Fresh Charisma

Lemon Verbena by Ayala Moriel
Lemon Verbena, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
After a long retirement, my teas are finally being gradually re-stocked. It's been a long journey - and I'm still walking the last few steps of it - getting all my ducks in a row so to speak. Tea blending is a whole other world, and its similarities to perfume development are also the culprit of this endeavor. Tea requires TIME. Time to source, evaluate, steep, re-steep, take notes, blend, make errors, re-blend, steep, re-steep, re-steep again... You get my drift.

As for Charisma tea, the formula or recipe was developed long time ago. In fact, it was the first tea I've designed by myself. The challenge now was acquiring lemon verbena. I'm a bit sentimental, but I am incredibly partial to the lemon verbena that grows in my home village of Clil. I've told you about it and how much I enjoyed the fresh leaves this summer. Whenever possible, I prefer to source from small grower and harvesters, or harvest myself. Verbena only grows in the summer, and is dried late summer and early fall. Which means that once the supplies run out, you'll have to wait another full year to enjoy it again.

This is true to most if not all tea types. Some are harvested only once a year (such as the white teas), and therefore once they're sold out, it requires taking the product off the shelves for a while. This is perfectly fine by me, and part of the beauty of nature's cycles. However, it did take me a bit of time to learn these cycles - and I still am learning. Which means that my teas are not available year-around, but only while quantities last and until the next harvest is ready.

The other ingredients in Charisma also had to be top quality: fragrant jasmine sambac tea, organic spearming, and the most luscious, apricot-y and velvety osmanthus blossoms available.

I love the new packaging for my teas, and each tin holds different weight of each tea (but the volume is, roughly 2oz). Some leaves are larger and looser than others (i.e.: the silver needle that makes most of Zangvil tea), and some are more dense (i.e.: Immortelle l'Amour, which is based on rooibos tea, is like tiny packed red twigs).

I'll be releasing more teas as the winter holidays approach and the packaging is ready for my full collection to be re-instated: Charisma, Immortelle l'Amour, Roses et Chocolate and Zangvil.

And next year, prepare to enjoy some more innovative teas, some featuring wild-harvested botanical from the Pacific Northwest rainforests!

Lemon Verbena Infusion

Lemon Verbena Cordial by Chiot's Run
Lemon Verbena Cordial, a photo by Chiot's Run on Flickr.
Cold infusion is a less-known method for creating iced teas, and has many advantages over the more common method of chilling tea or hot infusions. To start with, you won't need to spend nearly as much energy to heat and than cool your concoction. Second, and not any less important: some teas truly benefit from not being heated, as it can bring out the best qualities of fresh leaves that would otherwise be destroyed in the process of hot infusion.

Cold infusion requires more time to infuse, but that can be easily done overnight: fill a 1L jar or pitcher with 2-4 sprigs of rinsed, freshly picked lemon verbena (or spearmint, or 4 blades of lemongrass). Cover with spring water or tapwater (filtered if necessary), and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. In the morning, you'll have a cool, refreshing beverage, which you could fill in your to-go bottle, while covering the herbs again with fresh water for a 2nd cold-infusion.

When cold-infusing fresh lemon verbena leaves, the result is a more grassy, green and delicate infusion. The citral is a little less dominant as well, giving more room for the more floral and green notes. Also, the result is a very clear water, which is most refreshing in the hot summer months. We drank lemon verbene, spearmint or lemongrass infused water all summer and they were thirst-quenching and provided little moments of sanity and a pure luxury while hydrating.

Making a hot infusion is wonderful too - and will bring out the bright yellow colour of lemon verbena. It will, however, require more planning ahead: You'll have to infuse the tea, bring it to room temperature, and than chill it for at least 4 hours, if not overnight (depending on how much power you have in your refrigerator: the one we had in the village was an ice-box size machine with very little cooling power, so everything had to be planned and thought-through well ahead).

I was first introduced to this method by my Canadian-Japanese friend Dean, who would make cold barley "tea" every summer (it's a simple infusion of roasted barley, that is very popular in Japan in the cooler months; you might be also able to find cans of this treat at the Japanese Konbiniya on Robson street - or your own local Japanese/Asian grocery store). Second time I learned about it was from Maria at Shaktea on Main: she recommended this method for making iced tea from their aromatized white and green teas (their Pomegranate & Magnolia was my first time experimenting with this method, and their Elderflower & Cantaloupe is even better this way). It might be a bit tricky with aromatized teas though: the aromas can taste a bit plastic-y and tongue-burning sometimes if they don't udnergo the heating. So you will just have to test and see for each tea if that method makes it better or worse than cooling a hot-infusion. Like the cold infusions of fresh leaves, dried tea infusions may be re-steeped a 2nd and even a 3rd time.

Lemon & Verbena Cupcakes

Lemon & Verbena Cupcakes by Ayala Moriel
Lemon & Verbena Cupcakes, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
That wonderful lemon verbena in the gardens in the village where I was staying truly inspired me to make a verbena-soaked lemon loaf. But I didn't have my loaf pan, so I made cupcakes instead! I used a bit of semoline instead of all-flour as you'd find in most cupcake recipes. This adds a nice grainy texture, and interest to what is otherwise a very simple yellow batter. However, it is also packed with lemony tartness and aroma, from both the juice and the zest.

For the glazing, I've used both lemon verbena tisan (brought to room temperature, of course), and along with the vanilla sugar, it had an intense lemon-candy flavour, just like that of the classic Israeli lemon popsicles (which are amazing). Must be all that citral and vanillin. Mouthwateringly delicious, and would make a great addition for a Shabat afternoon tea. Shabat Shalom! 
For the batter:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semolina (cream of wheat)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk * 
zest from one lemon
1 Tbs lemon juice

Lemon Verbena Glazing:
2 Tbs strong tisane from fresh** lemon verbena leaves
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 package vanilla sugar

- Preheat oven to 180C (350F)
- Butter and flour a dozen-cup muffin tin (or use paper cupcake liners)
- Cream together the butter and sugar
-  Add and beat the eggs, one at a time until light and fluffy
- Add vanilla, lemon juice and lemon zest, and beat just until incorporated
- Sift together the flour, semolina, baking powder and salt
- Add half of the flour mixture and mix just until incorporated.
- Add half the milk and continue stirring
- Add the remaining two halves of the flour and milk, gently folding mixing until fully incorporated 
- Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in cupcake comes out clean
- In the meantime, prepare the glazing by beating together the lemon verbena tisane, lemon juice and vanilla sugar. Gradually add the icing sugar and continue beating until smooth and runny.
- When the cupcakes are ready and have cooled down, brush them with the glazing.
- Serve warm or at room temperature. Do not refrigerate!

* Of your choice, can be dairy or non-dairy
** Substitute with dry leaves if you don’t have them.

Ode to Lemon Verbena

Lemon Verbena Hair Rinse by Chiot's Run
Lemon Verbena Hair Rinse, a photo by Chiot's Run on Flickr.
Once upon a time (in the 18th century, to be exact), there lived an Italian princess (or perhaps she was French) who like most princesses, was married off to become a queen in another country (let's make it Spain). Her name was Maria Luisa de Parma, and a look at her ancestry is about as confusing as detecting the subtle odour of Parma violets while standing upright and glancing at them in their natural habitat, which is usually not much higher than ground level. One thing concerning this queen is certain though: she'll be always remembered by the plant that was named after her, Hierba Louisa, which is now called Aloysia triphylla AKA Lippia triphylla, L. citriodora, otherwise known to mere mortals as Lemon Verbena or Louisa.

Louisa was the only saving grace in what will be remembered as the 2013 edition of Summer from Hell. I spent most of it under the merciless scorching sun of the Israeli skies, which was occasionally disturbed by smoking military jets and missiles, reminding me that it could be a lot, a lot worse. But that still did not make matters any better.

What did make them better were little tiny moments like waking up a little bit before the sun arrived and sneaking outside just before it will  become unbearable (which is anywhere between 7am-7pm), and picking some fresh lemon verbena leaves and steep them into a fresh leaf iced tea or refrigerator infusion. If planned well, you might even be able to bake a pastry or two without overheating your space (again, early morning only).

I can repeat too many times how unbearable the heat was; because this is the only way you will understand how wonderfully refreshing it was to sip on lemon verbena iced tea and cool off a bit. Lemon verbena is not just lemony, it's also floral and wonderful beyond what simple adjectives can describe. There are plenty of lemony things out there, which are quite wonderful as well: lemongrass, lemon balm, and lemon onto its own with its lip puckering sourness and essential-oil-packed zest are something I find irresistible. But lemon verbena deserves a category onto its own. The high content of citral (aka geraniol/nerol), which accounts for 30-40% of its chemical makeup, is what makes it feel like a candy or a treat. Citronellol (nerol/geraniol) account for around 10%, and make it feel floral and citrusy all at once. But that is something you'll find also in other notes (such as lemon myrtle, litsea cubeba, and citronella), which only goes to show that it's the trace molecules that really make some raw materials stand apart. Lemon verbena is arguably the most delicately balanced and delicious of them all. And beautifully accessible through infusion into all sorts of beverages and sweets. Fresh lemongrass and dried lemon verbena come only second to this heavenly citrus leaf.

Lemon Verbena - Arugot HaBosem

Lemon verbena was imported to Europe after the Spaniards discovered it in South America. The French botanist Philibert Commerson discovered it in Buenos Aires as early as 1767, yet it wasn't till the late 18th century that the plant became popular in gardens in the warmer parts of Europe, and greenhouses in London. The plant is a perennial bush that can grow quite tall if well watered and fertilized, and will shed its leaves in the cooler season (and even the Israeli winter is too cold for this sub-tropical plant). Otherwise, it has fresh bright green leaves that are soft when young and become more stiff and rough when they become more mature. Typically,  the leaves are not used (neither whole nor chopped up) in any recipe, but rather infused to impart their floral-lemony flavour to dishes.

Lemon Verbena

As far as perfume-related applications go, dried leaves of lemon verbena are a wonderful addition to poutpourris and sachets. However, lemon verbena's essential oil is banned for use in Europe and are restricted by IFRA, due to potential phototoxicity. Odour-wise it would make a fine choice for any number of citrus and cologne type scents; as well as imparting a sweet, lemony, floral heart note and a refreshingly sweet effect to any fragrance genre a perfumer would desire, from floral to orientals, fougeres and chypres. Fortunately, there are other oils that bring a similar effect - May Chang (also called "Tropical Verbena"), from the berries of the Litsea cubeba plant). Thankfully, it is also far cheaper to produce than true lemon verbena oil.

Made in Clil

Lemon verbena is one of the signature notes in my work as a perfumer, and not surprisingly. My life-long love affair with this plant hasn't began many summers ago, and ever since we've been growing it in the village it was a source of grounding and happiness. It turns out that Lemon Verbena has powerful anti-oxidant properties: "Moderate antioxidant supplementation with lemon verbena extract protects neutrophils against oxidative damage, decreasing the signs of muscular damage in chronic running exercise without blocking the cellular adaptation to exercise",  so it might have helped me more than I know, drinking it regularly when I was growing up. It also seems to have very calming and grounding effect, and in aromatherapy it is considered to be calming and to help relieve spasms and stomach discomforts, especially due to stress; it also increases appetite, and helps lower fever.

There is something immensely cheerful about its scent, and sipping a tea, especially from the fresh leaves, is sublime. The dry leaves aren't half bad either, especially if you get them from healthy plants that were grown in optimal conditions and harvested and dried with love and care. Such as the ones my family picks for me in my home village Clil; or the ones I've purchased from the newly opened "Made In Clil" shop (which is inside a tent, just to give you an idea of which kind of village this is). Note the three-leaved decoration on the shop's sign: these are lemon verbena leaves, which only shows you how much we associate this plant with the village life...

I've used the dried leaves from my village to make my Charisma tea, which is the first tea blend I've ever made (blended with jasmine green tea, spearmint and osmanthus).  I've just made more of it yesterday and as I was blending it my mood has improved by 300%, making me smile the whole time. It reminded me of the first time I worked a few hours of hard labour at the village, helping a neighbouring family who had an herbal farm to separate the dried leaves from the branches. We had to wear gardeners' gloves to protect our fingers and hands from the very rough dry leaves. We ran through many pairs of gloves in the process - the branches and leaved chaffed through the fabric and even with the gloves it hurt to do the job. I remember sitting there and thinking to myself, I don't mind this work at all even if it cuts through my skin, because of the heavenly smell! And it was then and there that I had my first entrepreneurial idea, way back in my teenage years... Perhaps now you can see why I attribute so much of where I am now to Lemon Verbena.

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