I grew up being served ‘meadow tea’–the name commonly given to fresh spearmint tea by grandmotherly Mennonite women everywhere. The scent of the steeping fresh tea leaves makes me swoon and fills the house. It is able to overwhelm the damp smells that can creep into the house in summer. Goodbye whiff of cat box and clamminess, hello liquid summertime. The smell of this tea evokes hundreds of memories and sensations for me. It is part of my very fiber of being.
So imagine my surprise to be sitting in the historic district Le Marais in Paris with my friend Laurie, and to catch that very scent, the one that has such atavistic powers of familiarity. Laurie was avoiding caffeine on that particular trip and had ordered tea at a sidewalk cafe. Infusion. Green tea wasn’t on offer—her first choice—so she agreed to infusion de menthe. Beside to my café creme the waiter set a metal teapot, topped with a metal strainer full of fresh mint leaves, dipped just into the surface of the hot water—some leaves still perky and leafy, the submerged ones deeply green and wilting. The scent was powerful and heavenly, overtaking the drifting cigarette smoke or anything remotely unpleasant lingering in the air around us.
I was six years old. I saw crows flying from a treetop. A single tree at the top of a hill in an Ohio meadow by my aunt’s house. The cherry pattern on an apron in the Pennsylvania kitchen of my Aunt Sara. A porch swing in front of a wisteria. And adding Paris to this litany of memories was. well. perfect.
See what I mean? Powerful stuff.
Fresh Mint Tea
To make your own mint tea, I hope you can find fresh mint to cut yourself. If not, it can be found in farmers’ markets and even grocery stores this time of year.
Fill a large bowl or colander with the tips of mint leaves (the top 4-5 inches of the stems). By trimming the tops the plant will grown bushier and there will be more and more fresh tips to cut all summer.
I am partial to spearmint (and my family has plants that we’ve moved from house to house that we refer to as Bunker Hill mint. It came from my father’s childhood home in Charm, Ohio, and now grows happily here in Vermont), but peppermint makes delicious tea too. Or mix them.
Rinse tea leaves and put them in a large kettle.
Sprinkle 1/4 c. of raw sugar over the leaves.
Pour boiling water over the leaves and submerge them with a wooden spoon. For a full colander of leaves, you can cover with 2 or 3 quarts of boiling water.
You can enjoy a cup of hot mint tea in about five minutes. Get a ladle and fill a teacup.
Let the rest steep for 3-5 hours. It won’t grow bitter like black tea.
Strain the tea and refrigerate. I like the tea strong, but this can also be a concentrate that can be thinned with water (about 2 parts tea to 1 part water).
Add lemon slices. Garnish with fresh tea leaves. Add lots of ice cubes.
For a fun cocktail add a splash of bourbon!