Sara Levine has worked as both a barista and herbalist for the better part of a decade. She splits her professional time between blending herbs for herself and others at Apothecary Tinctura and pulling shots of espresso at vegetarian hot spot City, O’ City. Her customer base changes with her workplace, but at the end of the day both jobs boil down to serving customers and maintaining a deep knowledge of ingredients.
“For me, with teas it’s like equal parts science, intuition, and flavor profile,” Levine says. “The science of it is obviously just knowing these herbs really well—knowing their functions, knowing how they’ll interact with your body. The intuition is an interesting thing, because a lot of herbalists come from a clinical and scientific perspective.”
She explains that while specific herbs have scientifically proven medical benefits, there’s a certain merit to serendipitously following intuition while blending tea for individual customers.
“The flavor profile is another thing,” Levine says. “Is this person going to drink a tea that tastes really medicinal? Do they need something that is a little bit lighter, floral, and sweeter?”
Levine’s featured recipe is what she calls “nutritive and nervous system regenerating.” It emphasizes re-energizing, replenishment, and great taste—a particularly appropriate combination for a barista in need of a cup of tea.
The blend consists of nettles, milky oat tops, rose hips, tulsi, and licorice. Nettles provide a boost of magnesium and potassium and milky oat tops are great for the nervous system, while rose hips add tartness in flavor and vitamin C, and tulsi—commonly known as holy basil—acts as an adaptogen, which helps the body quickly adapt to stress. Licorice lends a unique sweetness to the cup, and as a synergistic herb helps harmonize the rest of the ingredients.
With dizzying variability, Levine’s advice for a barista looking to learn herbs is to keep combinations simple.
“I would pick a few herbs to start with,” she says. “I wouldn’t overwhelm myself, because there are hundreds of herbs out there. Knowing 10 herbs intimately is so much better than knowing a hundred herbs on a superficial level.”
Ben Wiese is a freelance journalist based in Denver. Read more Ben Wiese on Sprudge.