Even summer evenings can be breezy and cool, and some nights we want a warm drink that is still refreshing. The perfect choice is an herbal tisane, especially one made with lemony summer herbs: lemon balm, or lemon verbena.
We've talked about tisanes before; a tisane (tih-zahn) is the proper name for an infusion of herbs and spices. Anything that doesn't include tea leaves is considered a tisane, so technically speaking there is no such thing as herbal tea — all herbal teas are really tisanes.
But you most often see tisane on a menu when it includes fresh, as opposed to dried, herbs. It's a staple on Chez Panisse's menu and in Alice Waters' cookbooks, which is how we first encountered it.
A tisane made from fresh herbs, especially lemon verbena or lemon balm, is the perfect way to cap an evening. They are very simple to make.
• Pick 1-2 handfuls of lemon verbena or lemon balm leaves. You can include the stems, too. Place them in a teapot.
• Heat water to nearly boiling. Boiling water will oversteep and cook the delicate leaves and give a grassy taste. The water should be the same temperature as you would use for French press coffee, or for green tea.
• Let steep for several minutes before drinking, but leave the herbs in. They will make it stronger as they sit, but not unpleasantly so.
We don't usually sweeten a tisane at all; its delicate, fresh flavor is just perfect on its own. If you want a slightly fancier nightcap, though, try adding an ounce of St. Germain elderflower liqueur to a lemon verbena tisane. It's delicious.
Other herbs that are very good in herbal tisanes are anise hyssop, lemon thyme, and all kinds of mint. Do you drink tisanes? Do you have any favorite tips or recipes?
(Images: Faith Durand)