A Tea Blending Primer
Tea was first discovered about 5000 years ago. And, like with almost any product it didn’t take long until curiosity set in to blend a better tea or come up with tasty new flavours. Blending is a fundamental aspect of the tea world, one that toggles between science and art. And here’s a quick and general overview of how tea blends are created.
Blending tea originally began to create consistency between batches plucked and processed in different seasons. Like any crop, tea is subject to terroir conditions; soil, climate and more. With these ever-shifting variables it takes knowledge and experimentation to make sure your tea is consistent cup after cup, year after year.
The expert tea blender knows how leaf profiles combine with each other, and how a blend will be received by the target market. For straight teas like white, green, oolong and black teas the goal is to create a flavour profile, or standard. This standard becomes the "recipe" for the blend that's consistent regardless of changes in soil, climate or other cultivar conditions from one season or year to the next.
The concept of how straight teas are blended pretty much flies out the window when it comes to blending “outside of origin”. Outside of origin means teas with florals, herbs, fruits and spices etcetera. Because the same history and traditions don’t exist, specialty tea blenders tend to be more daring and forward thinking. Specialty tea blending happens at large tea companies and smaller blend and flavour houses located pretty much anywhere.
Like coming up with a recipe, specialty tea blenders need to know how each of the individual ingredients taste on their own, and how they taste together. Once that’s set, the blend is created using the concept of a tea blending triangle. This triangle comprises the base tea or herbal that makes up most of the blend. A supporting tea or herbal is added that compliments the base tea or herbal. Then comes a catalyst, which can either provide the strongest flavour component or simply add a visual attraction to the blend.
How the actual blending happens depends on quantity and scale. Larger companies use machines specially created for this process. Smaller companies have been known to use a concrete mixer purchased just for this purpose. At home it can be a series of bowls and scales. Very often it’s the hands-on, pinch-and-dash approach in a home kitchen that can lead to an extraordinary tea blend.
Admittedly these are the very basics to creating an origin or outside-of-origin tea blend. It’s a specialty that professionals have spent years perfecting, and upon which can lie enormous profit or disastrous loss. But, it’s also a pursuit that anyone can try in their own kitchen – imagine your own house blend taking the neighbourhood by storm!