Today's tea has become something really special to me, mostly because of what it is, Rosebay Willowherb from Tea In The City. This is a plant of many names and a rich history, known as Rosebay Willowherb in Great Britain, Chamerion augustifolium to the Botany crowd, Koporye Tea, Ivan Chai and Russian Tea in Russia (and other parts of Europe) and to me, it is known as Fireweed. This truly gorgeous flower prefers boreal forests (one of the reasons it is closely linked to Russia and Canada, they like the cold) and has been used by the indigenous people of that region for food and medicinal purposes since time immemorial. Not only is it a flower that likes the cold, a plant with many uses, and gorgeous, it can be processed and oxidized/fermented (some places list as ferment, I am honestly not sure if this is a translation error and it is just oxidized, or if it is mildly fermented as well) like tea. All of these aspects make it special, but what really made this tea steal my heart is familiarity, years ago I had the pleasure to work as a Naturalist in the boreal forest of northern Minnesota, where I saw this flower in its native habitat, so it brought back some very happy memories. The aroma of this beautiful pile of leaves and flowers is amazing, herbaceous leafy notes of parsley blend with elderflowers, ripe mulberries, raisins, dill flowers (very very light) and a heady sweet red wine note. It is very complex, just the right amount of sweetness to herbaceous ratio to keep the nose very enticed.
The first time I steeped this tea I brewed it in my glass teapot, but decided for the review I wanted to try drinking it gongfu style, good news is it is wonderful both ways, you really can't go wrong however you steep it. The brewed leaves and flowers are fascinating, strong notes of mulberry, elderberry and elderflowers, red wine (a bit of elderberry wine too) wildflowers, bee balm, parsley, and a bit of pollen. It is evocative of walks in the forest when these flowers are in bloom, I find myself instantly transported into my memories. The liquid is sweet and musky, like red wine and mulberry with a definite fermented fruit quality, along with elderflowers, oak leaves, and a touch of green reeds.
When I tried this tea western style I was at first a little stumped, not often do I run into a tea or herb where I cannot identify its taste, everything tastes at least a little like something else, and for someone obsessed with tasting everything...running into something that tastes so unfamiliar was astounding! There was a touch of mulberry, elderflower, honey, and red wine...but something distinctly unique and specific to this flower. Brewing it gongfu brings out stronger notes of mulberry and elderflower, with slightly citrus notes of bee balm, a bit of grapes, and a touch of sweetness that almost seems malty. I do not say this lightly but this tea is magical, I can see why it was for years a hugely popular tea substitute in Russia and Europe.
I keep speaking of this tea's Russian heritage, though this specific tea came from Latvia (though I do have some Russian tea from Tea In The City I will be covering soon!) which prompted research into the country, since I have to (with great shame as a historian) admit I didn't really know much about it, you know how much I love having a reason to research something! The second steep is even sweeter, like a combination of mulberries and honey stewed together with underlying wildflower and malty notes. Towards the end a touch of slightly herbaceous slightly green notes of reeds (specifically cattail shoots) shows up, but it is quickly washed away by the sweet mulberry aftertaste. Conveniently drinking it western style will get you at least two solid steeps, gongfucha at least five, not bad at all for a flower!
I usually don't mention the medicinal benefits of teas, be they Camellia sinensis or some various herbal tea, because usually, I find the lauded benefits never work for me, so I don't bother, plus I always drink for taste and any benefits that might show up are just an added benefit. I am mentioning it this time because it is said that the tea is mildly sedative, and for once a tea listed as a sedative actually worked, I drank it before bed twice and slept wonderfully...notable since at the time I was dealing with a nasty bout of insomnia...and when I drank it once in the afternoon I felt so relaxed. Overall this tea just made me feel good, I found drinking it made me happy, the taste and appearance alone was enough to put me in a good mood. I have already consumed all of my sample and just ordered more.
One final note on this tea, from a botany standpoint that I find just amazing, this plant is an amazing asset to habitat restoration. Due to its resilience (thanks to its love of cold climates) it is surprisingly hardy, meaning that after oil spills and forest fires this flower comes in and helps resuscitate the land for more fragile native species. I have always found myself drawn to flowers and plants (ok and especially mushrooms) that can come in after disasters and repair the damage, returning things to a previous state of balance.
This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.@teainthecityuk Rosebay Willowherb, or as I'm more familiar with, Fireweed, Chamerion angustifolium, a gorgeous wildflower that prefers boreal forest, I only interacted with this flower on the wild when I was working as a naturalist in the North woods of Minnesota. It's an #herbaltea with a rich history in northern parts of the world, being well loved in Russia, Canada, and... Where this one hails from... Latvia. I'm lying in bed, about to sleep and I find myself entranced by this tea, it's one of the few times I've tasted something that is totally unfamiliar, I'm struggling to find words to describe it, though I'm sure I will by the time I write the blog about it. #tea #latviantea #fireweed #rosebaywillowherb #koporyetea #ivanchai #teaofinstagram