Tea is pretty much the beverage of choice here at Happy Acres. And for much of the year, that means iced tea. There is almost always a pitcher of tea available here for me and my wife to drink, or to offer up to visitors. And that tea is almost always infused with some sort of herb, usually something from our own garden.
Mint is one tea herb that gets a lot of use here. I’ve been a fan of mint tea for a long time. To my taste buds, mint and tea just seem like a marriage made in heaven! I planted several mints in the herb garden at my first house, and I’ve been growing a variety of them ever since. It was back then that I first learned that mint spreads like crazy, and needs to be contained somehow or it will quickly take over. Now I grow it in containers, where it can more easily be kept from becoming invasive.
A lot of different mints can be used for teas. I have quite a selection to choose from myself these days, from spearmint types like Moroccan Mint and Mint Julep to peppermints like Blue Balsam and Black Mitcham. That’s spearmint ‘The Best’ in the below photo, growing in a container. Chocolate mint is another great mint that combines peppermint flavor and aroma with subtle chocolate overtones. And I’ve recently become fond of Orange Mint, Mentha citrata, which has rounded leaves and a perfumed citrus aroma. Most mints dry well too, and you can always do like I do and keep some dried mint in a jar for winter use.
Some of my other favorite tea herbs include lemongrass, lemon verbena and lemon balm. Lemongrass and lemon verbena are not winter hardy here in my area, but they can easily be grown in containers. You can also plant them in the ground for summer, then dig them and pot them up before freezing weather arrives. They are easy to over-winter indoors, and you can always harvest a few leaves as needed. Lemongrass is very easy to start from stalks you can buy at the grocery, and you can read more about how to grow it here: Saturday Spotlight Lemongrass. I don’t think lemongrass retains much flavor after drying, but lemon verbena and lemon balm are both quite nice when used dried.
Though I’ve tried other methods over the years, like making sun tea, I use the coffee maker these days to make my infused teas. It’s quick, easy, and produces consistent results. I did buy a second permanent type filter that I use exclusively for the herbal teas. That way I don’t wind up with herbal flavored coffee when I use the coffee maker to brew my morning joe. You can also use a paper filter and accomplish the same thing.
Just prior to brewing, I chop up the herbs coarsely. Bruising the leaves helps release the volatile oils so they can get infused in the tea as it brews. I usually use two or three tablespoons of fresh herbs, or about two teaspoons of dried, but you’ll have to experiment to find the amount that’s right for your tastes. I like to use four of the regular sized tea bags, or one family sized, per 12 ‘cup’ pot of water. Black, green and white tea can all be used, and my current favorite is a mix of green and white. I add the chopped up herbs in with the tea in the filter, then it’s time to brew the tea. After brewing I let the tea cool before adding ice, unless I’m in a hurry.
Making your own infused iced tea is a great way to enjoy the variety of mints and other tea herbs. They add a lot of flavor to tea, without adding a lot of calories. And with such a variety of herbs to choose from, there’s sure to be something to please everyone!