Tea for Two Hundred, This Year and Next- Part 1, by Sarah Latimer

I grew up watching old movies. Doris Day was one of my favorite actresses. I loved her girlish bounce, playfulness, and the wink of her eye. So, I’m frequently reminiscent of her movie “Tea for Two” when I ask various members of the household if they’d like to join me in sharing some tea by asking, “Tea for two?”. I don’t really remember much about the movie since it has been such a long time since I watched it, but it became a common saying in my household, and it still is. However, we don’t just consume tea in individual bags around here every once in awhile. We consume a lot! Plus, we save some for future pleasure and health benefits, too.

It’s garden time and we’re busy planting, but I thought I’d take the time to write about some of the wonderful teas and flavor ingredients our family and those who visit us enjoy regularly from our garden (or from our long-term store house). You might want to consider planting some of these in your annual or perennial gardens, too, or maybe this will encourage you to research your favorite tea ingredients to find how you might grow them where you live. Many of our teas are homegrown, but some of our tea ingredients are purchased and prepared for long-term storage; there are ways to do so economically, and I’ll share some of these ideas as well. As a bonus, many of these teas are also healthy and have dual uses or possibly many uses, making the plant even more attractive to grow.

The stores have wonderful boxes of loose or bagged teas for sale, but most of these are costly, ranging up to $0.45 a cup or more. It’s big business, and our family are not the only ones who like drinking tea for pleasure and health purposes. Tea is gaining in popularity. Ready-to-drink tea sales, according to statistica.com, increased to $6.6 billion in 2014, up from $6.2 billion in 2013. Loose leaf tea sales increased to $1.3 billion in 2015, with most tea imported from China, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Kenya. Some green and black tea is grown domestically, with Lipton, a few other international and regional tea companies, and boutique tea producers having tea farms in the southern half of U.S. states, since tea bushes can be grown in zones 7-11. Traditional green and black tea bushes can also be grown in green houses, of course, and it is possible to successfully grow tea in large pots indoors in sunny windows, from what I read, but that’s not optimal. The traditional tea bushes naturally live a long time and grow quite large, which is difficult to do in a container.

All in all, it’s a lucrative business. At the market rates, with the amount of hot and iced tea our household consumes, we could easily spend $1,000-2,000 a year or even more just on tea at our present consumption, and that doesn’t include our coffee or juice budget. In our on-going efforts at frugality, we have found that there are better ways for us to use our financial resources and still be able to enjoy our delicious, satisfying, and healthy teas with little cost.

We grow much of our own tea and tea flavors, and we buy the other in bulk. By growing our own and doing our research, we know what we are consuming, the condition in which it was grown, and the plant’s health benefits. For those things we grow ourselves, we can be confident they were not sprayed with pesticides or contaminated with dangerous fertilizers and unhealthy water.

Furthermore, we never know when the Schumer will hit the fan, whether for the nation, our region, or maybe just for our family in the form of a period without income or a major, unexpected expense. If we ever had a repeat of the Boston Tea Party, where all imports were rejected, I’d want my own indefinite supply! While I doubt we’ll experience this, I do wonder if the importation of tea will be able to continue indefinitely. Like many items our nation enjoys, most of our tea is imported, and war seems to be emininent as well as financial crisis, so only the Lord God knows for certain what our future holds and what resources we will be able to import in the months and years ahead. Having our own self-sustaining supply of the things that we need is very important and becoming more important to me each with each day’s news report.

You may think that it is silly for me to be concerned about having a tea supply when there are much more basic and critical supplies necessary for life. Certainly there are! Tea may not be a staple necessity, but it is important for our family’s emotional and physical health. Under normal conditions, we drink tea every day in some form or fashion. For me and other members of our family, tea is one of the simple pleasures of life, and we enjoy being able to share this pleasure with our guests also. When SHTF, having some sense of normalcy will help keep us level headed and focused. Tea is one of those things that I intend to continue providing to my family that they can look forward to in the troubled days. So, it is my goal for our family to not only have what we need on hand and within reach for the long term but to have many of the things that we enjoy available to us as well. Noah had family, food, shelter, work, and water. The clothes and shoes of the children of Israel didn’t wear out while they spent 40 years in the wilderness, and at times they had more than their fill of manna and quail as well as “the Rock”, who provided water to them as they traveled. Regardless of what is going on in the world in a crisis situation, I don’t want to just survive; I expect our family to thrive, and I’m getting started now.

Plants We Grow For Tea

What do we grow on our property that is useful for tea? Well, the list is continuously changing. I am looking into adding tea plants (camellia sinensis), but I have not yet acquired these. (I understand that it is best to buy the plants rather than the seeds, because the germination rate of the seeds is slow, but I am no expert on this matter. Research this for yourself.) Collecting the leaves for green, black, or oolong tea look like quite a labor-intensive effort, but you know what goes into the plants that are nourishing you and you have a continued supply, as long as you are able to water and care for them. In doing my research, I understand that one must collect the new leaves with the best ones being produced in the springtime. The bushes can get quite large and I’d need several to meet our family’s tea demands, but I read that it is helpful to keep them pruned to encourage new growth (and leaves for tea). The leaves have to be hand picked, then bruised, and often rolled before being fully dried. Christine Parks, who writes for the American Camellia Society, provided a detailed pdf paper on how she grows and processes green/black tea in her backyard.

I don’t have tea bushes yet, but in writing this article and looking back at my information on growing green and black teas, I am more serious than ever about getting some bushes soon. These are nice bushes with beautiful camellia flowers on them. So, even if we don’t pick the leaves, they would look nice on the property! If and when SHTF, we will want black tea for sure, and I only have a few year’s worth stored away. I’ll tell you later how we store our teas and tea flavoring ingredients to retain long-term freshness. Let’s get right into what we grow on our property currently and what you can, too.

We grow (for tea):

  • Chamomile
  • Lemon Balm
  • Lemon Grass
  • Peppermint
  • Spearmint
  • Lavendar
  • Calendula
  • Strawberries
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Roses/rose hips
  • Borage flowers
  • Nasturtium flowers

Now, I’m not including the medicinal tea ingredients that we grow. Those are okay, but not really pleasant, in my opinion. Stinging nettle tea is actually not bad, but it is not a joy, like the ingredients I’m listing here. Echinacea is down right bitter, and there are many other medicinal plants we grow also that can be ingested as tea, but I’m not going to go into those specifically in this article. I’m focusing on what tastes good here, though there are health benefits, some of which I may mention.

Using the Plants We Grow

Let’s talk about the plants I grow and how I use each, specifically.

Tea by the Cup or Glass

What tool we use for infusing our tea has a lot to do with what ingredients we are using. If I am merely making a ginger root tea, then I can simply slice a thin piece of peeled ginger root and put it in a cup of hot water by itself to let it seep for five to ten minutes and remove it at the end of that time. However, if I am using chamomile or another tea/herb that has fine particles, I must use a very fine mesh infuser. Medium-sized or large particle tea, like black tea with coursely chopped leaves, can be put into a tea ball or a closed spoon with the holes to allow the infusing to occur. Alternatively, one can just dump everything into hot water and then pour through a fine mesh strainer after it has seeped. I use all of the above methods, depending upon what ingredients I have, how much I am making, and what is available to me at the time. Straining the tea and flavanoids out is important, because I don’t know anyone who enjoys drinking chunks of anything in their tea. If making iced tea, I seep a strong cup of tea in hot water and then slowly pour it over ice cubes, add a little chilled water and stir. Something new that we recently tried and found to work nicely for traveling, gift giving, or for carrying in your lunch box, brief case, or purse, are paper tea bags. They add a small expense but are very convenient. Because I was uable to find a supply of tea bags from a U.S. manufacturer, we ordered these drawstring tea bags from China through Amazon and found them to work rather well. The only drawback is that it takes several weeks for them to arrive, so be sure to allow that time in your planning and order a decent quantity if you want a long-term supply of these. It’s very easy to mix up a tea blend, put a heaping teaspoon inside one of these, tie it closed, and place several in a sandwich ziploc bag for convenient carry in my purse and use wherever I go.

Tea by the Pitcher or Teapot

Basically, I use the same tools as I do for the cup or glass but larger ones and have pitchers that can handle the hot water for seeping teas. If I am making iced tea, which is a staple in our home throughout most of the year (yes, I am a southerner and I’ve even been mocked publicly in a fine Boston restaurant for ordering iced tea in the winter but insisted upon a glass of ice and a cup of hot tea anyway!), I simply fill my infuser basket with tea and/or herbs and pour hot water into the pitcher to let it seep. Then, I let the infuser drain its yummy nectar and add ice water to fill the pitcher. I am especially fond of the Republic of Tea pitcher that allows for loose tea infusion as well as fruit infusion. In tea pots, I may use tea balls or baskets also.