I have always loved tea and it is a very popular beverage in Sweden (some shops even offer tea tasting classes). In most cafes, you will find a decent (sometimes large) selection of “straight up” and flavored loose leaf teas to choose from. The tea tins are usually lined up next to a mug of tea strainers which you fill yourself with your selected flavor and hot water, and then let steep while you people watch, chat with your friend or leaf through a newspaper. It’s all very cozy and delicious!
Sweden also has plenty of cute little tea shops with huge selections of teas and tea paraphernalia, and when I first came to the US I was surprised at how few tea shops there were, and at how expensive “gourmet” loose leaf tea is here. Every summer in Sweden, I used to buy enough tea to last me for the coming year, but then I realized that I could just as easily (almost) blend the tea myself!
It does take a bit of trial and error and reading up on flowers and herbs, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a very addictive “hobby”. It saves a LOT of money, and it is so much fun coming up with different blends. And you can adjust it to whatever you need at any given time – a delicious afternoon pick me up; a blend with particular herbs to address a health concern; a soothing after dinner drink to help digestion and promote sleep, etc.
My favorite place to get both tea and herbs in bulk is Mountain Rose Herbs; they have a huge variety of herbs and spices, a great loose leaf tea selection, and it’s all organic. And the packages that the smaller tea quantities (4 oz) come in are so pretty that they make perfect gifts just as is.
When I was trying to decide on which tea to use for my homemade chai, I did a mini tea tasting, and thought I’d share my notes here:
Pretty, reddish amber color, a little bit of fruit on the nose, smooth and rich flavor, and very little bitterness in spite of being high in tannins (which are antioxidants and good for you). Delicious and my first choice for making chai.
Darker red amber, smells like tea, rich, not as smooth as Assam, has a tad of bitterness but is still delicious. My second choice for chai.
Lighter red amber, smells like berries, tastes slightly floral, light, smooth, very pleasant and soft without any bitterness. A very pretty tea, so delicious I prefer it straight without herbs or anything else that changes the flavor. My favorite for an afternoon cup of tea.
I included this green tea because of its many health benefits, and I was hoping to make a chai with a 50/50 mix of black and green tea. But green tea is just not for me. I have never tried a green tea that I liked (I have tried LOTS), and sadly, this was not an exception. It is light amber in color, smells like the forest in autumn, with a hint of mushroom both in smell and taste. I ended up giving it to a co-worker from China who loves it and was delighted to receive it.
One that I didn’t include in this tasting, because I already know that I like it, is English Breakfast. It’s one of my all time favorite everyday teas, nice and robust without being too bitter, and it also works well in chai.
There are obviously many other teas in addition to these – which is your favorite?