Making Tea From The Manuka Tree...
Following on from last months post about edible New Zealand plants, what better way to follow up on that than with a practical example…The classic cup of tea!
Most New Zealanders have heard at one time or another the tale that you can brew a good cup of tea from Manuka (or Kanuka for that matter). Captain Cooks men (and many scrub cutters) around this country could probably attest to it. While on a weekend trip to Nydia track in the Marlborough Sounds, the fish weren’t biting so I decided to give up the fishing and give it a go. As there was no earl grey anywhere in the hut, it was the perfect time. The Manuka tree (_Leptospermum scoparium) _is common throughout all of New Zealand including Stewart Island up to 1800 metres above sea level. Manuka grows to about 8 metres while it’s bigger cousin Kanuka grows to about 16 or so. Back in the day they were used by Captain Cook to brew beer and make tea..He even wrote in his diary..”The leaves, as I have already observed, were used by many of us as tea, which has a very agreeable bitter scent and flavour when they are recent, but loses some of both when dried. When the infusion was made strong, it proved emetic to some, in the same manner as green tea”.
It only took me about a 2 minute walk into the bush to find the Manuka, they are pretty common! I started carefully plucking the leaves off then got incredibly bored doing that so decided to grab the leaves at the base of the branch and strip off. This proved far more productive, however it also bought with it all the flowers etc. No problem! These could be filtered out later.
So took my leaves and an extra branch and ended up with about a handful of just leaves in a bowl. At this stage they were letting out a sweet smell which I hoped would come out in the tea. My main concern was making a tea that you could barely taste, which would’ve been a bit of a waste of time, plus I’d heard from a scrub cutter years ago that you needed heaps to get it to taste. So I decided to go against the advice of a spoonful of young leaves per cup and wing it. I added about 4 cups of boiling hot water to the bowl and added a lid to it to keep it warm while it brewed. When roughly 4-5 minutes was up I thought it would be ready. As I had no siv or strainer, I used a cheese grater (and coincidently used those tiny holes on the grater for the first time in my life). It worked. I didn’t use all the water and ended up with two cups of tea. I was amped as I was expecting a colour similar to tap water, but perhaps with a few sticks and leaves in it, but now had two cups sitting on the window sill cooling down and ready to try..Could not wait!!
The time had come to experience this amazing nature drink that I was sure would have some crazy yet-to-be-discovered immune system boosting, disease fighting compounds!
Sadly, it tasted terrible. Way too strong and bitter so I watered it down, then again and again until it was a colour similar to tap water after all. While every part of me as screaming for me to enjoy this wonderful natural product of the bush, my taste buds were grossed out. And so it was poured out on the front lawn of the Nydia DOC Lodge, along too with my dreams of being a Manuka Tea slurping, Pikopiko chewing native bushman. If anyone has a better recipe for making tea from a native NZ plant, drop me a line over Twitter…Until then I’ll be sticking to my Bell Tea, plenty of milk and one sugar :) Enjoy your travels around New Zealand this Spring/Summer!