Tisane – herb tea from your garden, and ordering herb tea in Spain
I was told off (gently) by the waiters in Spain. While traveling around this beautiful country for a couple of months recently I needed to get off the caffein train. We ate out a lot and lingered in cafes every day and the caffein was starting to get to me. I thought I’d change to herbal tea. Easy? not so fast. I annoyed many waiters in the beginning trying to order “camomile tea”.
I soon learned that Camomile in Spanish is called manzanilla. When I ordered “manzanilla tea” I still got a frustrated looks and it’s only their politeness that prevented them from telling me off. But I didn’t really know what the problem was, what was annoying them? Finally, when ordering manzanilla tea in one of the restaurants I was told in no uncertain terms: “Qué quieres té o manzanilla? tenemos el té verde o té rojo. Manzanilla no es un té”. Translated: “Do you want tea OR manzanilla? If you want tea we have green tea and red tea. Manzanilla is not a tea.” Okay, got it now. This happened later in my camomile tea ordering career so I frustrated many restaurant staff by then, but after that it was better, I just ordered manzanilla.
End of story? not quite. I ordered Manzanilla at another place and the waiter came back with a glass of Manzanilla sherry. Apparently the difference is in how you order it: “una” manzanilla for tea and “uno” manzanilla for sherry. Who knows? I haven’t tried it, but this is what I hear. It was fun, in any event.
Ordering herb tea was not a problem in Granada (Andalucia). With the strong Moorish (Morrocan) influence in Granada there are many tea rooms (called Teterias) with long menus offering any variety of tea you can imagine and then some. Visiting a teteria can be an exotic Arabian Nights experience. Some are quite elaborate. Tea is served in a brass or silver tea pot and ceremoniously poured into glasses, not tea cups. The aromas waft as they pour the tea, tantalizing your senses and preparing you for what’s to come. After visiting the Alhambra we went into town and sat at a table in one of the teterias on a narrow street in Granada, ordered our tea and watched life on the streets of Granada, feeling privileged to be there on that day, at that time.
So, at home I make my own tisane (herb tea) using herbs growing in my rooftop garden. A little bit of honey in the glass and I have the perfect cup with aroma and flavour and it is probably even good for you. Sometimes I use one herb (sage, thyme, mint, oregano, lavender, lemon verbena), and sometimes mix a little bit of each. Sometimes I serve it hot, others, chilled. It’s nice to have a glass tea pot or a tisaniere (a French glass teapot especially for herb teas) because you can see the herbs steeping in it. I prefer to drink this out of a glass rather than a tea cup, and usually add a sprig or two of the herb I use to make the tea right into the glass. You really get a whiff of the aroma even before you take a sip. It alerts all your senses.
Directions for making a tisane:
To make a tisane have a glass teapot ready. You can fill it with hot water (that you will later discard) to keep it warm. Pick your herbs, a large handful of a single herb or a combination of herbs and wash them under warm water to remove any dust or anything that may cling to the leaves.
Boil water in a kettle and once the water comes to a boil let it sit for a couple of minutes to cool down just a little.
Empty the glass teapot of the hot water if you followed that step, and put the herbs in the pot.
Pour the boiled water over the herbs, filling up the pot, and cover it with the glass lid.
Let the herbs steep in the hot water for a few minutes.
Place a small beautiful sprig of herb in each glass, pour the hot tisane into the glass.
Serve with a little honey or a small wedge of lemon.
Note: to deepen the colour and intensify the flavour of the tea I sometimes steep the herbs first and then discard them, replacing with new ones that stay looking fresh and green for the tea service.