Infusions, Decoctions, Techniques
There is nothing quite as good as the taste of teas made with fresh picked herbs. However, many herbs may not be available fresh, either because of the season or their growing environment. A perfect cup of tea can still be brewed with quality dried herbs.
Although numerous gadgets exist for tea making, all that is really required is a pot or kettle to boil water in, a teapot or glass canning jar for steeping, and a strainer. It is important to use a glass, porcelain, or glazed earthenware pot for brewing as some metals can react with the herbs. Always warm the teapot or jar to prevent the tea from cooling off too quickly and to prevent the container from breaking. Many types of strainers and tea balls are available but you might want to just use the herbs loose to allow the herbs to float and move around during brewing. If you prefer a tea ball, use a large one. The tea can be strained after brewing with a stainless steel kitchen strainer.
Because herbal teas can be brewed from leaves, roots, bark, seeds or flowers; alone or in combination, a couple of brewing techniques need to be acquired.
Teas made from the leaves or flowers are infused to protect the more delicate oils from evaporating. To make an infusion, place the herbs in the warmed teapot or canning jar, pour gently boiling water over the herbs, cover to prevent evaporation, steep for 10 – 15 minutes, and strain. In general, use one teaspoon of dried or 3 teaspoons of fresh, bruised herb per cup of water.
Teas made from the roots, bark or seeds are decocted to release their properties. A decoction requires the roots or bark to be cut into small pieces and the seeds to be bruised with a mortar and pestle or the back of a spoon. Place 1/2 to one ounce of herb into a pot with one pint (2 cups) of cold water, bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat, simmer gently for 10 – 20 minutes, and strain. Teas made with stronger spices such as ginger, clove or cinnamon will need to be adjusted for personal tastes.
To make a tea with both roots/bark/seeds and leaves/flowers follow the directions for making a decoction using just the roots, bark or seeds. Pour the strained decoction over the leaves or flowers and infuse as above.
Herbal iced teas follow the same procedures as above but should be brewed double-strength. After straining, chill for 30 minutes and pour over a glass full of ice. Most herbal teas are delicate enough that sweetening is not necessary but sugar or preferably local honey can be added. There are also naturally sweet herbs that can be added to the teas such as licorice root and stevia (up to 250 times sweeter than sugar! All natural with just a pinch required to sweeten a whole pot of tea).
Unused tea should be refrigerated and used within 24 hours of brewing.