Build Your Own Unique Holiday Tea

Text and Photography by Bruce Richardson 

There is something magical about the combined aromas of cinnamon, citrus, and cloves that sparks memories of holidays past. Years ago, I blended a tea with all these ingredients, and during a sampling session, one staff member took a sniff from the cup and exclaimed “That’s Christmas in a cup!” 

Voilà! My new holiday blend had a unique name, and it soon became a best seller.

A similar combination of tea and spice launched America’s second largest tea brand in 1946 when Ruth Bigelow created a blend in her New York City kitchen. She shared her concoction with a friend who served it at a party to delighted guests. “Ruth, there was nothing but constant comments about your tea!” the friend reported. Ruth’s husband, David, began packaging the spiced tea with hand-lettered labels bearing the name Constant Comment, and the Bigelow tea brand was launched. 

Today, almost every major tea brand has a holiday tea with similar notes.

Spiced teas make for thoughtful gift giving during the holidays, especially when you handmake your blend. And, rather than using the same tired recipe combining instant tea with powdered orange drink, I urge you to begin with a quality loose-leaf tea. 

Think of blending tea in the same manner as an artist prepares their palette for a painting. Start with a neutral base, and add flavor notes to color your creation. For black tea blends, tea blenders often begin with a Ceylon Flowery Orange Pekoe (FOP) or Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP) black tea. China black teas, such as Keemun, are also good choices. All these medium-body teas accept other flavors very well. For the following holiday blend, the dominant notes are going to be cinnamon, clove, orange, lemon, and a lingering finish of vanilla.

Your artistic and thoughtful tea packages are sure to bring delight to all who receive them. Be prepared to watch the magic begin as the heady scents from your tea brings smiles to the faces of all on your list. A word of caution: This tea has been known to prompt partygoers to burst into spontaneous caroling.

Holiday Tea
Makes 16 (2-ounce) loose-leaf portions
  • 2 oranges
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 pounds Ceylon FOP or BOP grade loose black tea
  • 6 cinnamon sticks, broken into small pieces
  • 2 vanilla beans, chopped
  • 12 cloves, broken
  1. Preheat oven to 200°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Using a vegetable peeler, trim off only the colored part of the peel from oranges and lemon. Spread citrus peels on prepared baking sheet.
  3. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until peels curl up and turn stiff. Transfer dried peels to a cutting surface, and cut into ¼-inch pieces.
  4. In a large bowl, combine dried peels, tea, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, and cloves, stirring gently by hand. Store in a large airtight plastic bag for 3 days to allow flavors to meld.
  5. Divide into 2-ounce portions, and place each portion in a clear gift bag or small jar. If desired, add a label with the following steeping instructions: Use 1 teaspoon loose tea to 8 ounces boiling water, and steep for 3 to 5 minutes. To enhance the cinnamon notes, add a pinch of sugar before drinking.


Bruce Richardson is the Master Tea Blender at Elmwood Inn Fine Teas in Danville, Kentucky. He has designed custom teas for museums, retailers, restaurants, and tearooms around the world. 

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