With so many different teas to choose from, you’ve got your work cut out deciding which you like best. But once you’ve settled on one or two varieties, it’s on to honey!
This golden natural sweetener enhances the flavors and adds health benefits to your favorite teas, and there are just as many varieties to choose from. In this post, we’ll explore our favorite pairings of honey and tea.
First, let’s clear up a common misconception about honey:
It's not made from pollen!
During the past decade, rumors caused consumers to believe honey without pollen particles was artificial. But honey without pollen is still the real deal.
In fact, honey is not even made from pollen. It’s produced by bees through a complicated process of “regurgitation, enzymatic activity, and water evaporation” using nectar from plants and flowers (1).
Once bees collect nectar, they change it on a chemical level. The nectar contains sucrose, which is a complex sugar. Their enzymes convert the complex sugar into fructose and glucose, which are simpler sugars. These give the substance its sweetness, making it a great addition to your cup of tea.
Last, it’s transferred into a honeycomb, but the modified substance is still in liquid form. The bees then speed up the evaporation and drying process by fanning the liquid with their wings.
People have used honey for centuries not only to sweeten food and beverages but also for its medicinal properties.
Scientists have demonstrated it produces “antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative, anticancer, and antimetastatic effects,” which scientists agree make it useful in hospitals for treating everything from burn wounds to cardiovascular diseases (2). You can use honey:
What researchers can't agree on is whether raw or processed honey boasts greater health benefits.
While there isn’t a formal definition of raw honey, Utah passed HB148 which states, “‘Raw honey’ means honey as it exists in the beehive or as obtained by extraction, settling, or straining, and that has not been heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit during production or storage or pasteurized”(10).
Because raw honey lacks filtration or pasteurization, it may incidentally contain bits of pollen. Many consumers began associating pollen in honey as a sign of it being more natural and nutritious. But while bee pollen has potential medicinal and nutritional properties, it is not present in high enough quantities in honey to make a difference to the nutrient profile (11).
To further complicate matters, an Australian study determined processing with heat and filtration tended to decrease H2O2 activity in most samples, but the most active honey samples still produced high levels of H2O2 before and after processing (12).
The study concluded the micronutrient profile of honey remained unchanged despite processing, but honey meant for medicinal use should still avoid the “potentially detrimental effects of even mild heating.”
While scientists need to conduct more research to study this interaction further, you can feel confident knowing the presence of pollen in your honey doesn’t determine how healthy your honey is.
You can compare matching honey with tea to pairing wines with food. If you’re an aspiring tea snob, this is where to start.
Honey has over 300 distinct varieties in the United States alone, and the type of flower the honeybees visit influences the color and taste of each type.
Much like wine and food, certain tea and honey pairings make sense. Each unique flavor profile will best complement specific varieties of teas and will overwhelm your taste buds when mixed with others.
You wouldn’t pair a light floral tea with a rich, pungent honey just as you wouldn’t pair a full-bodied red with your fresh fish filet or oysters.
But this rule is not hard and fast.
In the end, you’ll base your decision on personal preference, so you’ll have to add a section of tea and honey pairings to your tea journal. If you’d rather see what other tea lovers have done, check out our reviews for some ideas.
Then, create your own!
A range of black tea types around the world offers a variety of flavors and health benefits. Earl Grey tea, for example, has a citrus flavor, as it comes infused with bergamot oil. This tea tastes best paired with orange blossom honey to bring out the citrus flavors.
Other types of black tea-like English breakfast tea-taste best with a more robust flavor of honey, however, as growers ferment and oxidize black tea leaves for longer periods than other teas. Try a Buckwheat or Sourwood honey for a strong cup of tea. Honey produced from herbs the Lamiaceae family, including Thyme and Sage honey, will work as well.
This is an earthy, grassy and mild tea. Often you’ll taste fresh, floral notes, which is why a mild and floral honey helps bring out these flavors. Choose an Alfalfa, a Clover, a Lavender, or a Tupelo Honey. You may also want to select a Linden Honey to bring out minty and grassy flavors, or Avocado honey to enhance the fresh vegetable flavors.
Tea lovers consider Rooibos an herbal beverage instead of a true tea, as it comes from the Aspalathus linearis plant instead of the traditional Camellia sinensis. Despite this difference, Rooibos leaves often undergo a lengthy fermentation process, keeping it on the darker red end of the oxidation spectrum. Rooibos is a neutral tea with a sweet, nutty flavor accompanied by hints of vanilla and cinnamon. Pair it with a citrus honey like Orange Blossom or a spiced honey like Gallberry or Meadowfoam to accentuate flavors of cinnamon and vanilla, respectively.
Fragrant and aromatic jasmine tea comes from flowers picked early in the morning with a deep, fragrant smell and sweet finish. This aromatic tea pairs best with a floral Clover, Holly or Lavender honey.
Many tea-drinkers reach for chamomile tea at night, as it’s known for its calming and soothing effects. Because it’s mild, we reach for a mild honey like Alfalfa, Sage or Clover to avoid overpowering the chamomile.
On the other end of the tea spectrum, white tea is much less processed and oxidized than black tea. As a result, its flavor profile is more delicate, soft and sweet. Match this with a light and delicate honey of the Fireweed or Acacia varieties.
Get creative! Pair Basswood, Holly, Eucalyptus, Citrus or Blueberry honey with different herbal or fruit-flavored teas, or try Meadowfoam or Gallberry honey to add sweet vanilla and cinnamon notes to flavored teas. Toss in some ginger root. This is where you’ll want to share your experience with other tea-lovers on our reviews page!
As described in the 2012 Australian study above, heating to 113 F during processing influences the healthy enzyme profiles of certain honey varieties depending on a range of factors. Since you’ll boil hot water for tea at 212 F, it’s best to wait until the boiling water has cooled down before adding the honey to retain health benefits.
Studies suggest the best temperature for serving hot tea is about 136 F (13). Avoid adding honey while steeping your tea, as the flavor will change during the steeping and cooling process. Plus, you’ll remove some of the honey added during this time when removing the tea, which further alters the flavor. Allow it to cool for a short time before adding in honey, sipping the tea as you add honey to create your desired taste.
Quite the opposite!
Not only will you reap the added health benefits when you drink tea with honey, but you’ll also enhance the flavor. Plus, experimenting with different honey and tea combinations is the only way you’ll figure out which you like best.
We recommend starting with your favorite tea and using the suggestions we’ve listed here to begin influencing the flavor. Keep track in your tea journal, and you’ll start to understand which pairings you enjoy most in no time.
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