St. Louis Tea Club - February 2020 - "Sweetheart Cacao"
The St. Louis Tea Club is a seasonal subscription to hand-blended teas made with fresh ingredients from our small organic farm. We practice Earth-based farming and herbalism so the plants in our blends are nurtured from seed to cup by our own hands. It's a labor of love and part of that labor is these letters I write to the club with each additional brew. New members are accepted year-round! To learn more or sign up, click here.
I cannot believe how positive and overwhelmingly supportive the response from you has been since our first tea last month (click here to read January's letter to club members). We had a 300% increase in membership! I'm truly blown away and can't thank ya'll enough for sharing your cups with me this season.
Speaking of this season, we are just past Imbolc, the half-way point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Although February can be the coldest month of the year, the days are getting longer and the Earth is stirring restlessly under the growing daylight. This time of year used to be referred to as "The Quickening." Personally I feel things speeding up, becoming more energized, stirring from the heavy sleep of winter. Familiar songbirds fill the air with their chirping melodies again on sunny days. We've ordered seeds, started preparing bed space, and are constructing our new greenhouse (click here to see!). The earliest spring plants are starting to poke up, gently greening the warmer corners of our yards and streets under occasional white dustings of ice & snow. It may be a little early for these familiar weeds - henbit, speedwell, chickweed, and many others - because it's been a bit of a mild winter in the St. Louis area, but for me that simply adds to this years' Quickening energy.
((Chickweed (Stellaria media), one of my favorite early spring weeds and one of the first wild edibles to emerge from the cold winter - (c) Summer Sherrod 2017))
But we can't properly celebrate February without acknowledging Valentine's Day. One of the alleged origin stories for this Hallmark holiday is that folks in the Middle Ages recognized February 14th as the start of the birds' mating season. Maybe it's coincidence, but on the warmer days this past week I've definitely noticed the sounds of chickadees and cardinals returning to our sleeping gardens, chirping brightly through the frosted window panes. Our February blend, Sweetheart Cacao, celebrates the rituals of love we engage in during this time.
The base of the blend is organic Peruvian cacao husks from our friends Cam & Hayley at Honeymoon Chocolate (they're adorable, ya'll). Cacao husks are the papery skin the gets removed from cocoa beans before they're ground into nibs. They make for an amazingly rich chocolate-flavored tea with a creamy mouthfeel and deep flavor. We added a dash of organic cacao powder as well so it's truly a whole-bean blend!
((We had a chocolate tea tasting in the Flavor Lab (aka our kitchen <3 ) to try out all the different varieties of cacao the Honeymoon Chocolates generously provided so we could find the best-tasting one for this month's tea. Plain cacao tea will be available soon in our online shop! - (c) Summer Sherrod 2020))
The delicate, soothing flavor of marshmallow leaf balances the cacao husks as the body of the blend. The mildly sweet and soothing flavors, indicative of its demulcent and emollient properties, help to smooth out the slight astringency from the cacao and add a leafy sweetness to the flavor.
The anise hyssop came from our farm this past year and adds the most aromatic, pungent quality to the blend. With flavors of anise and a hint of peppermint sharpness, this herb adds what I call the "high notes" to the blend, and even more leafy sweetness. Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum and the closely related A. rugosa) are often used in Western and Traditional Chinese Herbal medicine as a tea to help soothe the nervous system and gastric upset.
Rooibos was my first ever tea-love (read more about it here) so it just felt right to include it in our Valentine's inspired blend. The red-velvet color of a cup of rooibos tea and its vanilla aroma add even more soothing, comforting qualities to the blend. It's a full, velvety flavor that rounds everything else out really nicely.
Finally, we spread the love a little further around St. Louis this month by sourcing freeze-dried fruits from our friends at Veteran Dry Goods to add a some decadence (and even more sweetness!) to the tea. The cherries are nice and tart, adding an extra dimension to the mostly velvety, rich flavors.
So it all comes together, sweet and rich and chocolatey and velvety, like all the decadent things we like to share with our beloveds - just because. I like this tea as is, or with a little honey or Lavender-Passionflower Syrup. I made an incredible potion by adding a splash of whole milk, a dash of Date Night Bitters, and a little honey to my cup - I highly recommend this mix for you and your Valentine tonight ;) (maybe even with Irish Cream instead of milk? now we're thinking...)
Let me know how you like the tea! What does it make you think of, how does it make you feel? What sweet additions do you like for these herbal flavors, if any? What brews did you and your loved ones share this week? I'd love to hear your musings over at the St. Louis Tea Club Group discussion page on Facebook.
Until next time, stay warm my friends, keep brewing, and be well.