Tea blending 101
The perfect tea blend is sometimes elusive. You had the perfect cup of tea on vacation: was it the water, was it the way it was steeped, was it the perfect temperature and time or was it the perfect blend of tea, herbs and spices?
Although it was likely a combination of all these factors, let’s look at the blend and its complexities as a way to understand the process and educate clients.
Let’s use chai as our example. The word “chai” itself is a bit of a misnomer as chai is a general term for tea in India. However, in North America chai is known as a spiced tea. Generally chai has a black tea base but rooibos is also another base that has become popular. Rooibos is an herb from South Africa that has been embraced wholeheartedly as an alternative to camellia sinensis (the botanical name for tea) because it has similar properties but no caffeine.
As for the components that make up the blend, the basic must-haves are ginger and cinnamon. Depending on the tea blender, other components are cloves, cardamom, black pepper and vanilla. If you have the ingredients from a package of your favourite tea, and you think, ‘Oh, that looks pretty straightforward, let me try that myself,’ then try it.
In workshops I have done where we are making “your favourite blend,” people have found it isn’t as easy as it first seems. But don’t be discouraged: the more experience you have with taste, the better the chances are of you getting a good blend. If you haven’t tasted cloves before, for example, then you might not know what you are looking for in the blend. When using unfamiliar spices for the first time, try them in a recipe to see what flavour they add.
Here are some blending hints from a master tea blender:
· Do you use the whole cardamom pods or cloves? Often these are added for a visual cue and sometimes the powder is added as well. These are best “crushed” so that the flavour and oils are released so if this is not done, the tea won’t have quite the same flavour or you might not taste the cardamom or cloves. Master tea blender hint: If you see these in your chai blend and you like these flavours, crush them a bit before you steep your tea!
· Ginger root or powder is a bit like above but you don’t usually crush the root unless there are hard pieces. Master tea blender hint: If you feel there is powder in your chai, make sure you stir up before you scoop your teaspoon of looseleaf tea so that you can get a little bit of everything in your cup!
· Cinnamon pieces or powder should be treated the same as above but pounding the root is sometimes difficult as the root is very, very hard and might take a lot of muscle power to crush. Master tea blender hint: If you like cinnamon and see the root and you don’t feel its cinnamon enough then add some powder to enhance.
· If you feel the flavours are too harsh, add some vanilla to smooth them out.
· If you want to enhance the benefits of the spices, add some black pepper.
Trying your own blend
· Start with ¾ cup of your favourite base.
· Add ¼ tsp of your favourite herbs or spices.
· Smell it, remembering not to do this when you have a cold as your olfactory glands are very important to your ability to taste.
· Adjust in ¼ to ½ tsp increments.
· Taste it to see how it steeps up: it will steep up differently than it will smell.
· Adjust it again as per your steeped flavour test.
· Taste it again.
· You should have arrived at your new chai blend. Enjoy!
Now I need to go steep a tea myself…cheers to all, and happy blending!
Raelene Gannon is a certified tea sommelier, master tea blender and owner of looseleaf tea manufacturer tea and all its splendour. Raelene’s specialties include tea manufacturing, menus, food pairings and merchandising. She is the author of tea: from cup to plate. To learn more about tea, visit www.teaandallitssplendour.com. For more information on mastering the art and science of tea blending, visit www.feedassociation.com.