You Can Craft Your Own Tea from Your Backyard—Here’s How
Go from garden bed to garden blend with these plant brewing tips.
As we move into a new season and plan for the year ahead, it’s the perfect time to start thinking about new ways to tap into the power of plants within our gardens. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with growing plants to be used for teas. Where true teas come from the Camellia sinensis plant (which can be found through specialty nurseries), you can also grow dozens of herbs, spices, flowers, and leaves to create an herbal infusion (also called tisane) and even create your own customized blend by using your favorite green, black, or white tea as the base.
So when Steve Schwartz, a Master Tea Blender and the Founder of Art of Tea here in Los Angeles, invited me on a tea-inspired foraging hike, I knew it would be the perfect launching point for all our tea-growing endeavors. As we took to the trails above Malibu’s coastline, we discussed creating tea blends inspired by local terroir and how to grow the perfect cup in your own garden. We hope you will add something interesting to your garden and to your cup this season!
Local State of Mind
When thinking about localized tea blends, Steve suggests that “depending on your environment there may be botanicals that pop up seasonally that can be added for flavor or functional value.” He also encourages you to form a deeper connection with plants in your environment by observing when they blossom, understanding when they deliver the greatest flavor by harvesting at different times, and then mixing those with other items in your tea cupboard. Most importantly, get out into your garden or for a walk around your neighborhood to discover what might be growing around you that might add unexpected flavor potential into personalized tea blends of your own.
Black Tea Is Best for Blends
If you’re looking for a place to start when blending flavors together, Steve recommends starting with a whole-leaf black tea such as those from Assam or South India, which may provide a more neutral base for other ingredients such as wild rose petals, California sage, or honeysuckle blossoms. He also noted that “black tea acts as a natural odor absorber, so it picks up other fragrances if stored properly and blends well with a nice rich color backdrop.”
When looking to harvest your plants for tea purposes, Steve suggests harvesting on a dry day, preferably in the morning when the dew has evaporated, adding, “I always use clean and sharp tools like scissors or pruners to minimize damage to the plants. For a more biodynamic approach, I have learned from our gardens we work with in Darjeeling, India to harvest around a full moon to get the richest extraction from the leaves.” To maintain the plant’s integrity and potency, proper drying techniques are essential. Steve hangs the harvested plants in a well-ventilated area or uses a dehydrator at a low temperature. Once fully dried, store the material in airtight containers away from light and heat.
Steve also takes into consideration the season. Flavor and potency may vary throughout the year, with spring leaves having a distinct taste compared to late summer foliage. He adds that “careful observation of the plant’s growth patterns helps me make informed choices. Harvesting California plants to create tea is a rewarding experience, as it allows me to connect with nature while enjoying the fruits of the land. Embracing these best practices ensures a sustainable and flavorful journey, making every sip a tribute to the beauty and abundance of the Golden State’s plant kingdom.”
Experiment with Exciting Flavors
Steve encourages us to also explore easily found flavors like pink peppercorn or native California sage for blends. He suggests starting with a neutral tea base such as a deep steamed Japanese sencha and then experimenting with ingredient ratios. California sage (also known as cowboy cologne) is one of my favorite finds. It has a fresh lychee-like aroma with notes of mint and amber. When working with these unexpected flavor notes, try adding orange peel, cacao nibs, or a touch of sweetness from local sage blossoms, which are all complimentary additions to any blend.
5 Easy Garden-Grown Plants for Tea Blending
Lemongrass: East Indian and West Indian varieties are used for tea and can be brewed fresh after harvest or dried for later use. The entire plant can be used; leaves can be braided and dried for individual cup steeping.
Pineapple Sage: Not only a favorite of hummingbirds; many use it as tea to calm nerves, while aiding in digestion. Flavors are sweet and fruity with a hint of mint and spice.
Moroccan Mint: A variety of the classic spearmint, Mentha spicata, this herb is most commonly mixed with green tea but would be divine with chamomile or lavender to create an herbal infusion.
Tulsi/Holy Basil: Known for its medicinal benefits, this herb packs a flavorful punch with notes of clove, anise, and peppery spice.
Bachelor Button/Cornflower: The intense blue flower petals are used to add a nice pop of color to many popular blends. While it has no noticeably bold flavor, it can provide some health benefits such as relieving fevers and congestion.
Western-Inspired Blends to Try
Not ready to dive into tea-forward gardening just yet? No worries! Art of Tea provides some incredibly fun blends inspired by the California Coast that just might influence you into some blending of your own. We suggest trying their Big Sur blend, claiming to transport you to the majestic coastline with woodsy flavors of citrus and French vanilla paired with refreshing sweet notes of mint. There’s also the “Surfer’s Tea” found at the Surfrider Hotel in Malibu which includes mint, sage, and eucalyptus, or the Getty tea blend inspired by the gardens at the museum.