Site-Wide Activity Forums Tea Conversations How to blend tea

18 replies, 7 voices Last updated by  mbanu 5 years, 7 months ago
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  • #7277

    peter
    Keymaster
    @peter

    This week, @thedevotea released a new video sharing some of his thoughts on tea blending. Immediately, it struck me that we should be promoting something like this and encouraging more folks to do the same. People knit socks, make soap, candles and clothes that they sell on Etsy and other places. Why shouldn’t Tea Trade become the home for custom tea?

    One of Adagio’s most popular services is their Signature Blends that folks design, Adagio blends and then sells. But these teas are very expensive. Designing a custom tea on their site is easy, just a few clicks and Adagio does all the work and you pick from teas Adagio already sells. But, if you were to buy a larger quantity of each of the individual teas and then blend them yourself, you would have the same tea at half the cost, and you could sell it on Tea Trade and take the profits for yourself, instead of giving them to Adagio.

    Adagio also took the custom blending to their stores as well and allows walk-in customers to blend teas right there at the counter.

    I did some googling and found a few resources on blending tea:
    ~ Starting with Wikipedia: Tea blending and additives
    ~ From About.com: Make your own herb tea blend
    ~ And the always lovely Tracy Stern talking about tea blending in a video.
    ~ And here is a fascinating book from 1896 that @xavier uncovered: Tea-blending as a Fine Art. Which makes you wonder, technology and machines aside, has tea-blending really changed very much?

    I would love to make tea blending a part of the online culture here at Tea Trade, but I’m not entirely sure how to do it yet but this is something that we should definitely pursue

  • #7278

    Robert Godden
    Participant
    @thedevotea

    I used Etsy at one point. It’s not a very exciting place to be for a tea lover, in amongst all those knitted booties.

  • #7279

    Xavier
    Participant
    @xavier

    This is something I find really interesting.

  • #7437

    mbanu
    Participant
    @mbanu

    I feel that it is actually describing tea flavoring. In an honest tea blend, there should be no ingredient mixed in but other tea. The idea is simply that you can make a reasonable approximation of the flavor of an expensive tea using a mixture of pure but less premium teas, delivering an acceptable flavor at a much lower price. (Or a much higher margin, depending on your outlook). It also allows a packer to have a bit of a safety net against the weather. So maybe you have a tea that has been carefully grown and processed, and the weather was perfect all season, and now the tea has a wonderful floral aroma and a faint minty flavor. To blend a tea to copy it, you wouldn’t mix in mint and flowers, you’d find several teas that had some aspect of the end flavor (“point” teas) and mix them together over a neutral filler tea, like putting colored filters over a light until it was the shade you remembered seeing through your window on a perfect Spring day. 🙂

  • #7438

    Robert Godden
    Participant
    @thedevotea

    With respect @mbanu, that is a very limited view of blending.
    Yes, most of the blending in the world is done so that cheap tea can be made to taste better, or to achieve long term consistency.
    Even if 99.9 percent of the tea blending in the world is done to achieve those ends, I don’t think you can discount what I and other like me do. I find new flavours, find new colours, find new tastes, mostly with camellia sinensis but also with other herbal ingredients of cultural, taste or health implications.

  • #7441

    mbanu
    Participant
    @mbanu

    There is certainly nothing wrong with flavoring tea, as long as it is done in an upfront manner. A good masala chai makes the entire day more pleasant. It is simply a case of terminology. It is the same way that if I were to buy a blended whisky, I would not expect a flavored whisky, even though flavored whisky can be quite tasty.

  • #7443

    peter
    Keymaster
    @peter

    The more significant question I have to those who have actually blended tea @thedevotea or @mbanu (have you?) – how hard is it? I know that @liberteas has talk about spending an entire year getting a blend just right. That’s a scary thought for anyone wanting to try blending at home in their favorite stainless-steel mixing bowl, but is it and can it be more straight forward than that?

    In his video @thedevotea talks about the mixing of textures (meaning more about the different sizes and shapes of the components) to ensure an even blend throughout – I understood that to mean that one does not want smaller pieces sifting through to the bottom and that the components of the blend have a uniform size (or at least some method of preventing segregation).

    Bottom line – how hard is it? Can it be learned and done at home the way one learns to knit socks or a scarf?

  • #7444

    Robert Godden
    Participant
    @thedevotea

    I’m the worst person to ask.
    I owned a tea shop with 164 teas, some scales, 64 herbs and a huge quantity of trays. Not everyone gets that chance.
    I still primarily blend with high-quality, drinkable tea.
    So while I have adopted the label “blender” as useful, others might disagree.
    Also, I work my blends out in my head before I test them. I”m sure others must have that skill. It saves a year, apparently.

  • #7445

    liberteas
    Participant
    @liberteas

    Well, first of all, there are two … well actually THREE … different terms that I even have trouble keeping separated. First is blending. Blending is not only the act of combining different teas, but also blending fruits, nuts, herbs, spices and the like with teas … like a masala chai blend for example. Chai blends are not usually flavored – that is, altered by the addition of flavoring oil – but they are blended heavily with spices.

    Blending in itself is a pretty easy process, but, depending upon what you’re blending it may have little effect on the overall flavor. For example, if you’re trying to make a strawberry tea, and you’re blending a black tea with dried strawberries, the overall flavor is going to be black tea. The strawberry flavor will be weak, at best. Other blending components, such as spices and herbs, have more of an impact because they do produce a strong flavor when infused.

    Then there is flavoring. Flavoring is the act of adding flavoring oils to the tea leaves. These oils are intensely flavored extracts that are absorbed by the teas. When you get a caramel tea, for example, the caramel flavor is not going to come from the addition of caramel chips … these are added primarily for the purposes of appearance. Or going back to my strawberry example, you might add freeze dried strawberries to the black tea, plus add strawberry oil to the tea leaves and allow the oil to be absorbed to create a strawberry flavored tea.

    The act of flavoring is more difficult, but you have to start with good oils. Then there is how to flavor them. Some tea artists use a direct method by applying the oils directly to the tea leaves, some tea artists may use a more indirect method by applying the oils to a piece of cheesecloth (for example) and putting the cheesecloth in with the tea to allow the tea to absorb the oils. In my own experience, I have found that some flavors work better using the direct method, while others work better by the indirect method.

    The third and final term is scenting. Scenting is almost like the indirect method I mentioned above, but it is generally accomplished at an earlier stage of tea development and generally done before the teas are made available to the tea purveyors (be they wholesale or retail). This is the best way to create a jasmine tea, for example. Jasmine oils do not create as pleasing a jasmine flavor … generally when you find a “soapy” or overly-perfume-y tasting jasmine tea, this is the result of flavoring with oils instead of using the layered scenting process at the early stages of tea processing.

    To answer Peter’s bottom lime question … it can be learned. It can be done at home… but I certainly would not compare it to knitting (but then, I never learned how to knit). My practices are primarily self taught, having done a lot of research in my early years. It wasn’t until after I had embarked on my that I actually attended a class … and at this class that I attended, the act of blending but not flavoring was taught, so I felt a little cheated out of the cost of tuition.

    The biggest piece of advice I could give someone who actually wanted to learn how to flavor (or even blend) is to give it a try, and don’t give up if you don’t succeed the first time… the reason it took me over a year to create a blend (a few of my blends took at least that long), is because my first attempt was not quite what I wanted, so I kept trying until I was satisfied with what I created.

  • #7446

    Robert Godden
    Participant
    @thedevotea

    Well done @liberteas
    Comprehensive and I agree 100% with everything you said. Even the knitting.

  • #7447

    liberteas
    Participant
    @liberteas

    Also, I did want to add, if you do wish to flavor/blend at home … and you wish to eventually sell these blends to the general public, I do advise contacting your local health department to learn their requirements. Some states require that you have a licensed kitchen, some do not. Even for the small guy out there who is wanting to just make small, handcrafted blends in tiny batches, if the health department catches up to you, you may end up with some not so small fines to pay.

  • #7449

    liberteas
    Participant
    @liberteas

    Also:

    Another form of blending is the act of blending two or more different types of tea. Like a breakfast blend for example: Take some Assam and some Ceylon, mix them together and you have a blend. This is also what Adagio does with their custom blend service. They take their already flavored teas and combine them with other already flavored teas: Take a chocolate flavored tea, add some almond flavored tea and you have a chocolate almond tea.

    This is the easiest way to achieve different flavors, and for someone who is just starting out, it is probably a good place to start.

  • #7464

    Jackie
    Keymaster
    @jackie

    I’ve been following this thread with much curiosity. I can’t add any real wisdom, since I don’t blend, or flavor any teas myself. @liberteas your insights into the world of tea blending was very interesting. Thanks for all your thoughts. I was thinking that maybe @iheartteas or @thepurrfectcup might have something to say about this too? Especially Rachel who has been blending for a while. Did you all read @xavier‘s translated rant by (French company) The O’Dor’s owner in defense of tea blending? It was interesting too!
    Anyway @mbanu – I do think you’ve got a point here with your whisky analogy. There is a difference between blending and flavoring. Usually when a company offers teas that are “blended” they seem to mean different “pure” teas. Most websites sell their flavored teas, as just that: “flavored teas”.

  • #7512

    Robert Godden
    Participant
    @thedevotea

    Xavier said:
    How do you find out the final brewing time and temperature of your blend?

    Do you mix together teas with really different temperatures and brewing times?

    You can, and they change, and you have to work it out by instinct and experimentation. Also, you can get very different re-steeping profiles, so steep one becomes very different to steep two and three.

  • #7548

    pabeekeeper
    Member
    @pabeekeeper

    @mbanu i am new to this, but i have a first question… You made mention of a Masala Chi, are you referring to Gram Masala Curry?? I roast and hand grind my own curry and the idea of the tea sounds great.

  • #7549

    mbanu
    Participant
    @mbanu

    Masala is a term that means roughly “spice mixture”. There are many masalas out there. Masala Chai is Indian spiced tea; it is distinct from plain Chai which is made with black tea fannings or CTC tea in the Indian manner (boiled in milk and water, sweetened) but without spices.

  • #7676

    mbanu
    Participant
    @mbanu

    Another nice work is Tea and Tea Blending (1894). I think it might even be better to start out with than the Tea Blending as a Fine Art (1896) that is mentioned in the other thread. The blending chapter in Tea and Tea Blending seems to do a good job of outlining the basic idea (a tea that is aromatic but mild is combined with a tea that is strong but simple), without getting into the little details right away. (Though I like that it mentions the importance of relying on artificially scented teas only when the water in an area is so hard that the scent from naturally aromatic teas won’t brew out correctly.) The specimen blends are also a little more approachable, I feel, because they are simpler, which makes it easier to see the concept involved.

  • #7680

    mbanu
    Participant
    @mbanu

    Hmmm, here is an alternate link: http://archive.org/details/teateablending00slewrich

    Does that one work?

  • #7690

    mbanu
    Participant
    @mbanu

    Another good book is The Art of Tea Blending (1893). It mentions some important points, but dives right in with things that while important may be less intuitive, like how to construct a blend that is resistant to crop variations. It also seems to be using the more complex blending system where point teas are blended on a neutral base tea, instead of the more obvious “strong tea, no fragrance + fragrant tea, no strength = strong & fragrant tea” blends in Tea and Tea Blending, so perhaps it would be a good secondary read…

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