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Spice Up Your Cup Of Tea With A Splash Of Holiday Flavors

Creating a holiday tea blend with dried fruits and spices is a nice way to add a Christmas touch to your daily routine. Credit: Copyright 2016 Desktop Nexus

Creating a holiday tea blend with dried fruits and spices is a nice way to add a Christmas touch to your daily routine. Credit: Copyright 2016 Desktop Nexus

Christmas tea blends are a nice way to add some holiday spirit to your daily routine. Christmas tea blends and the similar masala chai tea often include black tea, clove, cinnamon and orange peel, with some variations adding vanilla, fruit, nuts, pine needles, cinnamon candies or cacoa nibs (part of a cocoa bean).

Taste the Tea reference reviews more than 50 versions. These blends can be prepared as plain tea or served with milk and sugar, the same as black tea in general.

A masala chai blend is an Indian version of spiced tea — that’s what it means when translated. They typically include black tea, cardamom, clove, cinnamon and a lot of ginger and often also black pepper and star anise. Masala chai is traditionally boiled vs. brewed (simmered vs. steeped in hot water), cooked along with milk to draw the most out of the spices.  A four- to five-minute steep doesn’t release most of the flavor in spices, and very little from the dried fruit, but it would draw a lot out of a tea.

Adding sugar helps offset the spiciness of masala chai, and the same is true of Christmas blends to some extent. Clove sounds great in a tea, but it’s a challenge to balance tasting like clove and being too spicy, and even the citrus works better with enough sweetness to round it out.

Preparing versions of either tea blend at home is like cooking. The following explains how to prepare Christmas blends if you want to go beyond buying a premade blend, which also works.

Preparation

Boiling a tea instead of steeping it makes it easier to adjust the recipe in mid-process.  Boiling with milk actually changes the milk flavor, cooking it to some extent. No matter how a tea blend is made, excessive strength can be offset by adding milk and sugar or even more hot water. If a tea is prepared by simmering instead cooking, time doesn’t matter so much. Ten minutes would draw a lot of flavor out of a blend, and beyond 20 minutes not so much would change, unless hard-to-infuse ingredients like whole cloves or dried fruit chunks are included.

Black tea recommendations

The obvious choices when looking for a black tea would be loose Ceylon or Assam, bold, malty, earthy and astringent black teas from Sri Lanka and India, respectively. Most versions are moderately priced ($3 to $5 per 50 grams/2 ounces), but slightly better versions might be worth the extra expense.

Mixing two completely different black teas works well, adding depth. Consider using either Ceylon or Assam tea along with a milder Chinese black tea. Many other countries produce good black teas in a range of styles, but they may be harder to find.

Spices

Dried fruit and spices are commonly used to create specialty tea blends. Credit: Copyright 2016 Taste the Tea

Dried fruit and spices are commonly used to create specialty tea blends. Credit: Copyright 2016 Taste the Tea

When making a tea blend, preground spice-rack versions will work. Using fresher, more whole spices and grinding them when you make the tea is better, but striking a practical balance related to expense might make sense. Using real vanilla beans adds a thick texture, in addition to a rich, pleasant flavor.

Variations

It’s possible to substitute green tea or oolong when making a holiday blend, but you will lose the earthy, warm-toned black tea base that works well with such blends. Adding mint might work, or even real chocolate, but for the latter the flavor addition is offset by adding an unusual texture. Different types of fruits can also complement a blend, for example dark cherry or nectarine or any dried fruit can be added to a dry tea blend. Orange rind is easiest to prepare: Simply peel off a thin layer of the outer rind of a well-washed orange with a peeler and dry on low heat in an oven, about a half-hour or so. For an even faster version, just grate the outer surface off any citrus fruit as a ground zest to use directly in your blend. Teaberry or elderberry are nice as well, just not as easy to come by.

Chocolate-covered cherry tea blend

Make a chocolate-covered cherry tea with black tea, cacao nibs, cocoa powder, vanilla bean and black cherry preserves. Credit: Copyright 2016 John Bickel

Make a chocolate-covered cherry tea with black tea, cacao nibs, cocoa powder, vanilla bean and black cherry preserves. Credit: Copyright 2016 John Bickel

This tea tastes almost exactly like the holiday candies. It would match those even more closely without tea added, and using half and half instead, but that would just be a version of hot chocolate.

This recipe raises the issue of children drinking tea, or more specifically is they should consume caffeine. Per the traditional Chinese understanding, children can drink mild teas as young as 1 year old. According to some modern Western medical sources, preteen children should consume no caffeine at all. Blends not using black tea could still work, with the resulting drink more similar to cocoa or hot spiced cider.

Adjust the amounts of the ingredients to your taste.

Yield: 1 cup

Ingredients

3 cups water (based on using approximately one cup of milk to prepare four cups of tea)

4 teaspoons loose black tea (Assam, Ceylon or a mix of two different tea types)

4 teaspoons cacao nibs (can substitute 2 teaspoons cocoa powder)

1 vanilla bean (can substitute 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

2 tablespoons black cherry preserves

Sugar to taste

Milk to taste

Directions

1. Boil ground spices first if using cacao nibs and vanilla bean, simmering on low for 5 minutes

2. Simmer tea and all the other ingredients for 10 minutes, tasting to adjust sugar and milk levels to your preference.

3. Strain to remove tea and spices from liquid and serve.


Zester Daily contributor John Bickel is the author of teaintheancientworld.blogspot.com, a blog he has maintained since 2013, and is a regular contributor to the TChing tea education site. Originally from the U.S., John has been living in Bangkok, Thailand, since 2007 and travels throughout Asia.

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