November 22nd, 2008


Herbing weirds tea

I've not had any caffeine for two weeks now. A combination of things made me decide to give it up for a while: sleeping badly (not so much having trouble getting to sleep as never actually feeling rested after sleep); persistent stomach pains which I figured probably wouldn't be worsened by giving up coffee; and a conversation with a colleague over breakfast (at a conference) where he claimed that my excessive coffee-drinking was part of some kind of subconscious death wish. Add to all this a vague probably-more-superstitious-than-anything feeling that it's worth 'detoxing' occasionally, or reminding myself that I can do without these things, & you've got a temporary caffeine fast.

To be honest, I haven't noticed many effects (apart from the hideous withdrawal headaches, which weren't as bad as last time I did this and went away after a couple of days). I do seem to be sleeping more, but part of that's because I've had coughs and colds (and tonsilitis!) for the whole of that time, and my sleep is more like a cold-ish flu-ish sleep -- total oblivion punctuated by occasional surreal and upsetting dreams. I do feel a bit more awake when I wake up, but I'm not sure how much of that is a placebo effect. The main effect, though, has been that I'm getting through the millions of boxes of herbal tea in the cupboard at a much faster rate than I have done for the years that they've been there. And when I say years, I mean it; some of these teas have moved house with me four times. The other week I decided a Herbal Tea Audit was in order, and took them all out of the cupboard and put them in order of best-before date. I wasn't surprised to find 2005s and 2004s in there, but the 2001s and 2000s were a bit worrying, and there's a packet of vanilla tea without a best-before date which I know for a fact I bought in Mauritius in 1998. It still tastes, um... okay.

Anyway, I've been drinking the herbal teas in date order (with the exception of the vanilla tea because that's actually just flavoured black tea, i.e. it's got caffeine in) and have so far finished off the ends of boxes of sage tea, mistletoe tea, lemon and ginger tea, 'Ayurvedic detox' tea, and I'm now onto 'Dr Stuart's Tranquility tea'. It's a fascinating voyage through a very limited spectrum of flavours (not enhanced by being a decade past their prime, but I know what these teas tasted like when they were new, too). Basically there are three types of herbal tea: stuff that tastes like spices (so I suppose that isn't really herbal tea at all, it's more spiced tea); stuff that tastes like leaves; and stuff that tastes like hibiscus and cardboard. I don't really bother with the third category at all any more; it all suffers from the Um Bongo effect (if you mix more than two fruits together in fruit juice, you end up with Um Bongo, whatever fruit you use; see also the 'brown effect', whereby if you mix more than two colours of paint together, you end up with brown, whatever the colours). Whether it's blackcurrant and vanilla, cranberry and orange, or anything with the word 'zester' in the name, it's 80% hibiscus and tastes like slightly fruity paper. It's the sort of taste you'd get if you ate the box that strepsils came in. The second category includes mistletoe, vervain, St John's Wort, lemon balm ... however interesting the herbs sound, the resulting tea invariably tastes like sucking hot water through a lawnmower bag. (Sage is the one exception to this rule: sage tea tastes like sage, all meaty and earthy, and has a wake-up kick to it like a cup of coffee.) The spicy teas are far more interesting: cinnamon! Liquorice! Cloves! Sweet-savoury Christmas-puddingy smells! Chai! Incense and Glastonbury and big floaty tie-dye scarves! (Not tasting of all those things, of course. Tea that tasted of Glastonbury would be horrible. Though I suppose some of the leafy-tasting teas -- notably, stinging nettle tea -- do actually taste of mud.)

Then there's mint tea, which doesn't fall into any of those categories, though I suppose it's closest to the leafy-tasting group; and I've seen a worrying trend for mint tea to be combined with other stuff. Chamomile and spearmint? Why waste perfectly good mint tea?

The one thing they all have in common, though, is that they all bear virtually no resemblance to tea.