To Tea or Not to Tea…That is ALWAYS the Question

To Tea or Not to Tea…That is ALWAYS the Question


Paula Youmell, RN

In honor of Happy St. Pat’s Day, we will dedicate this post to Irish Breakfast Tea!

Somewhere in the early days of covid, circa 2020, when we were well past the “two weeks to flatten the curve” and I was getting bored, I created a new daily habit to bring some peace and joy into my days. My daily Tea Time has gone through many transformations and gets included in all sort of fun experiences:

  • Sitting still for inner calm
  • Card playing with family and friends
  • Sharing a warm mug with a friend or client
  • Walking the woods trails with Lily and a to-go tea mug

Tea time, initially was either an English Breakfast tea or Masala Chai Spiced tea. As I began reading the book series, Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus by Lydia Sherrer, I was introduced to many options of black teas:

  • Scottish
  • Irish
  • Russian Caravan
  • Thai spiced and more.

My tea discerning taste buds do not pick up much difference between the various black breakfast teas but Russian Caravan struck a very different cord. On first taste, I was reminded of woodstove creosote. Stick with me here, it does get better. I almost poured it down the drain. However, that would have been quite disrespectful to the tea leaves, the soil the tea was grown in, and all who worked hard to get that tea to my mug. So, I did what I do with all black teas: added a bit of half & half (or cream) and a teaspoon or two of local, raw honey. Magic transformed the cup of dilute creosote liquid into this amazing tea experience. While it is not my favorite tea to drink, it does rank high on the list of teas I will drink.

The teas I want to deep dive into here are Masala Chai and Thai spiced teas. I will share a little history and some simple healing benefits.

Tea is so soothing when we create a meditative ritual around making & enjoying it.

Let’s start with Chai:

Reading up on the history of Masala chai, I found various renditions of the story and claims about chai being thousands of years old and always made from fresh and whole spice herbs. Chai did not contain actual black tea until the 1800s when British influence added black tea leaves to the recipe. Some records claim that chai is actually Thai in origin and other records claim it is definitely from India. The consensus seems to believe that it was created as a way to balance physical constitutions, enhance digestion, and promote good circulation as some of its health benefits. It is claimed to have been created by a king for its dosha balancing, vitality enhancing, and longevity benefits.

Masala chai is a spiced tea. Chai tea is simply black tea made with milk, water, and sweetener. Masala spice blends, to make masala chai, vary from region to region but generally contain a base of ground ginger and green cardamom pods. Other spices are usually added to this blend including one or more of the following spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom seeds, fennel seeds and or star anise, and peppercorns. Traditional masala chai is made with the whole spices, fresh ground, and not a premade dry tea / spice blend like the bagged version from Frontier Herb Company. I will not complain about the Frontier Masala Chai as it works quite nicely. What I do not enjoy, and therefore avoid, is the concentrated syrup mixes used in coffee houses. They may be convenient and quick for business purposes but are not an ideal masala chai experience, my opinion, as I find them to be sickly sweet.  

Making Chai with the Frontier blend available at our Coop:

  • 2 cups water
  • 1-2 tbsp of the Frontier chai mix
  • Milk, half & half, or cream
  • Honey, maple syrup, or sugar for sweetening

Generally, masala chai is simmered and steeped in a milk and water blend.

I make the tea first in boiling water, allowing it to steep for 20-30 minutes minimum, and then I add the milk in my mug.

I tend to make a strong spiced mix, 1 tablespoon per 8-10 ounces of water, and I keep the strained tea grounds to re-use (*I’ll explain that part at the end).

Heat the water to boiling. Shut heat off and add masala chai blend, stir into water, and cover pot quickly. I have various steeping methods:

  • If I am using the oven on a 210F or below temperature for something else, I will sit the pot in the oven to steep for 20-30 minutes.
  • I use a trivet on top of my woodstove unless the woodstove is piping hot. I don’t like steaming away my tea.
  • I wrap the pot in a big, thick bath towel and leave it sitting on the table to steep. 30 minutes later it is still piping hot.

I suppose if I had an insulated teapot, that would be nice as well.

After steeping, strain tea into a mug. Add milk or cream to your liking and add sweetener. I tend to use raw, local honey. I add the honey last, after the milk has cooled the tea a little, to keep the honey from being heated up too much. I try to retain the healing properties of raw honey.  Enjoy.

Thai Spiced Tea:

From what I can dig up, Thai tea started as an iced version of black tea served with condensed milk or cream and sweetener.  The somewhat recent addition of spices, mid 1900s, may have actually happened here in the USA to please the American palate. Thai spiced tea is spiced with vanilla and star anise and then heavily sweetened. Sometimes orange food coloring is added to give it an intense appearance.

Creating Hot Thai Spiced Tea:

  • 1-2 tsp black tea per 8 oz. of water
  • Star anise, dried
  • Vanilla beans to steep OR vanilla extract to add after straining into your mug
  • Bring water to a boil. I usually make 2-4 cups at a time depending on who is joining me for tea time.
  • I grind a whole star anise, the full star section, and about ½ a vanilla bean pod in a mortar and pestle.
  • Add spices to boiling water, turn to very low heat, and gently simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  • Turn off heat.
  • Add black tea leaves and stir in, cover pot again, and let steep 3-5 minutes. I like strong tea so I steep a full 5+ minutes.
  • Strain into tea mug, add milk or cream, and add honey.

Alternate making: I put the black tea and ground herbs into the pot and steep all together in one of the methods I mentioned above for the chai tea. I will let it steep for 15-20 minutes.

There are online tea companies that sell Thai tea blends. Frontier Coop does not.

I have also made a mug of black tea, added a ½ tsp of ground star anise powder and 6-8 drops of vanilla extract with a tincture bottle dropper, and then added milk and honey. It works nicely when I want my tea a little more quickly, pinched for time.

Masala Chai & Thai Spice Benefits: most of these spices are warming to the constitution, aid digestion, and increase circulatory flow of blood and body fluids.  

A whole chapter, per spice, could be written about their healing benefits.

  • Ginger: increases serotonin and dopamine levels (think happy hormones), reduces inflammation, used for nausea and motion sickness.
  • Cinnamon: anti-oxidant, reduces inflammation, heart health, blood sugar regulation by increasing insulin sensitivity.
  • Nutmeg: pain relief, strengthen brain cognition, detoxify, boost immune and skin health. Too much nutmeg could make one dizzy, so go low and slow with it.
  • Cloves: reduces inflammation, cancer protection, high anti-oxidant level, destroys harmful bacteria contributing to gut microbial balance.
  • Cardamom: anti-oxidants, supports healthy blood pressure, anti-inflammatory, cavity prevention (this speaks of microbial balancing benefits), blood sugar regulation.
  • Fennel seeds: promotes lactation in breast feeding moms, blood pressure regulation, respiratory ailments, reduces gas.
  • Star anise: fights viruses, reduces respiratory congestion, ease menopause symptoms, promotes lactation, reduce inflammation, increase brain health.
  • Peppercorns: bacteria balancing, anti-oxidant, immune-boosting, fever-reducing.
  • Vanilla: antioxidant, fights cancer, reduces inflammation, neuro protective properties, enhances sweet flavor so vanilla may discourage the excess use of sugar and other sweeteners.

*Re-Using Tea Grounds:

I enjoy strong flavored teas so I tend to use extra of the tea blends per cup. When I strain the tea into my mug, I save the spiced tea blend. I use this leftover spiced tea blend in the morning to make my coffee. I make cowboy coffee. I just heat up more water with this spiced tea blend in the pot. I then add ground coffee beans and let it all steep for 5-10 minutes, strain, and enjoy a mild masala chai or Thai spiced coffee.

Information is from my wisdom, research, training, and experience in western medicine and holistic modalities. My views are not necessarily the views of the Potsdam Food Co-op. When we make choices about our health, use other’s advice, and make choices based upon that advice; we are taking our health into our own hands. Our choices, and any actions that result from said choices, are our own responsibility. Using herbs wisely, as food and medicine, requires hands on learning and working with a trained herbalist while your own knowledge is being created.  Yes, this is my disclaimer.  –Paula Youmell, RN

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