Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Making black tea and coffee from plants

Black tea

Black tea is obtained from the dried fermented leaves of the tea shrub (Camellia sinensis). This is also known as English tea, Assam tea or chai. The tea shrub can be grown in the British Isles but is half-hardy and will need bringing indoors or covering well to protect from frosts and the cold winter months. It is possible to make tea out of C. Japonica and although it doesn’t have the rich flavour of C. sinensis, it is an acceptable alternative. C. Japonica is more easy to grow in the British Isles. If neither are available then use blackberry, raspberry or strawberry leaves (or a mix of all three). The tannins in the plants give the tea a
rich full bodied flavour.

Black tea leaves and bags made with blackberry, raspberry and strawberry leaves
Black tea made from fermented and dried blackberry, raspberry and strawberry leaves. Place a spoonful of tea in individual empty bags for ease of use.

Pick the top three leaves of the young tips of the Camellias or use the leaves from blackberry, raspberry or strawberry plants. Crush the fresh leaves well and break up into small pieces. Remove any large woody stems. Place leaves in a covered bowl and leave in a warm dark place for around a week to ferment.

Turn the leaves at least once a day to allow air to circulate and fermentation to occur evenly. Alternatively, place leaves in a polythene bag in a warm place and shake the bag once a day. Most of the leaves should turn black.

Place in a low oven until completely dry and crispy. Crush the crispy leaves up into even smaller pieces. Store in an airtight containing until required. Use like loose black tea and make in a teapot or place tea leaves in loose tea bags. They can be heat sealed or, easier still, closed with a pull string. These little bags are particularly useful when travelling. Tea can be drunk black or with milk, sugar or lemon added.

We use a mix of blackberry, raspberry and strawberry leaves for black tea. Plants are easy to identify and can be found almost anywhere. The result has the aroma, flavour and colour of black tea. Little individual sachets can be stuffed with the dried leaves and used as tea bags. They are useful when travelling.

As a point of interest a green tea can be made from the steamed and dried leaves of the tea plant.

‘Coffee’ powder

Carrot (root) or
Chicory (root) or
Dandelion (root) or
Jerusalem artichoke (root) or
Parsnip (root) or
Rye (grains)

The familiar coffee beans purchased in shops in the UK come from a tree grown in the 'coffee belt' which is a climate vastly different to that of the British Isles. Coffee requires a humid climate and high altitude, amongst other requisites. These conditions can be duplicated to a certain extent in a greenhouse and there are reports of some successes such as in the Rainforest Biome at the Eden Project.

Rather than trying to overcome the difficulties of growing coffee in the UK, we are going to concentrate on producing a reasonably good coffee substitute from other, rather more easily grown plants.

To make coffee powder with the roots (see above for a list of the best), take the fresh root, slice thinly and place on a baking sheet in the oven or over an open fire and cook until dark brown and crispy. Rye grains can be simply placed on a baking sheet as they are and cooked in the same way. Cooking doesn’t take long so check back frequently.

Leave to cool and then grind up in a coffee grinder or by hand with a wooden spoon. Store in an airtight container until required. The powder can be used like instant coffee or put through a cafetierre which results in less residue in the bottom of the cup.

Use 1-2 teaspoons per person or mug. Milk and sugar can be added as with any other coffee. Dandelion is probably one of the most popular substitutes and has a good flavour. Different powders can be mixed to get a better or slightly different flavour. Dandelion and chicory go well together.

Many other plant parts can be used to make a coffee substitute e.g. scorzonera root, skirret root or sweet chestnut. They are usually always dry roasted to get the familiar coffee flavour.