Whilst tea will always be the "bread and butter" at Tea Palace, we are proud and dedicated to our ever expanding range of tea tonics, infusions and caffeine-free options. One of the most exciting things about curating our collections is the wide array of herbs, spices and other botanicals available to us. Let us take a look into some of these excellent ingredients and how they come to be used in your favourite blends.
To begin with, we should take a look at two of the most popular and well-known botanicals available: Chamomile and Peppermint. These feature heavily on tea menus and in many blends, but what about them is so popular, and why do they seem to work so well with such variety of other ingredients?
Whilst generally indigenous to many regions in the world, most chamomile that you will see in day-to-day use for consumption will come from two specific varieties of Chamomile: “German” and “Roman”. These two chamomile varieties are most commonly cultivated, but probably the most highly praised is German chamomile as it is hardy, mid-coloured and strongly aromatic with apple and honey tones in the growing plant. Much of the most excellent quality chamomile available is grown in Egypt.
When referring to chamomile, it is the flower and petals of the plant that are used in infusions and that contain the flavour. The stem of the plant is less palatable and so it is easy to determine the quality of chamomile from the amount of fibrous stalk pieces included. The fewer of these, the higher quality the product.
Because of the strong apple and honey notes produced from infusing the flowers, chamomile is enjoyed by many as a standalone infusion, but these characteristics also make it an excellent ingredient when mixed with complementary flavours. As chamomile can have a distinct “cereal” flavour, it does not usually lend itself particularly well to tea blends as most teas are too savoury and dry to work with the subtle flavours; however it is excellent when combined with fruits and florals such as lavender, rose, orange and apple as it tends to add depth, character and mouth feel as well as distinct chamomile flavours to these blends.
Of course, no exploration of chamomile would be complete without discussing the health benefits of this remarkable flower. Extremely well-known for its calming properties and often taken as a tonic for anxiety or sleeping problems, chamomile is also used frequently as a digestive and it is said to help with the symptoms of irritable bowel and stomach aches. Pharmacological research also suggests that chamomile may be anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antimutagenic and have positive affects upon blood cholesterol levels.
So, chamomile is a floral all-rounder; delicious, distinctive and versatile. Needless to say we only ever stock full chamomile flower heads and all of our chamomile is organic. To explore some of the ways that we use this incredible ingredient, take a look at our Pure Organic Chamomile, Organic Chamomile Calm or Organic Chamomile and Lavender.
Indigenous to Europe and the Middle East, peppermint is now grown the world over, but most of the highest quality peppermint used for infusions today comes from the Middle East. Peppermint is actually quite an interesting plant because it is technically a hybrid of the other famous mint (spearmint) and watermint. Because peppermint is a hybrid, it usually does not produce seeds and instead grows out from runners once placed into an environment. This means that it is extremely hardy and can (and will!) grow almost anywhere it is planted – as I’m sure the gardeners amongst you know!
Peppermint has a high oil content and it is this oil which gives peppermint its distinct menthol flavour. In order to retain as much of this oil as possible, peppermint is best harvested in the morning when the oil in the plant is richest and before it dries out throughout the day.
Much of the dried leaf peppermint that you will find on the market includes leaves which have been milled into very small pieces which results in a very strong, menthol cup of tea. The alternative is large cut leaf or whole leaf, each with a slightly lesser menthol flavour in the brewed infusion. Whole leaf is preferred by some as it usually results in a cup with less menthol flavour and more of a citrus note. This makes for an interesting cup but generally slightly less healthy as there is less release of those vital oils into the infusion. The middle stage is large cut leaf, which is where the leaves are partially cut of broken to release oils which results in a strongly menthol cup, but also allows the subtle undertones of caramel to come through in the brewed cup which adds and extra complexity to the cup not seen with milled or whole leaf infusions.
The strong flavour of peppermint lends itself well as a standalone infusion and also as a versatile blending ingredient. It works better with fresh, herbaceous teas such as Darjeeling and Ceylon rather than malty, full-bodied teas such as Assam; but that is not to say that it cannot work at all in appropriate quantities. Other excellent flavours to blend with peppermint are rose, citrus, and jasmine. Lavender can also work well, but as they share very similar properties (lavender being another mint family member) getting the proportions exactly right is crucial in these blends.
Peppermint is famously taken for a variety of health benefits. It is said to aid digestion and concentration (in fact the Romans are said to have used is specifically for this purpose). It is also used to relieve the symptoms of headache, irritable bowel, heartburn, diverticulitis, nausea and motion sickness.
Peppermint is popular, familiar and an excellent palate cleanser. We always choose large cut leaf for our peppermint leaves as we believe that the caramel finish from the resulting cup is the finest of the different peppermint cut types. Perhaps you could take the opportunity to experiment and see if there are any other subtleties that you can identify? You can try our Pure Organic Peppermint alone, blended with black tea in our bespoke Covent Garden Blend or even blended with jasmine green tea in our popular Jasmine & Mint blend.