Tea of the Week: Sakura Blossom Tea

Japan is brimming with cherry blossoms this time of year. Just this past week, my great friend Danielle from This Picture Book Life got a glimpse of the blooming beauties, up close and personal, on her visit to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo. Me, jealous? You got that right!Every spring, Japan’s meteorological agency tracks the blooming of cherry blossoms across Japan. This geographical mapping helps for people to plan for hanami, otherwise known as picnicking under cherry blossom trees…sounds splendid, doesn’t it? My only hope (at least for this year) is to sit back with a cup of sakura tea in my living room…because darn it, if I can’t enjoy springtime in Japan then at least springtime in Japan can come to me!Brewing sakura tea or sakura-yu is an exquisite experience. The pickled blossoms unravel into delicate, feathery, tutu-like blooms upon being hit with hot water. The diaphanous petals give way to a salty, floral sip that’s certainly not your everyday herbal brew. If you’ve ever had sakura tea before and found it too salty, do what my tea blogger friend Nicole from Tea for Me Please suggests and keep a spoon and bowl of the saltier first steep (used to rinse the blossoms) around. You’ll be able to easily adjust the strength of the tea to your liking.

Tasting Notes for Sakura Cherry Blossom Tea:

BREWING TIPS:  Have 2 teacups ready. In one cup, steep 1 large or 2 smaller blossoms in 160 degrees F water for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, use a spoon to transfer the steeped blossoms to a new cup. Leave the cup containing the first steep aside. Fill the second cup with hot water, then enjoy this tea. Spoon more of the stronger, saltier first steep into the second steep to your taste preference.
THE TEA:  Expect the blossoms to be hot pink or bright mauve in appearance, with brown stems. They’ll be completely covered in salt, so it’s a good idea to shake some of the excess salt off before steeping.
THE SCENT:  Preserved in tons of salt and plum vinegar, the blossoms smell sweet and pungent as you would expect from something that’s been pickled.
THE STEEP:  A faint, pinkish-yellow brew that’s lightly floral and slightly salty. Subtle on the palette and best enjoyed hot to bring out the mild flavors. Expect the blossoms to lighten in color as they steep.
GET IT:  At well-stocked Japanese markets or on Amazon.com.
FOOD PAIRING:  I love to enjoy sakura tea with traditional red bean based Asian treats like steamed buns or mochi. The mild saltiness of the brew is a nice contrast to the sweet, heavier taste of adzuki bean. For a savory change, enjoy these with decorative Matcha Sushi Balls. The blossoms can also be used to decorate and cook with as long as you give them a quick rinse to remove the excess salt and then dry them with paper towels. If you end up eating the blossoms their sour flavor will be that much more pronounced.

Tea of the Week: Pukka’s Lemon, Ginger, and Manuka Honey

I’ll admit it, I’m not always the biggest fan of herbal teas. Sometimes, they can taste medicinal, bitter, or just plain strange. Just when I want to write them off, I’ll stumble upon a blend that changes my mind. It’s possible for caffeine-free blends to be every bit as delicious as tea-based ones…sometimes, it just takes a bit of trial and error. One of these pleasing herbal blends is Pukka’s Lemon, Ginger, and Manuka Honey Herbal Tea…enticing from first site to last sip!

If you aren’t familiar with the tea company Pukka, this colorful, vibrant brand is built on organic herbal teas for well-being. If you ever come across a set of Pukka’s teas, you won’t be able to take your eyes off of them. Each box looks like an artfully wrapped gift. The mere glimpse of their packaging makes me feel like some yoga and meditation time are in order.

I first discovered Pukka Teas at the Berkeley Bowlan artisan food store just outside of the U.C. Berkeley campus, which happens to be my hubby’s alma mater. It’s not surprising to find a brand like Pukka in place Berkeley, as the label prides itself on values like healthfulness, conservation, and the protection of nature. You can literally taste that vision in each sip of their teas…all of their brews are naturally organic and free of artificial flavoring.

If you like the spicy taste of ginger, then you will certainly enjoy this blend. At first, you’ll taste the sharp acidity and slight bitterness of the lemons. This gentle kick is followed by a tinge of heat from the ginger followed by a smooth, lingering touch of mild sweetness from manuka honey, a New Zealand sourced treasure that’s thought to have antioxidant properties.

As we head into flu season, Pukka’s Lemon, Ginger, and Manuka Honey Tea is the ideal brew to nourish yourself with. The blend is so deeply soothing that you can easily drink it before an afternoon snooze or even just before bedtime. Whether you are feeling sick or not it doesn’t matter, because this rejuvenating cup of pure comfort is bliss anytime you’re in need of some extra TLC.

Tasting Notes for Pukka’s Lemon, Ginger, & Manuka Honey Herbal Tea:

BREWING TIPS:  212 degrees F for at least 5 minutes. Just leave the tea bag in to steep for as long as you want!

THE BLEND:  Sun-ripened Sicilian lemons and ginger root, both slow-dried. The blend also has licorice root, elderflower, fennel seed, lemon verbena leaf, turmeric root, lemon essential oil, lemon myrtle leaf, and manuka honey flavor mixed in.

THE SCENT:  Smells of sunny citrus blossoms and fragrant ginger.

THE STEEP:  The tisane is floral, slightly sweet, and very smooth and soothing. Brews to a frosty yellow like fresh lemonade. Even though the blend has a good amount of lemon and ginger root, it isn’t harsh, acidic, or bitter. The fennel seeds help to round out the flavors without overwhelming the brew.

GET IT:  Find this blend online at the Pukka’s beautiful site and also on Amazon or some vitamin/health food stores. If you are ever around the Berkeley area in Northern California, definitely check out the Berkeley Bowl, where you’ll find a huge variety of Pukka’s teas to choose from and many other organic goodies as well!

FOOD PAIRING:  This blend will enhance any lightly sweet treat with ginger or lemon in it. Gingersnaps, a lemon poppy seed muffin, or a thick slice of Hachiya Persimmon Bread would all be perfect with this herbal brew.

Tea of the Week: Spicely Organic’s Sweet Turmeric Kick

Sweet Tumeric If you’re looking for a tea to tip off the start of autumn, Spicely Organic’s Sweet Turmeric Kick will get things moving into full swing. This “tea” actually isn’t tea-based at all. Instead, it combines the warm flavors of ground turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon into a bright and soothing herbal blend that’s completely camellia sinensis free.

Spicely Organics is a San Francisco based company well-known for their huge variety of organic spices, so making a spice-based tea is certainly natural leap for them. Sweet Turmeric Kick’s light, lingering notes of honey-like sweetness come from vanilla powder and stevia. The spicy and sweet flavors meld together to make a snappy yet smooth cup of tea.

After brewing, expect the ground spices to pool at the bottom of your teacup or teapot, so periodically stir the tea if you want the full taste of the spices to come through in every sip. You can also try steeping the tea in regular milk, almond milk, or soy milk for some added heft and creaminess. On a cool fall day and even into winter, the brew will taste delicious this way.

Tasting Notes for Spicely Organic’s Sweet Turmeric Kick:

BREWING TIPS:  A half teaspoon for every 8 ounces doesn’t seem like much but it’s the perfect amount! Brew at 200-210 degrees F and enjoy warm.

THE BLEND:  Bright, auburn-orange powder with the tiniest fibers of ginger flecked throughout.

THE SCENT:  The blend itself smells earthy, slightly mustardy, and peppery. Once it’s brewed, the tea smells lighter and sweeter, and has a honey-like essence.

THE STEEP:  Brews to the most beautiful shade of bright, sunny orange. The brew is slightly cloudy when you first brew it, but it will become clearer once the spices settle. The steep tastes of butternut squash, pumpkin pie, and sweet melon.

GET IT:  The blend is available at Spicely Organics’s website.

FOOD PAIRING:  This would be perfect with Indian foods like a fresh piece of Spice in the City’s Garlic Naan Bread or My Food Tapestry’s Beetroot Parathas. The tea would also be great for breakfast with other hearty breads like muffins and whole grain bread or even french toast or pancakes.

Yanabah Navajo Tea

Yanabah Navajo Tea is an herbal tea made from the greenthread plant.  Greenthread is actually a member of the sunflower family, and grows wild on Navajo reservation lands where it is harvested during fall and winter months.  It is most plentiful in the Four Corners Region of the United States, including Arizona and New Mexico.

Grandmother Yanabah is the inspiration behind this brand of tea.  She shared the process of picking, drying, and brewing this mellow and comforting blend to future generations, hoping they would cherish and continue such traditions.  It is through her that Yanabah Navajo Tea was born.

I prefer to drink Navajo tea hot, as it’s gentle, earthy qualities are most obvious this way. The drink has an undeniably calming effect, wonderful for winding down after a long, hectic day.  Freshly made golden fry breads make an authentic snack to have with Greenthread tea.   With each sip and bite, you’ll be transported farther back into a simpler time and place of Native American tradition.

Tasting Notes:

BREWING TIPS:  3-4 minutes @ 212 degrees F.

THE LEAF:  Super-thin, almost fiber-like long leaves.

THE SCENT:   Grassy and herbal, much like chrysanthemum and other herbal flower teas.

THE STEEP:  A sunny yellow with a slight green hue.  Mild and mellow, with a gentle sweetness.  Serve hot or over ice.  Add honey or agave nectar if you’d like!

GET IT:  At the Yanabah Tea website or through Amazon.

Rosy Apple Tisane

rosy apple tisane

I gave up drinking diet sodas earlier this year, right before summer began, and haven’t looked back since.  Early on, my go-to replacement when I was craving a diet soda was fruit-infused water— a bit of extra work but totally refreshing and satisfying.  If you haven’t had them already, infused waters are created by taking fragrant fruits like strawberries, pineapple, or even cucumbers (preferably organic) and letting them sit and mingle with water.  Consider this recipe the fall version of those refreshing summer steeps.

Rose bud tea is picked when roses are still very small and haven’t bloomed yet.  Tea blenders often add rose buds into black, green, or even oolong teas to perfume them with rosy fragrance.  This recipe showcases the rose bud tea’s aromatic beauty while using apples to complement with subtle, natural sweetness.

Rose Water and Buds Revised

It’s important to note that calling rose bud tea a “tea” isn’t actually accurate.  As these buds are considered to be caffeine-free, the brewed infusion is more accurately referred to as a tisane—in this case, we are blending a flower tisane (rose buds) with a fruit tisane (apple).

I actually like brewing this tisane several hours before I plan on having it.  This allows the rose buds and apple to thoroughly infuse the water with delicate sweetness.  I like to have this tea chilled over ice, but it’s also really comforting served hot.  If you prefer adding a caffeinated kick to this tea, it would be great with your favorite non-flavored black or green tea thrown in.  If you do steep some regular caffeinated tea in, just make sure avoid over-brewing so that the delicate taste of the rose buds still comes through.

The final addition to this simple tisane is rose water.  Rose water is widely used in Middle Eastern delicacies like baklava and Turkish Delight.  This essence is a by-product of the perfume making process, created in the making of rose oil.  I’ve also used rose water to flavor marshmallows, although I must admit I think I was a bit heavy handed when I used it…this stuff is very strong, and can be an acquired taste.  There is nothing worse than tasting something that actually tastes like perfume, so rest assure; I’ve measured the amount used in this recipe thoughtfully.

Here’s a simple recipe for a sweet and elegant herbal tea to put those extra fall apples to good use.  This tisane is high in Vitamin C–pleasantly soothing, unique, and ideal any time of day.  Consider this brew a beautiful, delicious cup of aromatherapy.

Rosy Apple Tea

Serves  2.

Ingredients:

¼ cup rose bud tea

1 apple, sliced

¼ tsp rose water

4 cups boiling water

Sliced apples to garnish

Directions:

1.)  Place rose buds and sliced apple in heat-resistant bowl or pitcher.

2.)  Bring water to full boil and pour into bowl/pitcher.  Let the buds and apple steep for at least 8 minutes and up to 4 hours.

3.)  Mix in ¼ teaspoon of rose water, and serve warm or over ice.