I’ve been experimenting with making Christmas tea blends and writing about them lately, so I’ll share a summary of the subject here as well. This Taste of Tea blog article works as a good introduction, a short review of over 50 versions, based on commercial products from the UK. I’ve written blog posts about making a relatively standard version last year, and about a chocolate covered cherry recipe this year, and on trying to perfect the most simple version (black tea, cinnamon, clove, and orange).
Don’t get me wrong, I generally drink only plain, single-type teas, varying no further than an occasional Earl Grey or jasmine black tea. It is nice to combine cooking and tea interests though, and just to mix things up, by trying out Thai tea versions and making masala chai. On to more about variations of Christmas tea blends:
This general type overlaps, since this can also be regarded as a cold-weather tea. It’s a little ironic that an Indian tea blend is related to both Christmas and winter weather but it works, and the ingredients lists overlap for the two blend types.
Standard Christmas Blend Ingredients
Beyond the basic set, other recipes add nuts, fruits, other spices, pine needles, mint, cacoa nibs or chocolate, and even peppermint candies. Other spices would work, particularly the ginger and cardamom from masala chai blends, with potential to go even earthier from there. A touch of rosemary might bring out that pine aspect to avoid experimenting with using needles from pine trees, which also does sound interesting. Per my understanding most pine needles work for making a safe and healthy tisane, with more on that here and here, with a great deal of caution in order for preparing any wild plants as tisanes.
Most commercial blends would probably be prepared to steep for five minutes or so in boiling water, a standard approach. Nuts or fruit wouldn’t release much flavor in that steeping time. It’s also possible to use a masala chai-typical approach, simmering a tea for longer instead. Flavor balance and how the tea was designed to be prepared would be important considerations.
Milk and Sugar
It’s quite possible to get a tea mix to work well without adding these, but just as either, or both, can help offset astringency for some black tea types these can counter spiciness from the spices. I don’t typically add sugar to plain teas but I do to masala chai, and even for a standard Christmas blend version I made to be infused (versus simmered) adding just a little sugar helped establish a flavor balance that worked better. It’s interesting how sugar alone can counter a spice effect, or how citrus flavor from a dried orange peel can come across differently based on the level of sweetness in the tea.
Making Your Own Blend: Whole Spices Versus Pre-ground Spice Rack Versions
Fresher is always better for making anything, but it’s easy to experiment based on using different types of ingredients. Even ground spice-rack types can be used–whatever you have already on hand is find. As with just preparing loose tea there could be more unease with experimentation or more assumption of difficulty involved than relates to the effort actually required.
Chocolate-Covered Cherry Version
Going a bit far, really, but I tried making one. It did work well, but it wouldn’t be for everyone. Black tea, spices, and fruit really does seem like the most natural ingredients, but the idea could be extended in different directions. Egg nog tea? Maybe not, but that spicing range might work for a lead, creating a nutmeg intensive version.
Happy holidays, and good luck with your own experimentation. If you find a version that works well you might try it out on holiday guests, or barring that, a nice, soft, earthy Dian Hong Chinese black tea matches up well with cold weather.