A Tropical Tisane Trip

A peculiar little leaf came to my attention on a search for another herb. I saw it mentioned in passing as a comparison. It and one other were used as taster notes. Sometimes I hate obscure taster notes – I try to avoid them – but in this case, it caught my intellectual fancy. The herbals in question were Hawaiian in origin. One was called Ko’oko’alau (a.k.a. genus Bidens), the other – and more pronounceable – was Mamaki (Pipturus albidus). The latter was mentioned as a close, islander cousin to stinging nettle.

I didn’t think I would be able to locate them locally, so I turned to online sources. It was almost impossible to find unblended products of either. And the solo options were in the neighborhood of $30 a pound. Why is everything in Hawaii so rapin’ expensive?! (Calming down…)

A difficult decision lay ahead of me; I had to give up on one of these herbs. Naturally, the unpronounceable one went by the wayside, and I focused my efforts on Mamaki. The search wouldn’t take long.

On a trip to Uwajimaya – think Asian Supermarket Disneyland – to browse the vast tea hall, I stopped by the customer service desk to inquire about Mamaki. At first, the just-shy-of-post-adolescent teller stared at me blankly. Before he could sputter out an “I dunno”, I saw my quarry on the shelf behind him. The label read “Hawaiian Chai” – a Mamaki/stevia blend.

Close enough, I thought.

Brewing would be a minor challenge. I wanted to know what Mamaki tasted like by itself, but I had to contend with the blended stevia as well. Having purchased the “sweet leaf” before, I knew what their consistency was like. Mamaki leaves – on the other hand – were larger, fanned-out and veiny. Perhaps a simple self-separation was in order.

The leaf apartheid worked. The stevia in the loose leaf jumble had settled to the bottom of the bag. Mamaki leaves took the top like large, green forest faery wings. I took out about 2 teaspoons of leaves and steeped them in boiling water for five minutes.

The infusion colored to a dirty amber, reminiscent of pond water. It didn’t look very thirst-quenching. Steam pluming from the cup was all nettle to the nose. That settled a bit on taste. Sure, it had the vegetal component of its spinachy cousin, yet somehow transcended its familial trappings into something gentler. I quite liked it, not in a “beaming-smile” sorta way, but a half-grimace did creep through. It even worked well when I put it with the stevia leaf.

This is why I love hunting down new herbs. Is it time consuming? Oh god, yes. But on those special occasions, one is rewarded with a flavor they would’ve never encountered without a gander. So far, my searches have turned up (mostly) successes. Mamaki got a pass.

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