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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Alternative Hot Beverages: Tisanes

the color comes from the spices -- there is no tea in this beverage

In cutting our grocery spending this month, I was forced to take a long hard look at our non-nutritive beverages. I am a long-time coffee-lover. I also love a good cup of tea. I've talked here about switching from caffeinated to decaffeinated beverages in 2018. This has actually been one of those fortuitous changes, not only because I feel better physically, but also it has now allowed me to venture into alternative hot beverages, as I am no longer tied to finding a source of caffeine.

Last week when I found that great deal on ground beef I realized that in order to really stock up, I would have to cut a few items from my list. One of those items was decaffeinated instant coffee. This was a struggle for me. After loading up my cart with packages of ground beef, I headed to the coffee aisle. I put a container of decaf into my cart, then took it out again, put it back in, then after some shopping, I put it back on the shelf. I still had some decaf at home, so I knew there would be a little for the month, but not a lot. I am stretching it out and making it last. Seeing my supply of decaf coffee and tea dwindle got me to thinking about some alternative hot beverages that I could make at home, using what I have on hand. As they don't need to have any caffeine, my options are wide open.

Our cabinets are filled with herbs, spices, and flavorings. Some of these won't be used before their flavor has been lost, so I thought I might as well begin experimenting with homemade tisanes. A tisane is basically an herb or spice tea without the Camellia sinensis  (the plant that is the source of tea leaves). Tisanes can be made from dried or fresh leaves or petals, such as mint, basil, lemon balm, or chamomile, or tougher material, such as bark, roots, or berries, like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, or ginger. Tisanes can also be made from fruit, such as berries, stone fruits, or fruits with cores, like peaches, cherries, or apples. In addition to the plant material, most of us also keep liquid flavorings, such as vanilla or almond extract. All of these pantry staples can make economical, delicious hot or cold beverages. And for those of us with shrinking grocery budgets, there is no need to outlay any additional money for the ingredients for these alternative beverages, if we use what is sitting in our cupboards.

Preparing a tisane usually follows one of two approaches, decoction or infusion. The choice of approach is dependent upon how much heat and time a material requires to extract the full flavor. So, for a tough item like cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, cardamom berries, chunks of apple, or a slice of fresh ginger root, a tisane will require greater heat and longer brew time, such as through decoction. Decoction is the term for simmering substances in water for a period of time to extract the full flavor, anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. Strain out the solid pieces and serve. Stainless steel or enameled pots are recommended for simmered tisanes. Aluminum is reactive and should be avoided.

The approach for extracting flavor from softer material, such as blossoms or leaves, consists of pouring boiled water over the substance and steeping for 3 to 5 minutes. This method is called an infusion. This is all that is necessary to impart the flavor of soft plant matter, and in not subjecting it to prolonged heat, this simplified approach preserves the bright notes of delicate material.

This week, I've been making tisanes with whole cloves, broken pieces of cinnamon sticks, and ground ginger. Ground spices could also be used, but I was not satisfied with using ground cinnamon in my tisane, and heated cinnamon in water becomes slimy. I have used ground cloves to add a bit of a punch to second-batching my spices. If venturing into the world of tisanes interests you, I think something spicy, such as cloves, cinnamon, and ginger is a good starting point, as it is like many teas with which most of us are already familiar.

This is my term for reusing the tisane spices in a new pot of water for a "second batch." I use the same broken piece of cinnamon stick and the whole cloves, plus I add a couple of pinches of ground cloves and ground ginger to the fresh water. After 40 minutes of simmering, I have a fresh pot of the tisane. Second batches seem to require slightly longer simmering time than first batches.

My recipe (if you could call it that) for a spice tisane is 20 whole cloves plus 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, a 1 1/2-inch piece of cinnamon stick broken into 4 to 6 pieces, and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger in 6 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. A personal preference -- a bit of sweetening brings out the flavor of the spices, while the addition of milk recalls steaming mugs of chai latte.

Leftovers can be stored in a glass jar in the fridge for about 5 days. When making tisanes with whole spices, I store the beverage with the spices still in the liquid. However, when making a tisane with leaves, petals, or fruits, I strain the solids out of the liquid before storing. I think the keeping quality increases when soft material is removed from the liquid. And knowing this, I am more likely to drink the leftover beverage if I believe it has been properly stored.

I have a variety of spices in my cupboards that should make delicious tisanes. I will be experimenting with different blends in the coming months.


  1. My favorite tisane is made from dried hibiscus petals. You can purchase them cheaply in Mexican groceries (I think the Mexican name is "Jamaica"). Delicious hot and iced. In the summer, I pour a quart of boiling water over about 1/3 a cup of the dried hibiscus petals, a handful of fresh mint or lemon balm, and a few pieces of licorice root (bought in bulk years ago very inexpensively at Market Spice at the Pike Place Market). I let this steep for 15 minutes to several hours, then strain it. Add enough water to make two quarts and chill in fridge. Serve over ice. So refreshing!
    It's tasty hot too. The hibiscus is used in all of those Celestial Seasonings "zinger" teas - that's what gives them the tart taste.
    - Tina

    1. Hi Tina,
      Thank you for this information! I just checked and our local Walmart carries dried flor de Jamaica blossoms/petals for $7.88/lb. I also found it on Amazon for $7.58/lb. I'll check one of our ethnic markets for it, too. Your tisane sounds delicious.

  2. Are you going to grow some of your tisane herbs? Various mints grow well (too well sometimes) and would produce enough leaves to provide tea through the winter. I'm not a tea or coffee person, so I don't have much experience making drinks with spices. I may not want to drink them, but I bet they smell wonderful.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I have lemon balm and mint (in a pot) in the garden already. I'll make sure to both use a lot of it fresh and harvest and dry for next winter.
      Can I ask, do you drink any hot beverages in the colder months, and if so, what are they? I do sometimes just have hot water. But I prefer some sort of flavoring. A little juice in hot water might be good.
      The spiced tisanes do add a wonderful aroma to the kitchen when they're simmering. Funny, I've always done a pot of spices as autumn fragrance for the house, but never thought to drink it before!

    2. I don't usually have any hot drinks. I am mostly a cold or room temperature water person. However, I have been known to borrow my husband's coffee cup to warm his hands.

    3. I think I am hooked on flavored drinks. I tend to think of a hot drink as like a snack, whereas I think of water as just a basic. I need to work on that. That's funny that you'd borrow your husband's coffee to warm your hands. Warming hands is part of the allure of a hot drink for me for about 9 months of the year, here.

    4. Lili--one of my favorite things is a hot ginger and lemon "tea." Just hot water steeped with FRESH ginger (strained out after steeping) , lemon and just enough sweetener to make it less sharp. It warms up not only my body but my throat in a very pleasant way due to the spicy fresh ginger. And besides being delicious, it has the added bonus of feeling so healthful, like a body cleanse. I like just hot water with a little squeeze of lemon juice, but my ginge lemon tea is a special treat.

    5. Hi Allie,
      Fresh ginger has such a wonderful flavor, doesn't it? I buy it at Ranch 99 in our area -- great price. I love fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thin, then simmered in water for about 20 minutes and add honey. I tend to leave the slices of ginger in the tea and let it increase in intensity. I'll try it with lemon sometime. I also add a slice or two to chicken soup when I have it. Very yummy! My current batch of ginger is begin to winkle. I suppose I should use it up. Do you know if ginger freezes very well?

    6. That sounds like exactly what I do, but with lemon! I'm lucky enough that I have enough neighbors and coworkers here in SoCal who can't give away fruit from their citrus trees fast enough. What a luxury!
      Ginger freezes great! It often takes me a while to through a I like to preslice it and freeze it so I can take out a small portion at a time. It keeps for months.

  3. What he Christie's detective, Hercules Poirot, loved tisanes. You are in good company.

    1. Hi Sandy,
      is that right? I love Agatha Christie, but I seem to have missed that detail. I need to go back and reread a couple of those mysteries. Thanks for that information.


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