Freelance writer from the northeast coast of England with a fondness for vegan food and punk rock.
My First Taste of Herbal Tea
Nothing says hippie quite like a cup of herbal tea. My first encounter with such came after I’d read about the joys of mint tea in a punk fanzine type vegetarian recipe book a friend had compiled. I bought myself a box of peppermint tea bags, and, somewhat tentatively, gave it a try.
I was puzzled. The brew looked more like absinthe than tea, which made me wonder if it would turn my pee green. I didn’t know whether or not to add milk and sugar, and it smelled like a packet of Polos. I had a sip, and was decidedly unimpressed. I drank the rest of it, but it was some time before I ventured there again.
I did eventually go back to it, and over time I realised that I’d initially missed the subtlety of the drink. In my ignorance, I was expecting regular tea with a peppermint kick—like a liquid version of a menthol cigarette. I was miles wide of the mark.
At the risk of stating the obvious, my mint tea was basically a cup of hot water with a delicate peppermint infusion, but viewing it as such, and not as a traditional cuppa, was an important realization. After my epiphany, there was no stopping me.
I partook of pails of peppermint, firkins of fennel and jugs of jasmine. I found herbal teas to be more refreshing than regular tea, so much so, I usually chose a herbal option when the tea trolley came around at work meetings. Herbal teas have the added bonus that they can be chilled and made into refreshing iced tea.
As for the health benefits of herbal teas, the outstanding one is hydration. As mentioned above, a mug of herbal tea is basically just hot water with flavour. It’s free of fat, sugar and calories, and it’s as refreshing as any regular cup of tea.
Herbal teas, particularly green tea, are renowned for their antioxidants and for giving a boost to the immune system. The calming properties of camomile tea are such that my driving instructor advised nervous pupils to drink a cup of it before a driving test.
On a lighter note, my (then) partner once tried a cup of camomile before bed to ensure a good night's sleep. She was out pretty much as soon as her head hit the pillow—but she got up twice through the night to pee.
A Different Beverage: Turmeric Latte
Turmeric latte is a healthy and refreshing drink that contains turmeric, cinnamon and ginger, each of which has anti-inflammatory properties. The addition of black pepper adds a further health boost because there are compounds in turmeric called curcuminoids. Among these curcuminoids are curcumins, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. However, these benefits cannot be adequately absorbed by the body from turmeric without assistance.
Step up to the plate piperine: a compound found in black pepper that, when consumed, allows the body to absorb the circumin in turmeric more efficiently.
I have made this with soya milk, and it was fine, and another recipe uses almond, so that will work too. I dare say any plant milk will do the job.
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When Herbal Tea Doesn't Hit the Spot
But what if you can’t get away with herbal teas; what if you really miss that morning cup of cha with a glug of moo juice? There are some teas I do enjoy with a splash of unsweetened soya milk, this being my favourite addition for its relatively bland taste. I drink regular tea, of course, but I also have a liking for redbush and earl grey, the latter being my favourite. I get through more earl grey than any other tea, with just the merest dribble of soya milk to colour it.
The soya milk and tea combination tasted odd at first, but it didn’t take long for my taste buds to adapt, and now a cup of tea tastes perfectly normal. I guess it comes down to what the late Dr Ellsworth Wareham* said, “The only taste that is not acquired is breast milk.” He has a point; who could list a food they enjoy now that they hated as a child?
I love oat milk in my porridge, but in tea that oaty flavour dominates (but it still makes a tasty beverage if you like the taste of oats). Almond milk is similar to oat, in that the flavour will be quite pronounced in the drink. I'm not so keen on the taste of almond milk, although it is a passable standby, as I discovered during the Covid shortages, when almond was the only option in the store. Hemp milk is good and creamy, but I find rice milk a bit thin. There are others that I haven't yet tried in tea, including a recently launched version made from potatoes! But for now, soya milk is the one for me when the kettle's boiled. With many other plant milks out there though, it's a reasonable bet that at least one will be to your taste.
While there are many of the opinion that having a non-dairy milk substitute in tea or coffee is just plain weird, times are changing, and plant milks now take up huge sections of supermarket aisles. This is a world away from my first attempt at veganism back in the 1990s, when I had to make a six-mile round trip to a delicatessen for a carton of soya milk. Onward, ever onward.
*Dr Ellsworth Wareham (October 3, 1914 – December 15, 2018) was an American cardiothoracic surgeon, and pioneer of open-heart surgery. He advocated a vegan diet, and he was a vegan himself for half his life. He retired from surgery aged 95, and he died in 2018, aged 104. He did an interview aged 98, which you can view below.
Did Someone Say Coffee?
If the plant milk revolution is most in evidence on supermarket shelves, the high street coffee shop chains must come a close second. All the big hitters offer plant milks with their beverages, most with vegan options on sandwiches and snacks to go with the coffee. Independent coffee shops have also got on board, with all manner of vegan goodies on sale.
On the home front, there are some barista plant milks on the market that go well in a cup of Joe. But while this revolution was happening, yours truly was developing a liking for black coffee, so I've not got a lot to report.
Superb Plant Milk Latte Artistry
If your soya-milk-curdling-in-coffee experience convinced you that coffee and plant milks were never meant to be together, check out this artist at work (that swan!). Anything dairy can do . . .
Vegan Beverages Playlist
I have a particularly fond memory of a young lady from my youth (sadly taken way too soon), who invited me to her house while her parents were at work so I could listen to her impressive punk record collection. That day was the first time I heard this gem, which I fell in love with immediately (and not long after that Malcolm Owen was taken way too soon too).