Local tea blender grows, looks for ingredients
When you drink a cup of Methow Valley Tea, you might be taking a sip of some of the region’s iconic native plants.
In addition to herbs he grows himself or sources from local and Northwestern growers, Skip Mackintosh heads to the spring and summer hills of the Methow Valley and seeks yarrow, fir balsam, field mint and elderflower to mix in his tea blends.
Its “Prevent” blend includes many of these local flavors.
“[Yarrow] is the easiest herb to find in fact. Field mint is harder,” he said.
He’s not the only one foraging for elderflower and other native plants, so Mackintosh tries to be careful with how much he takes.
“I feel like elderflower is a flower you can’t really harvest too much because the plants themselves make it difficult to get to them. They’re really tall and a lot of the ones I find are on slopes very steep,” he said. “But I try to be aware of that. …Other animals like bears want the berries.
Arrowleaf balsamroot – one of the first signs of spring in the Valley – also comes into its “Immunity” blend.
“All of them have more than one quality, but I try to group them together as much as possible based on overlapping qualities,” he said.
Currently, Methow Valley Tea only sells herbal teas, but in the future Mackintosh hopes to expand into green and black teas. There are six blends, and when it has more peppermint, Mackintosh also sometimes sells just a peppermint tea.
Mackintosh spent several years farming in the Seattle area and west of the Cascades, and when he moved here he wanted to continue that work, as well as pursue a creative outlet.
“I wanted to start something and do something fun on my own, but I think the bigger issue was just bringing something to the community that was useful and that people liked,” he said. he declares.
He started looking for openings and realized that there were several local producers of almost every beverage in the valley except for herbal teas.
“It was like, I want to grow things, so what can I grow?” he said. “Weeds are generally easier to maintain…once the weeds start it seems like most of the time…they explode and you can’t kill them if you try.”
Mackintosh hopes to grow some of the herbs he uses, forage for others, and work with local and northwest farms to supply the rest as he expands the business.
Learn through experimentation
Mackintosh said he was not an herbalist, but took classes and did his research to learn more about the uses of herbs. It’s pretty well known that lavender and chamomile can help with relaxation, but other herbs do too, he said.
“Hops was a tea that I didn’t realize acted the same way, which was interesting, so I made a tea that had hops in it,” he said. “That was pretty cool.”
Once he learned how to apply the herbs, he started experimenting to find the best flavor combinations.
“The Immunity blend – it’s like elderberry and rosehip, echinacea root and all those things that I learned had a lot of immune boosting qualities and it was the first one I made,” did he declare. “I definitely made adjustments. The hardest thing is the ratios, so that the flavors balance each other.
Ultimately, what matters most is the freshness and potency of the herbs, he said, which drives his desire to keep his supply confined to the Northwest and as local as possible. Bulk herbs may be cheaper and available year-round, but they’re no better, he said.
“There is no flavor compared to what I can grow and extract fresh from a garden and field,” he said. “That’s kind of the defining part of it. Growing it on local farms is important to me, but the most important thing is to have a really fresh harvest.
Methow Valley Tea is currently available at the Mazama store and Glover Street Market. For more information, visit www.methowvalleytea.com.