Having grown up drinking what people call “straight” tea, I was highly skeptical of tea blends because for me, “real” tea was “straight” tea. However, as I continue to learn about tea, I’ve learned many teas I would have considered to be straight tea are actually blends. Take a tea bag, for example. From harvest to harvest, tea blenders have to play with what ends up in your tea bag…and it’s not always the same even if you always buy the same kind! Depending on the terroir (or the climate and terrain) of the season, the leaf harvested and then processed can have different flavours and in order to ensure consistency in your cup of tea, tea blenders use more or less of teas from one or multiple estates, sources, or countries to make your perfect cuppa. The art of tea blending is very much the art of tea.
Tea blending can mean blending different teas together or with other dried fruit, herbs, and spices. And it’s serious business! This past weekend, I went to a tea blending workshop hosted by Bampot Bohemian House of Tea (read about my Bampot review here) and it consisted of two main parts: a sort of Tea 101 on different tea types with tea tastings as well as a more hands-on and practical experience of tea blending. Although the tea introduction was a bit repetitive for me, I think it was interesting for the participants who were completely new to tea. I particularly enjoyed being able to try a different teas – especially ones I’ve been curious about but have yet to try!
Mark Newell, co-founder of Bampot and host of this workshop brewed five different teas for us: 1) Lapsang Suchong, 2) Cherry Rose Sencha, 3) Guangzhou Milk Oolong, aka. Tears of the Moon, 4) Pai Mu Tan, aka. White Peony Tea, and 5) Pu-erh. It was a delightful experience – I’ve been on the lazy side recently and haven’t been expanding my palette much or trying out new flavours and exploring a variety of teas. I’ve been sticking to peppermint or my Taiwanese Alishan Oolong and now they’re running out – it’s time to test new waters!
I’ve always heard other tea enthusiasts rave about Lapsang Suchong and wondered what was so special about it. Let’s just say that I was so surprised at the aroma and taste of the tea! It’s very strong and smoky and flavour, and to be honest, it just reminds me of dried preserved plums. This was a highlight of the day for me because I have never tried a Chinese tea that tasted like this before…and was pleasantly surprised! Lapsang Suchong comes from the Wuyi region of Fujian Province in China and owes its characteristic smoky flavour from being fired over pine wood.
Besides the Lapsang Suchong, I was particularly interested in trying the infamous Guangzhou Milk Oolong, also known as Tears of the Moon. I’ve also been really curious to try this one out and what’s special about this one is that it seriously has notes of condensed milk! Smelling the dried leaves is wonderful and brings back memories of milk candy from childhood. Drinking it is even better…like having a milky sweetness to your tea, except there’s no milk! Amazing for someone who’s dairy-free!
Tea Blending Experiment #1
We were all given a 3 tbsp restriction and so for my first experiment, I tried:
- 1 tbsp Assam black tea
- ½ tbsp dried orange peel
- 1 tbsp honeybush
- ½ tbsp dried ginger
I wanted to create something that would be good for warding off colds in this unpredictable Toronto weather. I wondered if the Assam would be too strong, since it’s known to be more of a full-bodied and astringent tea. I also wondered if honeybush, an herb that is naturally sweet, would balance out the Assam.
After brewing for 4 minutes, I found a slight astringency with the black tea, a nice ginger flavour, but no orange peel at all. My second cup was steeping for too long and became way too bitter and astringent. The ginger was really overpowering and I still couldn’t get enough of the citrusy notes I had anticipated.
Time did not allow, but next time, I would lessen the amount of ginger and up the amount of orange peel. I would also like to see how it would turn out as a tisane, with the honeybush as a base. I would also like to try brewing the herbal component first and then mixing it with the black tea.
Tea Blending Experiment #2
My second experiment also used ginger as a component – I’m on a ginger roll here:
- 1 tbsp Guangzhou Milk Oolong, rinsed
- 1 ½ tbsp dried strawberries
- ½ tbsp dried ginger
This turned out wonderfully: sweet, milky, and spicy all at once. The tea liquor was a beautiful deep rose colour and the flavour reminiscent of bubble tea (not the gross kind, the good kind!). Sweet and milky, the sweetness from the strawberries was not too overpowering and quite subtle. Given the chance, I would love to make an iced tea out of this for summertime backyard barbecues! I think this Milk Oolong is my new favorite.
As I learned from this workshop, tea blending is much like a science experiment. What makes it so fun, though, is that there really are endless possibilities! Think of all the combinations you can make with all the different types of tea, fruit, herbs, and spices! I would love to have a cabinet full of such ingredients and have weekly tea blending experiments. Who would like to join in this culinary venture? Have any tea blends you particularly like or would like to try? Share with me in the comments below! Catch you next week!