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August 17, 2007

Teariffic

Which of my two incomplete projects shall I share with you today? How about homemade teabags?

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During the three weeks we spent in agonizing escrow, we did a lot of virtual living in our house--virtually arranging furniture, virtually decorating, virtually doing laundry in our own washer and dryer--and one of things we most looked forward to was transplanting our weekend-morning tea parties to various locations in the new place. We counted eight spots highly conducive to the taking of tea, and although we haven't yet tried out even half of them (no furniture on the front porch yet...), that morning cup of P. G. Tips has become my favorite part of every day (which sure as hell beats last winter, when my favorite part of the day was the BART ride to work because it was the only time I wasn't freezing my ass off in unheated rooms).

On weekdays, we fire up the kettle while pouring our cereal, steep the tea while tracking down a matching pair of socks, and one or the other of us milks and sugars while the other is brushing his or her teeth (which is not to say that we only brush our teeth on alternate days, because that's (mostly) untrue). Weekday tea goes into travel mugs and is consumed on the go.

On the weekends, though, we like to lay out a whole spread--a matching set of pot, sugar bowl, and creamer, all of it arranged on a silver tray for transport to any one of the approved tea-taking locations (we'll eventually need to rig a pulley system to get it up to the treehouse). Sushi has always been our special meal, and I guess tea has always been our special drink.

I'd like to say that the above history was the inspiration for our homemade teabags, and that it was only after much deep thought and pre-planning that we decided to give said teabags away as favors at our upcoming housewarming party. The fact of the matter, though, is we had six cubic feet of mint in our yard and needed to do something about it.

After researching "homemade mint tea" on the internet and finding that most of the recipes started with "steep teabag for 4-5 minutes," we improvised a little and just went about the project in the ways that made the most sense to us. Well, to me. Simon was doing manly things like digging trenches, moving small boulders, and mixing epoxy (i.e., fixing the pond), while it was I who ripped out two-thirds of our mint crop and then spent an hour and a half handpicking only the very best leaves from the stems. Aside from getting dive-bombed by hummingbirds and putting myself at risk of developing acute mintonitis, it wasn't a bad way to pass the afternoon. I can certainly thing of worse (and worse-smelling) ways to spend my time, but, gosh, an hour and a half is a mighty long time to do anything that doesn't involve pretty pictures flashing across a screen. (Although did you know that the back of mint leaves are irredescent? They shimmer in the sunlight. How cool!)

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After I'd picked enough (where "enough"= "as much as I could stand"), I ran my batch under the tap (in a colander), hopefully long enough to wash away any dirt or bugs but not so long that it stripped out the flavor. Most of the recipes I found online suggested throwing fresh mint directly into boiling water, but since we want to send the tea home with people, we needed to dehydrate the leaves in a way that wouldn't suck out all the minty goodness.

One set of instructions advised handwashing and drying each leaf individually, but, um, no. They're herbs, not children. I ran them under cold tap water, spread them on towels in as close to a single layer as I could without, again, picking up each and every leaf and placing it tenderly on an absorbent pillowtop mattress (presumably after reading it a bedtime story and singing it a lullabye).

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Then I put another layer of dishtowels on top and gently smothered out the moisture.

Professor Internet warned that mint molds quickly, so I made my best guess at what might be the happy balance between the mint's time spent wicking on the mostly-dry towels versus molding on the mostly-wet towels. When that ten minutes was up, I transferred the (mostly still damp) leaves onto (mostly clean) baking sheets, again attempting to spread them in a single layer although stopping short of going insane trying to do so.

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I dried the three sheets at 180 (that's Farenheit, Canucks) for about an hour and a half with the OVEN DOOR OPEN. That crisped them right up and turned them a dull sage color.

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In the case that there was still some moisture in the leaves, I didn't transfer them to storage containers right away but left them in the oven (heat off, door closed) overnight. In the morning, I poured the leaves into airtight containers (two medium Ziplocs) and stored them away in a dark corner of the pantry.

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We shared a test cup that first night (six leaves in a tea strainer + hot water) and it tasted just like the Celestial Seasonings stuff from the store. Minus Green Dye #40, it was the same product, and we probably saved like fifteen cents making our own! Add that to the dollar we save cooking our own pasta sauce and we should have that pony corral in no time!

First, though, we have to spend some money on teabags. Some day soon I'm going to track down some cheesecloth/muslin (they're the same thing; I had no idea) and figure out the best way to tie them (with cotton string, I think) and affix tags (nothing too cutesy, Simon, I promise). With any luck I'll get some good pictures of the finished product before our guests carry them off to weekend-morning tea parties of their own.

(Because I tend to overthink things, I'm having some trouble deciding what to put on the tea tag. Directions could be as simple as "steep in boiling water for four to five minutes" or as extensive as "Ten Ways to Use Your Dried Mint," which would include recipes for everything from mint iced-tea cocktails to cat toys*. Simon says Keep It Simple, Stupid, but it's obvious that simple is hard for me; witness: I have visions of turning the housewarming into an all-out garden tea party, with tea cocktails at the bar and tealight votives hanging from the trees and cucumber tea sandwich hors d'ouvres and a tea-length skirt worn with a tee-shirt and a potluck starring foods that begin with the letter T. Simon laughed at me and brought up Tea Leone and tea-pees. Hey, buddy, I may be crazy, but I may also be a genius, so check yourself.)

*I know there's an herb called "cat mint," and I bet it's not much different than what we're growing (I think we have both peppermint and spearmint). Whenever we let Eve smell a mint leaf, the menthol sends her into throes of drooling, eye-rolling ecstacy. I imagine a couple leaves of dried mint sewed tightly into sturdy fabric would make a great gift for any felines with whom you may be acquainted.

16 Comments

I love tea parties (my bridal shower was one, and I hosted another at our house after I was married), so I say go with the finger sandwiches and scones and wee little one-bite desserts at your housewarming. Woo!

If I lived closer I'd help you make customized tea labels, complete with stamps!

Instead, I'll site way up here and await the final result :)

Know what goes great with mint tea? Ginger snap cookies. Especially the super thin ones. Try it! You'll swoon.

After visiting tea plantations in India, Malaysia and Kenya I am so impressed. This is a ton of work.

I've actually used some tea bags (paper) that you can fill and iron shut. They work pretty well and are less expensive than the muslin ones. There are also some paper bags that are longer than necessary; you fill them up a bit and hang the rest over the cup's (or cups') edge.
One year for holiday gifts, we put an herbal tea mixture into thin plastic bags that didn't need to be tied (they had some sticky stuff on the edges). We made labels and the recipients loved them.

That's a super fun idea. I love my own fresh (then dried) herbs, too. I recommend (if you can find it, because I have looked for years) lemon thyme and... hot 'n spicy oregano - wow! Soo tasty and smell soooo good!

oh man. my cat would gag and choke and carry on if offered mint.

she was kind of a drama queen, though.

i am very impressed with your home-made tea.

Mint tea from one's own garden is one of the finest pleasures of gardening, I think.

It's wonderful for soothing a tummy ache, too.

If you can get hold of a copy of a book called "You Grow Girl" there are directions inside for making teabags.

"...and we probably saved like fifteen cents making our own! Add that to the dollar we save cooking our own pasta sauce and we should have that pony corral in no time!"

I can relate to that. Trying to save money any way we can.

I love mint tea! I had some excellent mint tea when I went to a Moroccan restaurant once.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moroccan_tea_culture

My mom used to have an herb garden, but lately she doesn't have enough thyme to keep it going.

Anyone who doesn't know how to make tea shouldn't have the honor of using homemade tea bags. To this end, I suggest you simply (in some fancy, artsy way) have "tea" emblazened on the labels. Even simpler, just put "T" on them. It would be impossible to list every possible use, as hot and wet tea bags also make ideal projectiles for knocking pigeons off a roof.

This post has me totally cracking up. I can just see you drying your tea leaves.

Some things to ponder:

- Catmint is catnip.
- Muslin and cheesecloth are not the same, you want cheesecloth (muslin is finely woven, cheesecloth is loosely woven). For your personal use you might want to look into one of those metal tea steeper spoon thing-a-ma-jigs. We use them for loose tea and they work wonderfully. Warning: link to random unknown site with photo follows: (http://www.naturalgrocers.com/781723412331.html)

I mosied on over from Jonniker to say, yes, Eric Bachman is SUPER nice. He didn't even roll his eyes at me.

I love love love mint tea. Hooray for making your own! Maybe I'll grow some mint next summer, now that I've moved away from the dry cold desert that is Wyoming.

I have an idea for the tea bags.
Coffee filters (the unbleached are "better" for you of course). Tie 'em up w/ the tea inside. The bags will be round instead of that conservative lil' square packaging your used to. Tie em' up w/ some good string (or maybe mint floss :) you put that in your mouth anyway right)?
Ta-Da.
Whatcha think???

I'm doing this right now with the toaster oven!

Thanks for all this good info! (And the good laugh, too) I started picking mint leaves, then remembered the upside down sprigs of things I've seen drying, like flowers or herbs. So I picked the whole thing and washed and bunched them together and hung them upside down. Now we are pulling the dried leaves and flowering tops off of them (a book I have says those are the parts you can use; I'm wishing we could just crumple the whole thing up, using the stems, too - that would be easier) to use as our tea. We didn't bake them, just let them air dry for a few days. And they were hanging above my kitchen window, obviously not a dark place. Why do they need a dark place? Do you think the baking part is really necessary? And, what do you think about using the stems?

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