This is why I've spent considerable energy seeking out caffeine-free teas that I actually like. There's the elusive Cranberry Cove, which remains my favorite Celestial Seasonings tea to drink straight. If I'm feeling congested or uneasy or, more commonly, both, I'll mix Tension Tamer from Celestial Seasonings with a health food store-bought ginger tea or I'll simply chop up some ginger and steep it along with the tea bags. If I feel the need for a little head rush to go along with my Entspannung, I might combine the Tension Tamer and ginger with either a ginseng tea or some powdered ginseng. The advantage to this latter "cocktail" is that, although it wires me for an hour or two, I can go to sleep at a reasonable time after it wears off, which is not always the case when I consume caffeinated beverages after sundown. Whether I go for two ingredients or three, I do not add milk to the mix, for reasons that should be obvious.
And then there are the days when I just want something warm to push me gently into the night. For several years I used the roibos or "red bush" tea sold by Trader Joe's for this purpose. Although this South African delicacy has a viscosity and complexity of taste similar to black tea and bonds beautifully with milk, it is free of stimulants and easy on the tummy. Unfortunately, though, our local TJ's stopped selling it about a year and a half ago, forcing me to look elsewhere for a substitute. I found some at Wild Oats, but it seemed to lack something. TJ's started stocking an orange-spice flavored roibos earlier this year, but it tastes too much like a chai blend and goes poorly with milk to boot. Peaberry's in Oakland was selling straight roibos in June, but I didn't want to waste any of the money I'd set aside for my favorite black teas, Ostfriesen and Black Currant, particularly the former, which I've never found a match for anywhere else.
I'm sure I could find a decent roibos in Tucson, whether at the 17th Street Market or the tea shop on 6th across from the Rincon Market or at one of the natural-food emporia. But I so rarely shop anywhere other than Trader Joe's, Wild Oats, or AJ's that I haven't managed to locate a source. So when I saw that TJ's had started selling a new caffeine-free tea from South Africa called "honeybush," I figured I'd give it a try. "Maybe," I thought, "it's actually roibos under a different name." It isn't, as I had already figured out before actually doing the spot of research that I just now undertook. It brews a redder tea, surprisingly, than roibos and tastes, not so surprisingly, more like honey. But it's really nice, though less likely to fill the void left by black tea than its South African counterpart. More importantly, before they are immersed in hot water, the bags, which come individually wrapped in plastic for some reason, smell exactly like the inside of a Cost Plus store on a rainy winter's day. And that, as anyone who has done holiday shopping there can attest, is a very fine thing indeed.