There are few things nicer to enjoy on a crisp, early-spring morning than a steaming-warm cup of tea. Curling your hands around the mug and taking in the aroma, you can almost feel the promise of the coming turn in weather. Tea has a bit of an exotic reputation of course, due to its near-4000-year history in the global east. That being said, however, have you ever wondered if you might make your own tea, at home? And no, I’m not simply talking about dropping some bags in water–I mean growing, drying and then, yes, boiling the plant, start to finish. Read on to learn how to make your own tea a reality.
If you’re seriously considering growing your own tea, chances are you probably already have a favored variety in mind. That said, there is more than just taste to consider when it comes to selecting which strain you’d like to grow. For this particular article, we will focus on two of the most popular types of teas–Chamomile, and Camellia Sinensis–eschewing more exotic flavors like Hibiscus for a later date.
Chamomile, well known for its soothing properties, is a small flower resembling a daisy. Two varieties are popular for tea making–German, which is well suited to smaller plantings, or Roman, which will spread out and cover some space. Plant in well drained soil somewhere sunny. Chamomile has a pretty large growing window, but avoid any temperatures over the high nineties if possible.
Once a branch has several open flowers, harvest it, hanging harvested branches together in bundles to dry. When stems have all dried, remove the blooms and put them in a sealed mason jar or ziploc bag (or both)! Best brewing results from two teaspoons per cup of water, boiled for five to ten minutes.
If this second tea strain doesn’t sound familiar, trust me it is. Camellia Sinensis is the plant whence come the majority of the world’s favorite teas, like Oolong, Green, White and Black tea. The difference between all these teas is, surprisingly enough, not that different parts of the plant are used, or even that the plant is raised differently to produce different teas. Instead, it is all down to how the tea is processed.
For Oolong tea, shear the leaves from your plant, before placing them all in a thin layer on a baking sheet topped with wax paper. The paper will allow the leaves to air dry, without absorbing any metal taste. If you have a large wooden cutting board that isn’t too worn, wood also works well as a neutral medium. At this point, you will leave the leaves to wither for several days. After this, oxidize them by placing in a bag, and shaking them for around a minute, every thirty minutes, over a period of three hours. From here, you can begin rolling the leaves by hand until they’re wrinkled. This cracks the leaves’ exterior, allowing their inner flavor to seep into water. From here, you can either enjoy your tea directly, or air dry it again for storage. For this last drying step, it is often helpful to dry it on a large windowsill, in direct sunlight. To brew, I would suggest 2.5 teaspoons of tea per cup of 150-degree water, steeped for five minutes.
Green tea requires far less procedure than our previous variety, and thus is often a favorite for home growers. After all, it can actually be consumed on the same day it’s harvested! To prepare, begin by simply snipping some fresh leaves from your plant. For the best green tea, harvest the top two leaves and bud from the newest spring growth, but obviously this is not always possible. Next, steam the leaves over a boiling pot of water for two minutes. A colander is useful for this. Directly after, run cold tap water over them to retain their color. Follow this up by rolling the supple leaves into small tubes. Once accomplished, spread the leaves onto a heat-proof dish or tray, and place them into an oven, preheated to 212-degrees Fahrenheit, for around 10 minutes. Open the oven and turn the leaves after five minutes to promote even drying. When the leaves are crisp to the touch, the process is finished. From here, you can either store the leaves in a sealed container, or brew immediately–six leaves per cup of 165-degree water.
White tea is the absolute simplest of all tea types. Simply snip fresh leaves from the end of the plant’s branches, and let them air dry away from the sun for several days. Allow for plenty of space between leaves, so mold doesn’t form. This is especially important, given the lack of direct sunlight. From there, you can either brew the tea directly, or store it. Full disclosure, I have never stored white tea myself, as I am leery of remaining moisture given the simple drying process. That said, I have been assured it can be done. For best results brewing, mix two tablespoons of white tea per six ounces of 170-degree water. Allow the mixture to steep for five minutes, and enjoy!
Finally comes black tea–likely the most popular, complex and also temperamental of the Camellia Sinensis teas. Aside from shearing leaves–any freshly grown will do–step one is withering. If you live somewhere more cool and humid, you will need to allow for longer withering time. If you live somewhere warmer and drier, withering will take less time. Without knowing an exact location, it is hard to say exactly how long you should allow for–experimentation on your part will be required. The key to look for is the point at which the leaves are soft enough to roll without tearing. Once this has occurred, the withering is complete, and it’s time to move on to rolling. Roll black tea leaves with more pressure than you would the other teas above. Instead of simply tubing them, imagine you are rolling a cigar or a crepe, and tighten the roll until the leaf juices slightly. Finally, allow the leaves to rest and fully dry, until they change in color to a reddish-brown or black. The time on this is again environment dependent. Could be just a few hours, or it could take several days. Whatever the case, keep your eyes on the leaves, and when the color changes, either brew them to taste, or store them in a sealed container to enjoy on that next cool, crisp morning.
A humble homesteader based in an undisclosed location, Lars Drecker splits his time between tending his little slice of self-sustaining heaven, and bothering his neighbors to do his work for him. This is mainly the fault of a debilitating predilection for fishing, hunting, camping and all other things outdoors. When not engaged in any of the above activities, you can normally find him broken down on the side of the road, in some piece of junk he just “fixed-up.”