All the pretty flavored teas are…what?

I used to love the sheer variety of blends of tea and tisanes. The mixes of flowers, fruit pieces, even innovative nuts, spices, cacao beans, etc. was so impressive that I wished I could just buy flavored teas to use as decorative potpourri throughout my house.

But here’s the thing: I could never taste what was special about flavored black teas and white teas, and increasingly I found that flavored green teas tasted artificial. Guess why? It turns out that most flavored teas have, well, food flavors in them. These food flavorings can be artificial (made up of chemicals that mimic the smell and somewhat the taste of certain flavours) or natural flavors (like vanilla, citrus, etc.). But unless the tea manufacturer specifically states that the flavors they’ve added to tea blends are natural, you never know what they’ve put in. So when you think you’re drinking a lovely bit of pineapple and coconut in a pina colada tea, you could in fact be drinking some random unidentified flavoring. And those pineapple and coconut pieces? All just a show. Try it-steep dried pineapple and coconut pieces in hot water and see what it tastes like.

So I thought: huh. All those pretty flower, fruit, nut pieces-all just a show and the real flavor comes from…a chemistry lab? (Which reminds me-I remember creating artificial flavors in high school chemistry lab-if that doesn’t put you off artificial flavoring, I don’t know what does).

Generally most companies don’t fiddle around with herbal tea blends (but check anyway-if the ingredients list includes ‘flavor’ you know there’s some in there). And some companies either use no flavoring or they use only natural flavors. I’ve also found stevia, sugar (from dried fruit), and other ingredients in blends that I’m not super excited about. If you want to know who does what, maybe google around or ask your tea supplier. Decide for yourself what you are willing to take in your tea-nothing, natural flavor, artificial flavor, sugar/sugar substitutes, or anything as long as it tastes good.

For me, what I’ve found is: if you have really good, fresh tea, it’s got such amazing flavor nuances that ¬†you don’t really need to have gimmicky teas. Developing a flavor palate for pure teas, pure herbals and blends of pure teas/herbals is no different than doing so for anything else-be it coffee, chocolate, wine, etc. Once you have great teas, you never go back to the gimmicks.

Here’s a tisane (herbal tea) that I’ve been drinking a lot lately. It’s sweet, soothing, and I think it’d be a really sexy drink to serve guests in the afternoon or at a dinner party:

Cinnamon tisane:

3-4 Cinnamon sticks or about a half a tablespoon of cinnamon pieces (preferably organic, be sure to get the true cinnamon from Ceylon)
Boiling water, approximately one litre.

In a pitcher or teapot, place cinnamon sticks. Pour boiling water over, let steep. You can drink this warm after 10 minutes or as I do, you can let it cool and refrigerate it. If it’s too strong you can add a bit of water or some ice cubes. If it’s too weak for you, add a bit more cinnamon next time. Et voila, you’ve got a wonderfully flavoured, non-caffinated tisane that has nothing out of a chemistry lab in it.

Oh and those blends with flower/fruit/candy pieces lying around in your house? I’m sure they’d make lovely art projects…