettle longer than need be. Fortunately she'd remove the whistle while she'd warm her teapot with hot water from the kitchen tap.

While the teapot warmed, she'd place several cookies on a platter, pour milk into a small jug, and retrieve her Orange Pekoe Fortnum and Mason tea tin from the cupboard. She'd add a teaspoon of tea to the pot per person, so that's 3 teaspoons of loose-leaf tea for two people, and then fill the pot with boiling water.

Nana had a selection of knitted, crocheted, and hand sewn tea cosies which fitted over her teapot; one of those cosies would go over the pot which she would then place on the table where she'd insist it must sit and steep for at least 5 minutes.

At this point, I'd usually be frothing at the mouth with impatience, but in the manner of traditional Japanese tea ceremony, English-style afternoon tea is a lesson in patience.

Now this next step is important, because I do believe it changes the flavor of tea: Nana always poured her milk into her cup first. She would then slowly pour her tea over the milk, stopping at the half-way-up-the-cup mark to return the pot to its upright position (presumably to let the water in the pot swirl around the tea leaves one last time) before resuming filling her cup.

I have no clue why, but adding tea to milk affords more tea flavor than adding milk to a cup of poured tea.

And once our cups were filled with tea, Nana would stir hers with her silver teaspoon (she wasn't stirring in sugar because she didn't have sugar in her tea, I think she just liked this final step in the ritual).

I'd follow protocol and offer my grandmother one of her cookies before helping myself, and then finally we'd sip our tea. But dunking one's cookie was an absolute no-no!

Enjoy your tulsi tea with calming herbs -- however you choose to brew and serve it.

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