What Is Honeybush Tea? A Treat!

Honeybush. The name itself sounds sweet and pleasant.

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Honeybush (Cyclopia sp.)—also known as mountain or cape tea—probably takes its name from its yellow, honey-scented flowers. Native to South Africa, there are 23 documented species of honeybush, each thriving in a specific environment, from coastal to mountainous.

Today, 70% of the honeybush produced comes from these wild shrubs, according to the South African Honeybush Tea Association (SAHTA), although the annual harvest is small (only about 200 tons).

However, farmers—encouraged by the honeybush industry that hopes to “relieve the pressure on wild honey bush populations . . . [and] control and protect wild honeybush, thereby ensuring sustainable harvesting” (SAHTA)— have started to cultivate several species.

Indeed, as more people learn about this delicious tisane and its multiple health benefits, demand is likely to grow.

From shrub to cup

Thoneybush-brew-webo harvest honeybush, twigs bearing needle-like leaves are cut from the shrubs. The processing stages are similar to those of rooibos, with the twigs and leaves first chopped; then moistened and layered (sweated), and sometimes heated, to develop the flavor; and then finally dried.

Because there are so many honeybush species—each with its very own flavor—several varieties may be combined during production.

And you do want to drink this elixir!

This tea is low in tannins, high in antioxidants, and considered to be caffeine free. According to the SAHTA, there is preliminary evidence that it has an effect on cancer,  works similarly to human estrogen, and may protect “postmenopausal women against cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.”

But even if all that isn’t enough, consider that brewed honeybush yields an earthy flavor that is subtly sweet. Yummm.


Source : South African Honeybush Tea Association.
Honeybush shown here is available from TeaHaus. For brewing, I used boiling water, with a 10-minute steep.

How To Have an Informal Do-It-Yourself Tea Tasting

Surprise packages are the best!

And those containing a tin of tea—a blend created by friends—even better!!

tea leavesMy dear friend Susan and her son David recently visited TeaPort, “Home of the Original Nanaimo Bar Tea Blend,” and sent me the results of their personal experiment in tea blending.

Gather the troops and break out the teapot—

My family promptly agreed to taste test this intriguing—and very pretty—blend of black tea from Sri Lanka, calendula, jasmine and sunflower petals, coconut flakes, real maple syrup, butterscotch pieces, and natural flavors.

and first consider the leaves and make some speculations

We wondered how on earth Susan and David came up with this combination! When we read the ingredient list, we didn’t think any of us would really care for this tea. I thought the blend smelled too much of butterscotch (not a favorite flavor of mine) while others picked up fruity and caramel. The choice of both butterscotch and maple syrup was a bit baffling.

And all of us believed that the tea would be very sweet!

On to brewing—

susan-wet-leaves-webWe measured out 5 teaspoons of the tea into a one-quart teapot, added boiling water, and brewed for 2 minutes (no specific directions were provided by TeaPort so we used standard brewing for black aroma teas).

and then tasting—and describing—the brew

First off, we nailed the amount of tea and brew time!

However, predictions of flavor don’t make something true. We all agreed that we could taste a sweetness but the tea was not sweet! Rather, it was smooth.

And with five of us, we came up with different descriptions of the same tea:

  1. No one flavor dominates; more astringent, like a second flush, than full bodied. A bit of floral with creaminess behind the floral.
  2. Smooth, creamy, balanced.
  3. Fruity, toasty, and creamy.
  4. Caramel and smoky.
  5. Caramel with very smooth aftertaste.

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Well, we learned several things:

  • our predictions were very unreliable
  • each of us picked up different flavor nuances
  • this is FUN!!!
  • and we love the tea!

THANK YOU, SUSAN AND DAVID!

What Is Rooibos Tea?

ROOIBOS: Truly a Red Tea!
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If you haven’t had rooibos yet, now is the time—especially if you are looking for a delicious tea that doesn’t have caffeine.

Well, actually it’s a tisane

Although rooibos is commonly called “tea,” it is really an herbal tisane. While true tea is produced with Camellia senensis, rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) is a legume, the same family of plants to which peas and clover belong.

roobios-brew-alt-webFrom a red bush

Rooibos is native only to the Western Cape of South Africa, where is it a popular drink; translated from Afrikaans, rooibos means “red bush.”

Still produced only in South Africa, young branches are cut from the shrub once a year, from December to April. These cuttings are finely chopped and bruised to promote oxidation, are then moistened and layered (a “sweating” step), and finally are dried. During this processing, the green leaves turn red, yielding a flavor that is somewhat woody, sweet, and creamy.

And then there’s GREEN ROOIBOS

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This variety is less known.

Still from a red bush

—but by skipping the oxidation step, the rooibos retains its green color and results in a fresh, slightly tangy flavor, somewhat akin to green tea.

And with loads of health benefits

Both rooibos varieties are low in tannins, high in antioxidants, and naturally caffeine free (in Japan, rooibos is called “Long Life Tea” due to its health benefits).

However, according to the South Africa Rooibos Council,

green Rooibos has higher levels of antioxidants than traditional fermented Rooibos and demonstrates even higher antioxidant and—in some cases—antimutagenic (cancer-fighting) activities.

ROOIBOS and ROOIBOS

Around 12,000 metric tons of rooibos are produced each year. About 7,000 tons of that are exported to over 30 countries, particularly to Germany, The Netherlands, Japan, the UK, and the US.

Rooibos’ natural sweetness and creaminess complement all sorts of things—tea, spices, herbals, fruits, caramel and chocolate, nuts—so rooibos blends abound!

To brew rooibos, use boiling water and a brew time of 5–10 minutes (you can’t overbrew it). Enjoy it hot or iced!


Source: South Africa Rooibos Council.
Rooibos and Green Rooibos shown here are available from TeaHaus.

Fruity Teas

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Strawberry Mint Lavender, an incredible Haus blend by TeaHaus, Ann Arbor

I drive my family crazy by wanting to buy fruit only when it’s actually in season.

Mouthwatering tomatoes (yes, a fruit) can be had only when just off the vine—coupled with just plucked basil, mmmmm. I hated papaya until I had it fresh picked, sunshine warmed, with a complexity of flavor.

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Green tea loaded with shredded coconut

And your fruit teas should be the same: giving you the just-picked richness of pure fruit, with absolutely no artificial, odd, or cloying aftertaste. And this holds whether we are talking about aroma teas (fruit on a Camellia senensis base) or tisanes (no Camellia senensis).

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Sweet Pear—green tea interspersed with orange blossoms and pieces of pear

As we head into warmer weather, fruity teas transition well, yielding incredible iced teas. This is also the time to pull out that SodaStream you got for Christmas and haven’t used—carbonated iced fruit teas are unbelievably delicious!! Like a fruity soft drink that is loaded with antioxidants but no calories to speak of (and also great for kids).

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Orange tea, generously sprinkled with blossoms and pieces of orange

A tip: when you make fruit teas/tisanes, you can’t overbrew them! Use boiling water and allow them to brew for at least 5 to 10 minutes—or let them sit for hours.

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Plum fruit tea/tisane—an utterly refreshing medley of plum pieces, flower blossoms, and cinnamon

High-quality fruit tisanes will be made of just that: FRUIT! During brewing, the fruit pieces will plump up into fruit morsels (and I add them to yogurt or oatmeal after making my tea).

Blood orange fruit tea is by far my favorite fruit tisane, especially iced. The color of the liquor is lovely and its intense citrus flavor is amazing!

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Blood orange fruit tea/tisane, an explosion of pure sunshine!

This afternoon may just be the time to kick back, iced fruit tea in hand. . . .


Teas pictured above are available at TeaHaus. In fact, the Strawberry Mint Lavender is available only at TeaHaus! And even though the combination may sound unlikely, it truly is fantastic!

For recipes on making carbonated iced tea, click here.

What Is White Tea?

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Many things—when magnified—look amazing, and tea is no exception!

This lovely tea is Strawberry Starfruit white tea, a lovely mixture of white tea, candied papaya cubes, freeze-dried starfruit and strawberry pieces, pink cornflowers—components you can clearly see!

The other interesting thing about this tea is the white tea leaf base. The fuzzy, white-silver tips or buds are interspersed with brown to olive green whole leaves.

White Teas

Of all the types of tea produced, white teas are the least oxidized. Care is taken so that the buds and leaves are not crushed, rolled, or bruised because damage to the leaves causes oxidation. After plucking, the buds and/or leaves are withered so that moisture evaporates, and then they are dried.

Traditional

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Traditionally, white tea consists of the buds of Camellia senensis. Because these buds retain their minute hairs, as shown here, they are silver in appearance. Not surprisingly, this tea is known as Silver Needle.

New Style

For “new style” white tea, young, open leaves are plucked, as shown below.

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After steeping, the new style white tea leaves look pretty much the same as before they were steeped, as shown in these examples:

bl-buckle_wet_crop-web  str-van-wet_crop-web

Savoring White Teas

Whether traditional or new style, white teas are subtle and delicate; when iced, they are refreshing and light. They often lend themselves to re-infusions.

Like other teas, the caffeine levels vary among white teas. For the best flavor, be sure to follow brewing instructions for water temperature.

If you haven’t tried white tea before, summer is a great time to enjoy their lightness!


All teas shown above are available from TeaHaus

Hong Cha Java: A go-to black tea that delivers

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Do you have a favorite tea?

Aaack, I reply!!

Are we talking iced or hot? For guests or just myself? Tea or tisane?

For gulping while running-out-the-door-late-as-usual or for savoring?

Green or black or oolong or white? Classic or aroma? Traditional or unexpected?

And then there’s the weather!!! Gotta match tea to weather!

This is just asking too much of me!

hong-cha-leaves-opening-webAnd I am tempted to just go with “Earl Grey.”

But wait, maybe—

there are several teas that I keep reaching for, and TeaHaus’ Hong Cha Java is definitely one of them.

hong-cha-brew-web

Java is a long, slender island situated between Asia and Australia. Mountains and volcanoes, supporting rainforests and bamboo woods, run along its spine.

In the Sukabumi Province in western Java, a small, private tea plantation grows at an elevation of around 4,000 feet. In the dry season, the tea leaves are plucked and then processed with traditional Chinese methods.

The orthodox black tea, Hong Cha Java, boasts of long, very dark brown leaves that beautifully unfurl during brewing.

And if you’ve ever wondered why black tea is called red tea in China, consider hong cha. Its name means red tea, and it yields a gorgeous, vibrant coppery red cup!

This tea is expressive and complex, with earthy and fruity notes.

I usually make a really large mug of this tea and then end up drinking the last half of it cold—and I really can’t say whether I prefer it hot or cold because the flavor is rich and pronounced either way.

If you want a tea that makes a statement and yet is not overpowering, this tea is for you. In fact, I think that coffee drinkers will particularly like this tea for its earthy complexity. Plus, this tea is never bitter.

And it definitely ranks as one of my black classic faves.


For these photos, I brewed one heaping teaspoon of Hong Cha Java, available at TeaHaus, with 8 oz of boiling water for 4 minutes.

How Much Loose Leaf Tea to Buy

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Buying loose leaf tea in bulk at TeaHaus

The world of loose leaf tea can be intimidating—so many choices! And how do you decide how much to buy?

Those pesky grams . . .

It doesn’t make it any easier that bulk tea is often sold in grams or in odd amounts of ounces.

That is because most of the world uses grams, and the U.S. equivalents end up being an odd amount. So a nice round 50 grams of tea ends up being 1.76 ounces in the U.S.

But how much IS 1.76 ounces?

For some comparison, a single-serving Hersey’s chocolate bar is 1.55 ounces while a Snickers bar is 1.86 ounces.

But 1.76 ounces of loose leaf tea gives you roughly 15 to 20 cups of tea.

The range of cup yield is because you will use a different tea leaf to water ratio depending on the type of tea you have.

Some teas need one level teaspoon per 8 ounces of water, whereas others need more—especially for light, bulky teas such as Silver Needle white tea (incidentally, those are more accurately weighed rather than measured by teaspoon, but expediency rules for most of us!).

And making tea an even better bargain—

Unlike coffee beans, which can be brewed only once, tea leaves can often be reused.

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Milky Jade oolong leaves

Most oolong teas and many green and white teas can—and often should—be rebrewed. The leaves will continue to release flavor, and successive brews may even be more flavorful than the first infusion.

So 1.76 ounces may actually give you anywhere from 30 to 60 cups of tea!

When thinking about the price of high-quality teas, even an expensive tea may not be so costly when you consider the number of brews you can make per teaspoon of tea leaves.

Compare the premium Japan Gyokuro (which can be rebrewed) to a bottle of wine.

For about the same price, you can get fifty grams of tea or a decent bottle of wine. The wine bottle will give you 5 five-ounce servings, but the 50 grams of tea will give you at least 30 to 40 eight-ounce servings!

So how much to buy?

Here is a handy chart (this is assuming an 8-ounce cup and a one-time use of the leaves):

  • 50 g = 1.7 oz = 15–20 cups
  • 100 g = 3.53 oz = 30–40 cups
  • 250 g = 8.82 oz = 75–100 cups
  • 500 g = 17.64 oz = 150–200 cups

While tea keeps for months and even years, for optimal flavor you will want to buy only what you will use up in a reasonable amount of time.

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Note: Premium Milky Jade oolong and premium Japan Gyokuro green are available at TeaHaus.