The Tea Lady

This article appeared in the Winter 2008 issue of Texoma Living!.

Meet Terry Irvin

On a winter day, when the wind whips across the open fields on Schneider Road near Howe, Terry Irvin runs across the back yard to her greenhouse and checks on the hundreds of tiny herbal seedlings that bask under grow lights. She waters them and adjusts the lights, and when it is really cold, she creates a small plastic tent to keep them warmer. Back in the house with her teeth still chattering, she puts the tea kettle on. A few minutes later, she wraps her hands around the warmth of a cup of lemon balm tea, breathing the grassy-lemon smell of summer.

Irvin and her husband Randy are the owners of Grayson County Herbal Tea Company, started in the spring of 2005, when they transplanted one thousand lemon balm seedlings into their front yard. They built stone walkways and planted other flowering herbs along the edges to create a garden as lovely as it is useful.

For most people, the process of growing herbal teas from tiny seeds and then drying and packaging the leaves would be exacting and tedious, but not for Irvin. “Producing tea for me is easy,” she said. “I’m compulsive. I love a spotless house. When I had my knees operated on, I even cleaned from my wheelchair. So when I started this business, I determined that my tea would be the freshest, cleanest, most flavorful a person could make.”

Irvin harvests the lemon balm in May and June, picking only new growth before the flowers bloom. “I’m picky about picking, taking just enough and the best.”

In another section of her garden, a dark-colored mint sends out a crisp, vigorous aroma tinged with something deep and— chocolate? “Yes,” says Irvin rubbing a leaf to release the fragrance. “This year, I’m adding a new variety, chocolate mint.” Its proper name is Mentha x piperita F. citrate, and besides tea, it is used in baked goods, sauces and even ice cream.

After picking, Irvin takes the leaves to the processing room, where she has three sinks and long white tables, sterilized and lined with paper towels. She wears special clothes—hat, white coat, gloves, shoes—for the process. Irvin’s tea is organically grown with no pesticides, but still she carefully washes each little sprig, rinsing away the dust and checking for bugs. Then, she places them all on paper towels to dry under large fans.

Later, Irwin removes the leaves from each stem, places the leaves in a single layer on large stainless steel trays, and then pushes the tray dolly into the drying room. She weighs one tray. She will weigh it again after drying for 25½ hours at 95 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The state of Texas requires that the leaves must lose 75% of their weight during the drying process.

At night, Irvin prepares the tea containers. The round tins come ready for use, but just to be sure, Irvin blows each container out with a hot hair dryer, making sure that no lingering dust contaminates her tea. She recaps them until time for use and attaches the Grayson County Herbal Tea Company label. As soon as a batch of tea is dry and cool, Irvin fills the containers to or over 1.25 ounces and fixes a seal across the lid. She stores them in her home so the tea never gets too hot or too cold. As she said, her tea must be the best.

Irvin said the lemon balm tea tastes good and is good to aid digestion and soothe nausea and headaches. It has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, and it is a relaxing tea for anxiety and mild depression. As for chocolate mint, Irvin’s new flavor, mint is high in calcium, vitamins A and C, riboflavin, phosphorus, potassium and niacin, and there’s this hint of chocolate. What more would you want on a cold day?

You can buy Grayson County Herbal Tea at Wild Lotus Bead, 613 W. Main Street in Denison, contact Terry Irvin at www.graysoncoherbaltea.com/, or visit the Fannin County Master Gardener 5th Annual Home and Garden Expo on March 29, 2009, in Bonham, where Irvin will display her products for sale.