The 18th century English writer and noted wit Sydney Smith said it best: “Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea.” Smith was also a cleric in the Anglican church, so it’s safe to say he had divine insight into this matter.
In our house, tea is how we begin and end our days, how we comfort each other when we’re sad, and how we get cozy on a cold, wet afternoon. I’m also a coffee addict, to be sure, and I can’t live without the bitter brown elixir, but tea is the drink that feeds my soul and acts as a benediction on my sometimes tattered spirit.
I’m therefore delighted to share these warming tea recipes with you. The tea is enhanced with spices, sugar, juice or milk — nothing fancy — but it’s fragrant and soothing and might be just the bit of liquid encouragement you need on a cloudy fall day.
All the recipes call for a spice packet wrapped in a double thickness of cheesecloth and tied with kitchen string. Don’t have cheesecloth or kitchen string? Neither do I. Honestly, who are these people who just have cheesecloth lying around? I’m not at that level of culinary preparedness. Use two coffee filters tied up with a piece of string clipped from a tea bag.
All the recipes use the same basic spice packet: two whole cinnamon sticks, 12 whole cloves and 7 whole allspice, although the chai requires extra spices. If you don’t have whole spices, used powdered in place of whole – 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of each, depending on your preferences. Put the powdered spices into the coffee filter along with everything else and it will taste just fine; that’s what I did. Use fresh if it makes you happy, but please don’t make a special trip to the grocery store for a few allspice berries.
Most recipes call for boiling the water, then adding the tea and steeping for five minutes, then removing the tea bags. This is the proper way to do things. Because I am nothing if not improper, I boiled the tea bags along with everything else. This is called “stewing,” and tea purists like my British husband will recoil in horror, but you can remind them that it’s Halloween season and a little horror never hurt anyone. It’s what comes after the horror that’s usually the problem. In this case, it’s a delicious drink and not a tentacled slimy beast oozing green acid from its facial orifices, or the 2020 election, whichever scares you more.
All the recipes call for black tea, but why not get creative? Use whatever tea bags you can find in your pantry: Constant Comment, orange spice, chai, Earl Grey, apple spice. Mix and match! Entertain yourself as much as you can before the slimy beast gets you.
All the teas can be served hot or iced and can be stored in the fridge for up to one week.
The spice packet for this chai also contains 10 slices of fresh ginger root, 7 lightly crushed cardamom pods and 3 whole peppercorns. I didn’t have cardamom pods or peppercorns, so I used 1 teaspoon powdered cardamom and 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper. If you don’t like spicy chai, omit the pepper. If you don’t have cardamom, use 1 whole nutmeg or 1/2 teaspoon powdered.
Put the spice packet in a slow cooker with 8 cups water and 8 tea bags. (I used vanilla chai.) Cook on low for 8 hours or overnight. Remove the tea bags and spice packet and mix in a can of sweetened condensed milk. (This is an important point: I added the condensed milk at the beginning of the process and ended up with some weird curdled gunk in the bottom of the pot, which I tried to filter out by pouring the chai through a sieve but instead spilled sticky tea all over myself and the kitchen floor. It’s a good thing I don’t host a video series.) Serve with an extra sprinkle of cinnamon or cardamom, or a dollop of whipped cream and a drizzle of caramel.
Boil 4 cups of water. Add 4 tea bags and steep for 5 minutes. Add your spice packet and 1/3 cup brown or white sugar (I like brown because of its caramelly flavor). Add 1 cup cranberry juice, 1 cup apple juice or apple cider, 1 cup orange juice and 1/4 cup lemon juice. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat or simmer on low to keep warm.
Orange Spice Tea
Boil 6 cups of water. Add 6 tea bags (try orange spice, MarketSpice or Constant Comment) and steep for 5 minutes. Add 1 can frozen orange juice concentrate, 1/2 cup brown sugar and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Bring to a boil or simmer on low.
For a festive flourish, garnish with clove-studded orange slices.
Spiced Apple Tea
Add 5 slices of fresh ginger root or 1 teaspoon of powdered ginger or pumpkin pie spice to your spice packet. Boil 3 cups water and add 3 tea bags (try apple spice, cinnamon spice or Good Earth Sweet & Spicy), steeping for 5 minutes. Add 3 cups apple juice or apple cider and stir in 1/4 to 1/3 cup brown sugar or honey.
Apricot Spice Tea
Boil 3 cups of water. Add 3 tea bags (try apricot or peach tea). Add the spice packet and 3 cups apricot nectar, 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup lemon juice.