I wrote about a homemade Christmas tea blend recently, and mentioned I was going to try variations. It's not as if I've really broken new ground by doing that but I'll mention the update.
the dried fruits part
Indonesian jasmine black tea
One part of that adjustment was varying the black tea used to make it. One other Indonesian commercial tea I'd bought was a jasmine black tea, which turned out to be quite nice. The appearance was a little odd, on the dusty side, with some sticks, and tea presented more as flakes rather than some other conventional way. Oddly that didn't translate into a bad tea; it was actually mild and well-balanced, with limited astringency, nice clean flavors, some underlying earth and mineral tones, and a good balance of light jasmine flavor.
It couldn't pass for a higher end specialty tea, based on appearance, but it was much better than it looked, quite good for teas of that type, not so far off other teas I've tried that look much better and cost much more. In fact it may have been the best value in a tea I've ever bought; something like 50 grams of tea for around a dollar, for one of the best teas I ever bought in a grocery store. A black tea I found in Cambodia was pretty good once, and a hojicha in Japan, but you get the idea; grocery store teas are universally mediocre or even bad, and this one was ok.
Indonesian black tea label
I loved the idea of clove mixed with tea, really the main reason I even tried it, and that spice in particular was problematic. It gave the tea an aromatic, spicy earthiness but it seemed like adding enough of it to actually taste it would require at least sugar mixed in to counter the "spicy" spice aspect, something related to pepper or ginger, the heat. Someone could drink straight cinnamon brewed as tea without compensating in the same way, or cardamom, or nutmeg, but spicing that comes across as heat is hard to integrate into a standard tea flavor profile not designed for adjustment with sugar or milk. Why not add sugar and / or milk then? Kind of a long story to get into that, but there is an image issue related to those, which overlaps with an image issue related to drinking tea blends.
One challenge would be balance. Making it in a masala chai style took away from that problem; milk and sugar could offset any problems with astringency or spicing, and even smooth over other balance issues between fruit, tea, and spicing. Another would be getting the fruit to show up, since tea typically brews in around 3 minutes, but a 5 minute steep really isn't long enough to get a fruit peel or dried cherry to give up flavors.
For the first try at an infused version I just backed off the spicing, went a little heavier on the fruit, and tried it out brewed at boiling point for the typical range, around 2 to 3 minutes, prepared with enough extra tea it would brew two or three infusions at that ratio. I skipped the vanilla because it was too much messing around for preparing a tea with breakfast, cutting a bean / pod open to get to the spice itself. It was drinkable but not great. I tried it with sugar; better but not great. Then with milk and sugar both; much better but still not great. The fruit really didn't come out nearly as much as in the first version I'd wrote that earlier blog post about, a boiled preparation of a similar tea, but then I'd simmered the dried fruit alone without tea for 5 minutes in that batch to give it a head start.
the earlier version; pre-simmering the fruit and spices
I've been drinking tisanes with dinner lately, to allow for a version of tea (something like it, at least) in the mid evenings, without caffeine, and steep times can just keep going for those. When one reads package instructions or blog reviews of tisanes those always cite a 5 minute steep time, longer than for tea, but that's typically for a well shredded or even powdered version of an herb or flower (or whatever it is, a root or spice of some other sort, or mix).
sage! it's already an "herb tea," just like this
So what is the conclusion for this tea, prepared as a more conventional blend? Per my taste it worked a lot better made in the style of a masala chai, with a lot more infusion time for the fruit, conducted at a simmer. The real vanilla probably made a big difference, since that gave it a lot of natural sweetness and a creamy feel. The infusion version may have worked out better with that added back in, but it wouldn't seem likely two 4 minute steeps would pull out most of the flavor of a vanilla pod either (although that might be wrong; I didn't test it).
Although I loved the effect of the clove, and the idea, it would be hard to get it to balance in a tea and herb infusion that didn't rely on sugar and milk to compensate for the peppery spice effect. Something as simple as ramping up cinnamon by a lot might help with that, but cinnamon wouldn't bring the same smooth, sweet, creamy effect that vanilla did.
spices and some of the teas from Indonesia