Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Diversity of Tulsi Tea / Holy Basil Tea

I never ceased to be amazed by the diversity of flavors and aromas that the Camellia sinensis plant, combined with years of selective breeding by humans, and clever production processes, is able to produce. Most other plants used to brew herbal teas have not been developed to quite the same degree. Yet the potential for this diversity is there, and in some cases, already exists to a degree in a large number of other plants.

I love tulsi tea, a tea brewed from a species of basil that is in the same genus as the familiar sweet basil. I've written quite a bit about tulsi now, as I like it a lot. A while back I described brewing an herbal tea from fresh tulsi which I gathered in Michigan, and before that, I responded to a question about drying and blending holy basil. Most of my effort, though, has gone into RateTea's page tulsi / holy basil tea, which has a growing discussion of this herb's fascinating and potent medicinal properties.

A new batch of Tulsi:

My parents grew tulsi this summer at their home in Lancaster, PA. In their garden, they produce many delicious herbs that I regularly use in herbal tea and blends with black tea. While I tried their tulsi several times over the summer, this batch of tulsi was harvested in the fall, and then dried. I was eager to tell what this particular batch was like. It turned out to be very different from the fresh tulsi and also from any other tulsi I have had before.

The aroma of the cup was is dominated by anise-like tones with a hint of tarragon. Surprisingly, there is much less clove in the aroma. There's a rather strongy skunky quality to the aroma as well, reminiscent of hops in beer that has been stored in too sunny a location. The taste is smooth but there's a lingering metallic aftertaste. My parents remarked that they were disappointed with how this batch turned out, and that they have not been drinking it on its own because of a number of unpleasant tones in the aroma. My impression was not quite as negative as my parent's, although I was also a bit disappointed. While it was interesting to drink, it was not as pleasing as other tulsi that I've had. Even though I did not particularly like this batch, it impressed me with how different it was from any other holy basil tea I have tried.

This occurrence also highlights the challenges of developing pleasing beverages; I imagine people who cultivate tea go through the same process. Diversity provides the raw materials for developing new, wonderful flavors and aromas, but the best beverages must ultimately be selected, and there are a lot of unsuccessful variants that must fall by the wayside before tastier ones are found. This batch is one that we will not be selecting to inform our future production: next time we grow tulsi, we will do something differently!

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