It’s Mint Magic, You Know!
Some people are very particular about colors.
ie: “No, I don’t want the bathroom painted ‘blue.’ It must be aquamarine along the sides, white in the background, and edged with a touch of cerulean.”
Tea people, we can get just as particular about our leaves. Such it was with me and mint.
In undergrad, right alongside the love affairs with ginger and what have you, I learned the delicacies of the differences between types of mint. (I was That Kid, after all. “No, I don’t want peppermint-flavored chewing gum. It must be wintergreen.”)
The initial love of mint wasn’t by accident. Traditionally, my Serbian grandmother always had a stash of nana around, sitting in the cupboard or on top of the microwave. The store-bought teabags always had a certain sweetness to them that I could never find in the usual American stuff, with a finial note of bitter chocolate that, once I got the looseleaf variety, proceeded to set my standards for what constitutes a truly good mint.
(By the way, flavor-lovers, if you enjoy reviewing teas, please do add "finial" to your vocabulary. It’s the noun for a decorative endpiece of a structure or object, and most excellently describes the sensation of a flavor that tapers off into something definitive and beautiful at the end of a sip.)
So if I was going to get my nana fix inside the States, I needed to know more about the stuff.
I started with Peppermint. This was the most accessible; whenever someone says, “Mint,” they’re usually thinking of this variety.
Peppermint has a host of wonderful, wonderful properties.
According to Ayurvedic medicine it can:
All these things I knew would come in handy, especially if I was planning on maintaining my health and body function in the future.
But there’s more schools of holistic medicine out there, and everyone has a slightly different approach, even if the core concepts are the same. Equally fascinating was looking into the Traditional Chinese Medicine aspects of peppermint:
Hot dang! My grandmother either had some great instincts, or our Eastern European medicine was more in tune with Eastern traditions than expected.
Interestingly, Peppermint has a bunch of longtime pop culture mascots, like Peppermint Patty of Peanut's fame, Mr. Mint from the Candyland Peppermint Forest, or the Candy Cane's dance in Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker.
My curiosity about Peppermint satisfied, I moved on to the lesser known type of mint: Spearmint.
Now this fellow had a very different flavor profile. Anyone who’s had a cup of each will tell you that Peppermint is a fierce little kicker of a plant, while Spearmint is the softer, sweeter sibling.
But did anyone ever think about why this discrepancy was the case?
A bit of further research — what can I say, some of us love studying even when there isn’t an exam — yielded that the reason for this was purely chemical.
Peppermint has a high menthol content. Its the main compound responsible for its burning-but-soothing capabilities and partially responsible for its “pepper”-y finish. It can be over 40% menthol! That’s super spicy.
Spearmint, however, has a low menthol content by comparison. It also contains potassium, which causes food items taste sweeter and smoother. (A great example of this is club soda, which usually has potassium carbonate and a sweet aftertaste, as opposed to seltzer, which traditionally has sodium carbonate and tastes savory-er. Make sense?)
Potassium is a critical mineral that is needed for recovery and maintaining balanced electrolytes. Usually you can find it in almonds, avocados and bananas, but in a tea? Extra special awesome.
At any rate, both mints were so darn delicious that I couldn’t bear to choose between them.
I settled for alternating: peppermint on super-energy-requiring days, spearmint on lowkey-lie-in-bed ones. To make sure I got the herbal benefits, I employed the following methodology:
Step 1: Grab teapot. The good one, cast iron, so that it keeps the tea hot when brewed.
Step 2: Grab leaves. They better be loose (see above), and at least 4 teaspoons.
Step 3: Prepare, and profit.
Why so many leaves? This is where math comes in after chemistry.
If my pot was 32 ounces, with 1 heaping teaspoon per 8 ounces of tea, I wanted to be set to enjoy the strength of two 16-ounce mugs that may or may not have doubled as beer steins, once upon a less enlightened time.
The more, the merrier, the mintiest fresh.