I am a huge tea Jenny. (Just to clarify, that’s a person who loves tea very much, not a huge person made of tea and called Jenny.) Throughout the day I often choose tea over water, from the muddy tarry caffeinated stuff that gets me into the land of the living at 6am, to chamomile and peppermint and fennel through the afternoon, and the various evening blends that promise a calming, peaceful slumber at night.
It’s fair to say that over my long tea drinking career I’ve tasted pretty much every variety of tea, both caffeinated and herbal, known to man, and I’ve narrowed down my favourites. So when I found out my assignment for this year’s Crail Food Festival was a tasting with herbal blender Miss IntegriTea, I was more excited than a woman (just) under 40 should probably be about tea.
I always picture drinking tea as a very gentile activity, to be sipped from fine bone china cups on a sunny afternoon with a light wind fluttering through one’s floral skirt and preferably a large floppy straw hat on.
So I was a little surprised when following my phone to the address of my tea tasting experience, to find that it brought me to a busy Edinburgh street and a very small shop with signage advertising facials and sunbed services.
A quick facial while sipping my tea might have gone down alright, but it turned out Cindy, aka Miss IntegriTea does not in fact provide these services, but is only renting the premises (which previously had been a beauty salon) to use as her blending station. She has plans to open a shop in the future, she says, but right now all the energy goes into the blending of her powerful brews.
And that’s a fair amount of energy. Cindy was not wearing a floppy straw hat, but she certainly knows her herbs, and talks about them with the kind of intensity that makes me want to drink a little of whatever she’s having. Having originally trained in neuroscience and psychology, ‘It was brain surgery or herbs,” she jokes.
Cindy’s herbal knowledge means that many of the teas boast health benefits, such as Echinacea to strengthen the immune system, or Sage tea for hot flushes. I was also surprised at the range of plants she uses to make tea that actually grow like weeds in my garden, for example horsetail or sticky willy, both used in her Clear Skin tea. I’ve been known to throw together the odd mint tea from garden herbs, but it’s never occurred to me to chuck in the contents of my weeding basket.
Health benefits aside, one thing that stood out strongly about Cindy’s teas was their powerful, but well balanced flavour. In fact, the first thing that hits you when you enter her premises is the smell, a powerful fragrance of lavender and mint and other unidentified scents. It almost smells more like an aromatherapy salon than a tea blending room.
“I keep all of my herbs as whole as possible” she explains, “Once you crush them they begin to lose their flavour immediately, and hence their nutrients.” She also explains that some herbs intensify as they dry, concentrating the flavour, which is why I have to pack so many fresh herbs into a teapot to get the same effect.
“Stick your nose in,” she says, directing me to a downstairs room stacked full of enormous agricultural sized sacks. I stick my nose in one, trying to feel less like a horse. The smell is soft, floral and calming. She tells me it is valerian, the herb that helps you sleep, but which, to my mind, has always smelled a little like damp dog, or end of the day feet.
“It’s the freshness,” she says, “It shouldn’t smell like feet if it’s fresh.”
Then she tears open a teabag from a popular brand of tea, which happened, (until now) to be one of my favourites. She takes a little of her own tea, which has the same ingredients, and crushes the leaves lightly in her hands. I smell, and the difference is staggering. The whole herbs are much more powerful than the dusty mixture that comes out of the well known brand.
And to me, as a tea lover, it’s this intensity of flavour that sets Miss IntegriTea’s products apart from the rest of the tea blending pack. A day of writing, gardening and kids never leaves me with too many sleep problems, but I can honestly say that the sleep I had after trying Cindy’s night time tea was one of the deepest I’ve had in a long while, and I’ll certainly be sampling more in the future.
Miss IntegriTea will be at Crail Food Festival’s Food Market in the Crail Community Hall on Sunday 15 May 2014. In the meantime, you can buy Miss IntegriTea’s teas and a range of specialised teapots from her website at www.missintegritea.com, where you can also see details of her blends. You can buy her teas in Edinburgh at farmers markets in Stockbridge and Castle Terrace, from Edinburgh Castle’s gift shop and the Scottish Parliament, as well as from farmers markets in Perth and Aberdeen.
Bespoke blended teas are available as well as consultations for specific requirements.
Miss IntegriTea is a Social Enterprise providing employment for people with disabilities and from disadvantaged groups. The company has recently been shortlisted for the Edge Fund for successful young entrepreneurs.