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It’s one of my favourite smells in the world: vanilla.

It is one of the most widely used (and most easily recognizable) spice in the world, but it is only grown in 5 countries: Mexico, Madagascar, Tahiti, Indonesia and Uganda. Flowers on the vines of vanilla orchids, which originated in Mexico, are pollinated by hummingbirds or melipona bees. These flowers become pods, which when harvested and cured, become “vanilla beans”. It takes 3 years for the vine to grow, and flowers are only open for 1 day and must be pollinated within this time frame. Flowers can be hand-pollinated. Pods take up to 9 months to mature. They are about 10 cm long, and can contain thousands of black vanilla seeds.

The curing process may vary from region to region, but typically there are 3 steps:

1. Blanching in hot water to stop the maturing process and activate fragrant compounds.

2. Sweating, a months long process of wrapping and storing them in a warm, dark place and drying them in the sun.

3. Conditioning them by packaging them in wax paper and dark boxes for up to 4 weeks.

Just like tea leaves, the different climates, soils, curing methods and species of vanilla affects its flavor profile and characteristics.

Vanilla first made a recorded appearance in cookbooks in the early 1800’s. And thank goodness it did. It’s richly aromatic spice adds so much to desserts…and this morning in my cup in David’s Tea Vanilla Bean Black!

This tea combines the warmth and comfort of vanilla with the robustness of black tea. Other ingredients include coconut rasps, apple, bean peel, white hibiscus blossoms, and stevia extract. It reminds me a lot of Tetley’s Red Vanilla Rooibos, which is caffeine-free and also a very satifying vanilla treat! But unlike Rooibos, it is a rich, dark colour.

Like spending time in a garden, vanilla tea can help reduce stress and anxiety. In fact, Stanford researchers have said the chemical compounds in vanilla tea boost the brain’s production of a relaxant. Just inhaling the scent can relieve stress and anxiety in 90% of people…in less than 3 minutes.

It’s Monday! I’m inhaling…and tasting…and savouring my vanilla tea this morning…with caffeine…in the garden.

What’s in your cup today?

If you look the right way, you can see the whole world is a garden.

Frances Hodgson Burnett

Thanks to The Brilliant Kitchen for info. on vanilla!