Peppermint Tea?

I was feeling a little sniffly at work and one of my co-workers suggested I have some peppermint tea. She said it would clear me right up, so I thought I would try a cup.

And then it dawned on me. All this writing about camphor and my own childhood experiences with spearmint and I’d been missing something important – mint contains menthol, that wonderful cooling oil that’s in a variety of products from gum and cigarettes to cough syrup/drops and decongestants. Though I’m not sure about the reliable scientific properties of the herb, it is regularly used to combat mild colds and to settle stomachs.

And now that I’ve had my nice cup of tea, and inhaled its fragrance deeply as well, I do feel better. I don’t know if I’m actually less congested. However, another property of menthol is that ‘cooling’ sensation. It’s cause by the oil’s activation of the ‘cool’ receptors on your nerve cells, though it does not actually make the temperature of those cells go down. So now I’m sitting pretty, feeling the ‘ahh, coooool!’ in my beleaguered nose cells.

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Childhood mint.

I checked out sweetleaves blog after she left some instructive tea comments for me on one of my posts, and was glad to find this nice little summation about mint.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I love mint.  I love the way it cools your throat and opens up your lungs as you breathe it in.  I love it in tea, or in food in small quantities.  Most of all I love the smell of it drying, turning from that springy cool greenness to something more crackly and somehow warming and cooling at the same time.

I can remember drying it every year in my childhood.  We had a ‘small’ patch of the stuff under our dining room window, which looked out over the driveway.  Every year my mom would rip the stuff up by the roots, hang it on he back porch, and let it dry.  Every year it came back on its own, despite drought, flood, or any other potential natural disasters.  Some years it grew up past the dining room windowsill, and we could see it waving there gleefully, very much alive.  But the time we moved out of that house, we had coffee tin upon coffee tin of the dried stuff.

I never got tired of it.  True, my mother was always grateful that it only grew in that one patch of soil surrounded by driveway.  Of course, it completely dominated that patch, but couldn’t seem to cross the asphalt barrier around it.   I wanted to transplant some to the little bit of garden next to our front walk – who doesn’t like more mint? – but my mother wouldn’t let me.  It seems desirable to me still, that frantic growth and tenacity.  Honestly it’s probably not good for the balance of the environment – I think of the bamboo taking over parts of the national forest, or kudzu – but I still love the idea of something green and growing just not letting go.

Organic Bankok? Not so much.

I have recently gotten a kick out of Harney & Sons products, which are being sold at my local Au Bon Pain.  The products sold are all organic, meaning the tea, the sugar and honey sweeteners, and the flavorings are all organic.  I think that’s cool and diligent, and I appreciate it.  But I appreciate the taste even more, which is sweet but not too sweet, and allows the natural flavors of the tea to come through.

Let’s discuss tea a little bit first, and the way it works.  Tea is a type of plant whose leaves, when dried, can be used to prepare a flavorful beverage by steeping the leaves in hot water.  The key here is hot water – it has to be very hot, just on the verge of boiling, to get the most flavor out of the leaves.  In addition, if you keep the leaves in the water as it cools (especially with green teas), the tea will turn bitter.  To a certain extent, this happens with all teas as they cool, whether the leaves remain or not.  That’s why Southerners know the only kind of iced tea that’s drinkable is sweet tea – the sugar covers that bitter taste.  That’s why fruit teas include at least a hint of lemon – the acid cuts the bitterness of the cold tea.  And that’s why Harney flavors its bottled organic teas – almost every one has some sweetener in it, along with a flavor to cover the bitter aspect of the tea itself but retain its less potent flavors.

Now, Harney does all kinds of teas (loose-leaf, sachets, iced, black, green, flavored, white, organic, iced, and bottled), and guessing from the ones I’ve tasted, they’re all good, high-quality teas.  Unfortunately, the Organic Bankok leaves something to be desired.

The website describes it thus:

Organic Bangkok: An aromatic blend of Organic green teas with Organic honey, Organic lemongrass, Organic ginger and sweet Organic coconut. A fragrant blend reminiscent of Thai cooking.

Unfortunately, there’s not nearly enough lemongrass or ginger in it to counteract the taste of the tea.  So I get bitters and then a faint aftertaste of coconut.  Instead, I would recommend the Organic Peach or the plain Organic Green.