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I like both the flavor and the social rituals associated with tea, but I don't want to consume caffeine on a regular basis, so I only drink it rarely. And I don't like many of the popular herbal teas.

I recently indulged in a cup of flavored tea in a Turkish style tea salon, then switched to flavored rooibos. And then I realized why the rooibos wasn't cutting it for me, despite all the added sugar and flavor: I was missing the tannins from the real stuff. I generally like astringent, even bitter tastes, and it is probably what makes tea tasty for me.

What herb will give me a substitute for tea such that

  • it has no caffeine and similar stimulants (I don't care about arguments how chirality makes theine different from caffeine)
  • it has tannins or other sources of astringent flavor
  • but without having too assertive flavor of its own (for example, I drink wormwood tea sometimes, but it is heavy stuff and not really versatile)?
  • 2
    Did you purposely spell caffeine in as many different ways as possible? :) – Marti Jan 20 '14 at 22:05
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    Also, while I realize that no decaffeination process can remove all traces of caffeine, if all you're trying to avoid is the stimulant effects, then a decaf tea should be perfectly suitable. (If you're hypersensitive to caffeine --like my father was-- then decaf would still be too much caffeine, but for most normal people, such trace amounts of caffeine would have no effect.) – Marti Jan 20 '14 at 22:13
  • @Marti I guess the spelling in my head must be confused because the same word exists with different spellings in different languages. I didn't notice that I had chosen different ones within the same question, but right now, I can't pick the one which is correct in English. Feel free to correct it :) And I have never come across decaffeinated tea, only decaffeinated coffee. – rumtscho Jan 20 '14 at 22:17
  • No decaf tea???? Where exactly are you located? – Marti Jan 20 '14 at 23:02
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Oak perhaps?

I know oak chips are added to wine and other alcohol for flavor (originally aging in oak barrels, but in this day and age oak chips are likely easier to source and use). Oak adds tannins to the liquid, and the oak chips sourced for home-brewing are chosen to be food-safe, and the flavor is probably both generally good and also neutral, or perhaps I mean flexible, for it to work with so many different brewed drinks. I see no particular reason a tea or extract can't be made of these oak chips, or such chips used to add tannic elements to other teas.

If you have access to oak trees, I think acorns might also work - bitter acorns are edible, but only after soaking until the tannins are down to a manageable quantity - the liquid is usually discarded, but that's because it is very strong, dilution might make a reasonable flavor. The acorns are not poisonous, or else soaking would be about making them safe rather than palatable, and it takes a lot of soaking (several changes of water), so you should get quite a lot of... tannic extract? per volume of acorns that you can use to supplement other teas.

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Raspberry leaves, strawberry leaves, and broadleaf plantain all make a somewhat tannic and astringent but relatively neutral tea. I've never tried to find them commercially, however. I do see raspberry leaf tea in stores on occasion, it's popular for soothing various "women's ailments."

Calamus root is probably my favorite bitter herb, but it is rather assertive in flavor and many (myself included) do find that it has a stimulant effect.

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I know that you have mentioned rooibos (/red bush, as it is also called) already, but have you tried steeping it for longer?

In my experience, rooibos can be steeped for much longer than black tea without tasting overpowering, and I believe that a longer brew brings out more of the tannins that you're after. I have had a delicious loose rooibos blended with spices, but brewing for a few minutes doesn't give it enough kick. However, leaving it for 10 minutes is great, and doesn't 'spoil' it like (IMO) that would do to normal tea.

Of course, it will get cooler, so you might want to brew it double-strength and top up with freshly-boiled water (or reheat it, if you are happy to do that).

Good luck in your tannin quest!

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