Brewing up good ideas for festive holiday punch

SIPS

Herbal teas can make more healthful drink

December 17, 2003|By Sara Engram | Sara Engram,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Holiday parties feature foods and drinks that aren't necessarily known for their healthful qualities. But with a little imagination and some innovation, it's possible to come up with some beverages that are festive, unusual and even somewhat more healthful than the usual concoctions.

Herbal teas are a good example. We usually drink them all on their own, but they also can make a good base for a tasty punch. Almost any herbal tea will work. Just make a strong brew, sweeten to your taste - or not - and add some other flavors - a fruit juice or two, along with something fizzy like ginger ale or even club soda.

With that basic formula and your own preferences as a guide, it's hard to go wrong.

I tried it with a mint tea (Bigelow Mint Medley), added lemonade and ginger ale and got lots of compliments. It helped to have an 11-year-old to help with the mixing and tasting. That way, we got a punch that appealed to a wider age range.

But if you really want to tantalize your guests, try brewing some more unusual teas. Two of my favorites are rooibos, or South African red tea, and mate, a favorite drink in South America.

Both are earthy, even hearty brews, strong enough to make an impression yet gentle enough to make you want more. And both are fairly new to the American market. In fact, rooibos, which grows only in South Africa, was unavailable here during the years when economic boycotts were one way of pressing for an end to that country's apartheid policies.

Even better, rooibos is caffeine-free, while mate has a form of the stimulant that is said to invigorate the mind while relaxing the body.

So if you're looking for something unusual, festive and even healthful for the holiday, give these recipes a try.

South African Party Punch

Makes about 5 quarts

4 cups Red Tea concentrate (or use 5 Kalahari Reserve Original Rooibos tea bags)

1 cup sugar

4 cups orange juice

4 cups apple juice

4 cups ginger ale

3 cups water

garnish: mint, apple or lemon slices, or favorite fruit

Prepare a strong concentrate of Red Tea by using 4 cups of water with at least 5 tea bags. Simmer for 30 minutes, until the tea is very strong and mahogany in color. While the Red Tea is still hot, add the sugar and stir until dissolved. When cool, add remaining ingredients. Garnish with mint, apple or lemon slices or your favorite fruit.

- Kalahari Red Tea

Cranberry Moon Cooler

Makes about 8 servings

4 cups brewed traditional mate

1/2 cup honey or sugar

2 cups cranberry juice (if using unsweetened juice, add a bit more honey)

garnish: lemon wedges, fresh cranberries or other fruit

Mix first 3 ingredients in bowl, add ice, garnish with lemon wedges, fresh cranberries or other fruit.

Note: For variations, use peach, orange, pineapple juice or a combination.

- Guayaki Yerba Mate

Mint Tea Punch

Makes about 2 quarts

6 bags Bigelow Mint Medley or other mint tea

2 cups hot water

2 tablespoons sugar or honey (optional)

2 cups lemonade

2 cups ginger ale

garnish: lemon wedges

Let the tea bags steep in the water for 5 minutes, then sweeten to taste and let cool. Stir in lemonade. Just before serving, add the ginger ale and ice. Serve in a punch bowl garnished with lemon wedges.

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