Why you need a custom tea blend, and where to get one in Chattanooga

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Rachele Marsh, owner of River of Light Studio, adds ingredients to a bowl for custom tea blend.

When you step into a store's tea section, you're likely to find a selection of teas that address a wide variety of general issues, from teas that coat a sore throat to teas that help you sleep.

All of those teas are useful, and all of them are in my kitchen cabinet. But wouldn't it be great if there was a tea designed to meet the needs of my unique body, that also incorporates my taste preferences?

I didn't know that was possible until Rachele Marsh, owner of River of Light Studio and a practitioner of Tibetan-style Himalayan vedic medicine, offered to create a custom tea blend for me.

The apothecary and tea room at the studio has a seemingly boundless selection of ingredients for custom blends, along with various grinding tools, whisks and other instruments used for beverage-making. Customers can bag and weigh their own ingredients to purchase at bulk price, opting to create their own blends by experimentation or by ingredients listed online. Or, they can pay to have Marsh create a blend based on their needs and preferences, which, as a casual tea drinker, is the option I chose for myself.

To get started, Marsh asks clients about their medical conditions, as well as their sleep, anxiety, energy and digestion, to find out what they need.

"Then we kind of get to the root cause, which is usually ... connected to the liver," she says.

Excessive alcohol, processed foods, sugar, some medications and sleep deprivation can all affect the liver, which performs a range of vital bodily functions including detoxifying the blood and regulating blood sugar. Certain tea blends can aid in that detoxification.

"Most people don't know they're looking to be detoxed, and they are like, 'Oh, yeah, that's what I need. I didn't think about that related to all these other things.'"

Before creating my custom blend, Marsh asked a series of questions, ranging from my flavor preferences to my immune system to the effect that coffee has on my body. Based on my responses, she recommended a blend that would help with detox, immune support and alkalinization to neutralize acidity in the body.

  photo  Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Rachele Marsh mixes together a custom tea blend.

My blend includes Dragon Well green tea, damania leaf, red raspberry leaf, rose petal, Shamee white tea and life everlasting flowers, which is an herb known for its anti-inflammatory properties. I was told to drink the tea daily, steeping 1-2 teaspoons for 5-10 minutes in very hot water. The flavor was lightly sweet, fruity and a little bit tart with an earthy aftertaste.

Marsh keeps a notebook that serves as a menu of sorts for all the different custom teas she's blended, which she calls her Unali line of teas. "Unali" means "friend" in Cherokee, and the person the blend was created for adds whatever word or number they choose after Unali to identify their unique blend. (Mine is the Unali Chatter Blend.) If the blend fits another client's needs, she may reuse it.

She also has more generic blends she's created that appeal to many people.

For example, for people who have anxiety or want to stop using alcohol, Marsh recommends a blend with kava, which she usually mixes with lipids such as coconut oil or ghee, and then teaches people how to use it safely on a daily basis.

If you don't want to steep your tea, she can make powdered blends that you can simply mix with water.

My tea was the traditional variety that requires steeping, so I had to get a metal tea ball and bring my kettle out from the back of my cabinet. (I usually make tea by steeping tea bags in a mug of microwaved water — not ideal, since water "dies" when microwaved, Marsh says.)

While it's too soon to tell if my health will improve by sipping on my own custom blend, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process — from really thinking about what my body needed in order to communicate that to someone else, to feeling, smelling and tasting the ingredients, to the experience of steeping and then enjoying and feeling grateful for a delicious tea made just for me.

  photo  Staff photo by Olivia Ross / A custom tea blend