“Tea” may be an old-school slang word for cannabis, but there is more of a connection between the two herbs than just the name. Many make infused cannabis tea drinks, as it is a great way to medicate and also a fun way to just relax. Sandra Hinchliffe is so dedicated to cannabis as medicine and the use of tea that she wrote a book on the subject, High Tea: Gracious Cannabis Tea-Time Recipes for Every Occasion. CULTURE caught up with Hinchliffe to talk about legalization, cannabis and its properties and the joys of tea.
Where did the idea for the book come from, and what made you decide to write a book about cannabis and tea?
I’ve been very fond of all kinds of warm cannabis-infused beverages for a long time. I made my first bhang a decade ago when I qualified for a medical marijuana card here in California and these warm beverage methods of dosing quickly became a favorite of mine because I felt that it was more gentle and easier to control the doses than cannabis-infused edibles due to the quicker onset of effects.
So, over the years I’ve had the opportunity to amass a collection of my own cannabis-infused tea-time recipes, inspired by my many foraging walks for wild herbs, flowers, fruits, traditional holiday-time beverages like ciders, tasting chocolate and creamy drinks, the comforting broths of my grandmother’s kitchen, as well as the Asian beverage traditions of chai, bhang and tea culture.
I’m a survivor of autoimmune disease and I’m also an anaphylactic. My recipes are for everyone, but they are also a refuge, I hope, for people like me. These days you’ll hear a lot about “cannabis cures,” but I like to leave the curing responsibility to the people that go to medical school. My thing is soothing, refuge, and joy for other people with chronic or terminal illness to know that they are accepted as they are and deserve to experience relief of their pain and enjoy beautiful flavors. Anaphylaxis and severe food allergy has taught me to think outside the box when it comes to culinary cannabis creativity. It’s taught me how to make lemonade out of the lemons dealt to me by my immune system. I specialize in sensitivity cuisine and writing a culinary cannabis tea-time book free of all major allergens seemed like something that would be interesting and useful to many other people.
How did you first start making cannabis tea, or using the two things together?
My first exposure to properly brewed tea and tea appreciation was almost 20 years ago at my first tea tasting in San Francisco’s Chinatown. If you think you know tea, you don’t really know tea until you have experienced the flavors and the psychoactive effects of whole leaf and bud tea that has been brewed Gong Fu style, which is at its most basic a large quantity of tea leaves steeped in a small amount of water for a short period of time, only seconds, served and drank immediately. The process is repeated multiple times until the leaves are spent, the number of times will depend on the specific tea. It’s very hard to enjoy Western bagged tea after this. Gong Fu tea preparation is so much more; there are flavors and effects that I associate with my other favorite herb, cannabis.
Come to find out I wasn’t too far off the deep end in my thinking about Gong Fu. Tea actually has terpenes and other similar and complementary chemistry to cannabis like theanine, GABA and methylxanthines. A good, whole leaf tea, prepared with the Gong Fu method, can create a beautiful flavor and soaring high, and there are some tea varieties that are perfect in this way. Last year, I happened upon Don Mei of Meileaf.com, a well known tea merchant in the UK who was publishing videos on YouTube, and talking about the terpenes and psychoactive effects of tea. His ideas about tea were exactly where mine were and he is a huge proponent of Gong Fu and the terpenes and other compounds that make tea a sister plant with cannabis. I started chatting with Don and introduced him to my ideas about bringing cannabis together with Gong Fu, and I think that was a lovely experience for him because he wrote a great review of my method of infusing Gong Fu with cannabis. The steps for this are detailed in my book.
What is your favorite tea blend made with cannabis?
Anything really rich in terpene content, because that pairs best with cannabis. So, we are talking about highly floral teas like Oriental Beauty (Bai Hao Oolong), which is quite rare and expensive. I like unfermented Pu’erh teas, especially wild, sun-dried white buds, which have a very ‘piney’ flavor (high pinene terpene content) brewed with fresh cut citrus.
I do have two favorite bagged teas that I mention in my book as having a wonderful flavor profile that pairs with cannabis and makes an excellent chai. Red Rose and Yellow Label Arabic Lipton tea. This is not the Lipton tea you know! It’s grown and manufactured especially for Arabic and Indian markets and those cultural tastes in tea. It makes a killer cannabis-infused chai. It’s at most Indian and Arabic grocers. Red Rose is a simple, but highly fragrant and very fresh, bagged tea that you can buy at Walmart, and it is quite versatile and a way to start making cannabis-infused tea with a lot of good flavor. One of my favorite ways to enjoy the sweet terpene drop-ins in my book is with Red Rose tea.
If you are a cannabis tea beginner here in the states, I would start with Red Rose just to get a sense of the possibilities and then start thinking ‘outside the bag’ as your curiosity grows! Appreciation of tea good tea is something that grows on you—and you will want to graduate as soon as possible to Gong Fu.
How has cannabis influenced your life and your creative process?
Cannabis is a spiritual medicine, one that has helped me to connect with everything in more meaningful ways. Sometimes an apple is just an apple, and cannabis has helped me to appreciate the foundation of a good life, a comfortable bed, a long hot shower, activities in nature like hiking and foraging.
The cannabis plant taught me to embrace my primitive gathering instinct, an ancient instinct hard-coded in our genes for thousands of years and often misdirected into compulsive shopping in the modern world. Instead of shopping, would you consider ‘shopping’ for usable herbs masquerading as weeds in your backyard or the sidewalk cracks? Instead of surfing Amazon all day or going bargain hunting, foraging (ethically, of course) for wild herbs, flowers, and fruit is one of the best shopping experiences and products that life has to offer. I can’t think of a better day spent than with a portable vape, some really good weed, a really good foraging friend and a hunt through the sidewalk cracks of the city for purslane to bring home and plant in my own garden, or walking the wild trails on a friend’s homestead collecting gallons of wild elderberries and flowers for a beautiful botanical arrangement and dinner table decor. I begin the creation process for many of my recipes on the trail, with the plants teaching me as I walk. I start most of my work in the kitchen this way.
What do you think about legalization so far? What could be done better or differently?
My heart is with the cannabis farmers, and I think that good legalization policy starts with a positive and encouraging legal foundation that favors them so they can support their families and care for the environment at the same time.
What do you hope legalization looks like in twenty years?
I hope it looks like growing tomatoes, basil or roses.
What are your future plans? A book tour, tea shop, other book, etc.?
I am going to have events in a few dispensaries and bookstore events later this year and next–and those will be posted on the Facebook page for my new book, https://www.facebook.com/highteathebook/ and on my website https://www.posyandkettle.com
Authors always hope there will be another book, so yes.
What do you hope people get from this book?
A lot of really far-out tea experiences.