Posted in Kafevend Blog

Many's the time we've mentioned the plant that gives us a lovely cup of tea, camellia sinensis. Nevertheless, tea can be brewed from all manner of herbs and spices. Thus we have mint tea, ginger tea, cardamom tea – to pluck three out entirely at random. From previous blogs we've learnt all about rooibos and honeybush tea grown only in South Africa, and mate, a popular tea in South America produced from the leaves of the yerba mate plant. Tea can come from far more unlikely sources though and it's a selection of those that we're going to take a look at today!

First up is one that you could have a go at yourself, though you'd need to proceed with caution; we're talking of nettle tea. Perhaps you've heard of nettles being used to make soup more often than tea, but it turns out that whatever they're used in, nettles are a top ingredient, packed with vitamins and minerals, a veritable super food in fact. Rather as the top leaves of the camellia sinensis plant result in better quality tea, so too would you need to concentrate on picking the top leaves of the nettle on any foraging expeditions. The leaves have to be washed, brought close to the boil, simmered and strained to make a brew. If the memory of painful stings makes nettle tea an unattractive prospect see how our next unlikely tea grabs you!

Tea number two is creosote tea. We're not joking! You won't be able to go foraging for your ingredients anywhere in the UK. Unsurprisingly, soaking shards of old creosoted fences isn't what's required. In fact, one of the methods for producing creosote is through collection of the resin from the creosote bush and this is the plant needed to make the tea. The bushes grow only in very arid landscapes, specifically American deserts such as the Mojave. Native Americans have been using the plant for centuries past, both as an infusion to cure all manner of ailments, and as an antiseptic poultice for wounds and sores. People still swear by its healing properties today and one of its uses is as a soother for sore throats. Given the extremely pungent smell of creosote- and yes, it seems the plant's aroma is at least as strong as what we used to paint our fences with- it sounds like a case of 'that which does not kill us makes us stronger', so in the interests of balance we're opting for a rather bland plant to round up our delve into unlikely teas.

Our final tea today is rice tea, not a drink that ever became big here in the UK, perhaps because we don't have the right kind of climate for cultivating rice. Historically our staple foods have been bread and potatoes, but for places that have routinely grown rice, it was a convenient way of bulking out tea and making it more affordable. Versions of rice tea are still drunk in China and Korea that contain purely rice, but it's Japanese brown rice tea, or genmaicha, that we're most likely to encounter if we're searching for some to try. A combination of roasted brown rice and green tea, its popularity has spread amongst health conscious westerners. Back when it was seen as a poor man's substitute for tea, bancha was typically the variety of green tea used to make the drink. Bancha, harvested late in the season was cheaper than sencha, comprised of delicate leaves and harvested early on. These days however, it's enjoyed by all segments of Japanese society and the variety of green tea used in the mix has improved accordingly. As well as its health benefits, some tout genmaicha's flavour as a reason to try it. The brown rice is said to add a nutty flavour, making it a more palatable drink for those who remain unconvinced by green tea!

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