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Herbal and Fruit Infusions:
Definitions and Their Place in Your Business

By David de Candia

Many of us who are tea purists have always wondered why herbal and fruit blends are called tea. For those of you who are considering adding these two items to your menus and/or businesses, David de Candia provides the following guidelines and recommendations.

Fruit and herbal preparations each deliver their vitamins, minerals, and flavors in many different ways. There are capsules, compresses, extracts, decoction, ointments, oils, poultice, powders, salves, syrups, tincture, and finally, infusions.

Next, the process. While most of us already know what an infusion is, it is worth clarification. Infusion is done by pouring hot liquid over the crude herb or fruit and steeping to extract its active ingredients. Herbal infusions and fruit blends are each complex in their own ways. The rules for blending herbs and fruits are quite similar to those used in blending teas. Rule #1: Know the flavor profile of each individual ingredient so well that you can imagine combining them in your mind before they reach your testing table. Rule #2: The skyís the limit. Donít ever let what you see, hear, or taste limit what you know can be a great infusion. Having the opportunity to create your own blends helps immensely in understanding the process.

Starting Your Own Line
A question I get asked frequently is how to start a line of herbal and fruit infusions. In my experience, it is imperative to first look at what matters most to you personally and then what matters most to your final consumer. If your business is geared towards caffeine-free infusions only, then your selection of fruit and herbals can be larger. Your business may be in specialty drinks. If thatís the case, your choice of infusion offerings should be drink friendly. For example, at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, we carry a great herbal infusion ginseng peppermint that can be prepared as an herbal latte.

Next, sourcing all the necessary ingredients for both herbal and fruit infusions can be as challenging as finding great teas. For teas, you have to have specific growing seasons. Herbs, spices, and fruits may not have specific growing seasons and can be grown year-round. In order to ensure that all your ingredients are the freshest they can be, you must pay special attention to sampling. If youíre creating a lemon chamomile, for example, get at least four to six samples of chamomile flower. Try to get these samples from different sources. Price should always be a factor but look for quality first. And always sample your ingredients before blending them.

Blending Tea, Herbs, and Spices
Although fruits and herbs are separate from tea, some of the best blends come from a combination of the three. For example, the chai at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf uses 16 different ingredients that incorporate herbs, spices, tea and liquid flavorings. Unless your goal is to avoid caffeine completely, then experiment with incorporating tea in your herbal and fruit blends. Or, the use of a decaffeinated tea in a blend allows the benefit of what a tea can bring to the cup without the caffeine.

Trends and Health Claims
All infusions - tea, herbal, and fruit - have fallen into a trend at one time or another. Rooibus is a prime example of an herbal that continues to increase in popularity and epitomizes the trend towards caffeine-free, full-bodied herbals. Yerba mate is another herbal thatís popular, offering a full-bodied cup. Fruit infusions have been consistently favored as an iced beverage.

In the past, herbal infusions were thought to be more medicinal but lacking in body. But now, tea has had the most documented proof as a medicinal beverage. As an aside, people who are not feeling well often ask me what tea they should drink. Depending on whatís ailing them, I suggest ginseng peppermint for chest colds and the old faithful chamomile for an upset stomach.

Regardless of health claims, enjoy your herbal, fruit or tea infusions - drink up!

David DeCandia is the tea buyer for The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, California.

Tea & Coffee - September/October, 2004
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