Tea Time in Scottsdale: Strange Brew -- in a Good Way


​According to Chinese legend, a wise emperor was sitting on his porch one day, enjoying the view and his usual drink of piping hot water, when the wind blew some dried leaves into his cup. Apparently not the kind of ruler who would waste a perfectly good cup of water, the guy drank it up, finding that the leaves had imparted a delicious spice to the liquid -- and tea was born.

Now, I've never been much for natural remedies. Crazy hippie voodoo witchcraft. If I'm sick, give me a bottle of Nyquil and let me bask in the sedative powers of synthetic medicines.

But even I have to admit that there's something soothingly biological about tea. The simple preparation and delicate flavors of the drink have always appealed to me.

That appeal was apparent as soon as I walked into Tea Time (7051 E. Fifth Avenue, 480-606-8503) in Scottsdale last week for "The Power of Herbs," a seminar and tea tasting explaining medicinal uses for plants and their place in the steamy drink. The smell of the store alone -- lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus and raspberries -- is therapeutic. .

I was there for a lecture by Dr. Phil Wazny of Integrative Health Care, a practice focused on treating patients via naturopathy and alternative medicines like herbs. Wazny is a Naturopathic Medical Practitioner, which he assured the crowd is an actual, factual designation that comes with a real medical license and everything.

​Turns out that herbs can do some pretty kickass stuff. Gurmar, a plant known as the "sugar destroyer," has been used to treat diabetes for centuries. I take a bite of the little sugar cookie in front of me. It's sweet and delicious. Wazny walks over and squeezes a drop of the brown Gurmar liquid onto my hand.

"Now put a bit of this on your tongue and watch what it does to the taste of the cookie," he says.

I lick the Gurmar then pop in the rest of the cookie. The sweetness has disappeared, as if the weird herb sucked out every saccharine crystal before it reached my tongue. My sugar cookie is now a flavorless biscuit.

Medicinal uses for herbs abound, Wazny says. Chamomile and peppermint are good for indigestion, licorice root can ease constipation, and the peel of plantains can help ease the pain of bee stings. For those of us who enjoy an adult beverage or three, dandelion root is great for detoxifying the liver.

But, as often is true, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. Belladonna, a plant that can control blood pressure, contains a nasty toxic compound that causes hallucinations when eaten in high amounts. St. John's Wort screws with the efficacy of birth control medication -- a revelation that had me properly terrified for a good 10 minutes.

Bob Wilford, the manager of Tea Time, chimed in occasionally, giving tips about brewing and how to effectively use medicinal herbs in teas. He would know -- his store sells more than 160 varieties, three of which I got to try during the seminar. The first was chamomile, a light, floral drink Wilford says is great for after-dinner imbibing.

Later, Wilford gave us tea made from Hibiscus (those pretty flowers you see on Hawaiian shirts). It's good for lowering blood pressure and weight loss, but tasted oddly like drinking ketchup.

Finally, we had a glass made with peppermint and dandelion root, a delightful drink that's good for allergies and prostate health and smells like a thin mint.

For brewing the drink at home, Wilford stressed focus on "the three Ts of tea:" temperature, time and the tea itself.

"All three are critical to a good tea experience," he says.

If tea is your cup of tea, Tea Time is offering several seminars throughout the summer, including an iced tea tasting tomorrow, June 2, a discussion on tea and diet on June 6, and pairings with baked goods made by a local pastry chef on June 16. call Tea Time for more information.

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Zach Fowle
Contact: Zach Fowle