Why You Should Start Drinking Flowers

Meet the fashion veteran turned tea entrepreneur who is reimagining the process from the inside out.

flowering tea
Photo courtesy of The Qi
Photo courtesy of The Qi

Imagine the serotonin boost you’d receive after taking a break from your screen to watch a single flower bloom inside a teacup. There’s never been a better winter to prioritize tiny pleasures, and whole flower teas are providing a comfort that’s both sensory and nutritious. One of the first, if not only, brands specializing in this kind of tea—and bringing the ritual to social media—is The Qi.

“I think the combination of how beautiful the flowers are, and the fact that they’re just really good for you, really resonated with people in such a stressful time,” founder Lisa Li told me over the phone. The Qi (pronounced “the chee”) offers high-quality, food-grade flowers and a stellar Instagram presence, filling feeds with mesmerizing videos of unraveling petals.

Like most wellness practices that have only just become trendy here, whole flower teas have long-time origins in the East. Growing up in Yingkuo, a coastal town in China, Li’s earliest memories were spent with her grandmother, drinking herbal remedies. But after moving to New York City and spending ten years working in the fashion industry, she was starting to feel burnt out.

So she took a trip to the very real place that is Shangri-La, a region in the Yunnan province of China, and came across these unique flowers—the Shangri-La Rose in particular—that were enjoyed by locals. “Even though I had been drinking teas and remedies my whole life, I had never seen anything quite like it,” she says.

shangri-la rose tea
Photo courtesy of The Qi

Technically speaking, the Qi’s flower infusions are not teas; they’re tisanes, a French word for any ingestible dried flower, fruit, or spice steeped in boiling water, a.k.a. no leaves involved. In addition to the grounding experience that you get from seeing and smelling the flower, you’re also cutting out all the added chemicals that come with tea bags. “Tea bags are, generally speaking, much lower quality, not hand-picked, and machine-made.” she explains, “A whole flower is just super transparent, and it holds the aroma, nutrients, and flavonoids much better.”

The three flowers sold by the Qi—Shangri-La Rose, Royal Chrysanthemum, and Blue Lotus—are organically grown in small, family-owned farms. While they each vary in terms of benefits, from heart health to better sleep, they’re all naturally caffeine-free and loaded with antioxidants. The best-selling Shangri-La Rose, which can be found in many skincare products, is anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and high in vitamin C. 

Each flower can be steeped up to three times, and if you feel like getting experimental, there’s a variety of alternative uses: add the petals to a bath; bake with them; freeze them into ice cubes or popsicles; infuse them in a cocktail. One of Li’s favorite things to do is add the petals and some essential oils to a bowl of boiled water for a spa-like facial steam. 

For Li, holistic health is about understanding that we’re more than the sum of our parts. Having lived half of her life in the East and half in the West, she’s noticed a discrepancy in the ways Americans approach wellness. “Say, for example, you have a headache. People here will take a painkiller, but a headache is usually a reflection of something that’s happening in your body, and you need to find out what that root cause is,” she explains. “We’re all about slapping a Band-Aid on so we can keep working and functioning, rather than finding something that might take longer to cure us, but in the long-term, will really cure us.”

Beyond their adaptogenic powers, the flowers, perhaps most importantly, make room for a moment of pause. “We’re always thinking about hacking—how can we do things faster, how can we do more,” Li says, “But even machines need to reset.” 

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Jessica Sulima is an editorial assistant at Thrillist who will never settle for a tea bag again. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.