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You see tea blends all over the place (for purposes of this article, I will include those “blends” that include non-tea substances). There are ones with marigold petals and ones with peppermint. There are some with dried pieces of apples and berries. Some have spices added such as cinnamon, black pepper, and cardamom. There are also blends that are all tea, mixing the right balance of a rich black tea from Sri Lanka with a milder black tea from Kenya or Nilgiri. But it’s pretty easy to create some of your own custom blends (believe it or not, in spite of the wide array of choices, you may not find a blend that suits you – sort of like shopping for shoes, neckties, hats, etc.).

All set to blend! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

All set to blend! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

1 Select Your Base Carefully

Your base will be a single tea, a blend of teas, or even herbals such as Rooibos and chamomile. And just like when you want to select the main color of your palette before painting a room, you want to select the basic tone of your blend. A green tea sets a different tone (often grassy, a bit bitter, and possibly flowery or nutty) than a black tea does (richer, astringent, malty, raisiny, etc.), and herbals are a whole different experience.

2 Select the Proper Flavors to Blend

This applies even if you are blending several teas together and not including any non-tea items. Blend the right teas together. Or blend in the proper flavorings. Part of being “proper” means being top quality. Part means being good flavor pairings. You can blend a milder flavored black tea with a stronger flavored one, a green tea having a more grassy taste with one that is more nutty, and some even say you can blend together different styles of tea (green with black or oolong).

3 Give Them Some Time

I find it’s good to let the blend sit a day or two. You might even want to shake the container once or twice during that time to make sure the flavorings affect things evenly. Of course, you can also do some ad hoc blending. We do this at home all the time. We’ll cut open some bags of Typhoo, for example, and dump the contents in a small bowl and then add a teaspoon of another tea, stirring them together and them pouring into the teapot. We find that English Breakfast Blend No. 1 is a great flavor enhancer, adding its bold bright taste to the Typhoo.

Some Blend Suggestions

  • Black tea with any of these: true cinnamon from Sri Lanka, cardamom seeds (crack their shell open slightly), freshly crushed black peppercorns, vanilla (slice the bean pod lengthwise and scrape out the seeds into the blend), cocoa (or even cacao), rose petals, dried berries.
  • Green tea (other than matcha) with any of these: citrus in either dried peel form or zest (grated fresh peel), lemongrass (gives that citrusy quality in a milder form and imparts a full mouthfeel – very pleasant), mint (preferably in the form of fresh leaves that you slightly crush), ginger (preferably in the form of fresh gratings off of ginger root), fennel seeds and licorice (don’t overdo unless you are a real ouzo fan), and jasmine petals (this is one item, though, that is better in the versions you buy ready made since the process of scenting the tea with the jasmine imparts a floral flavor that is more infused into the tea leaves than when you just throw some in with them at home).
  • Rooibos, an herbal, is good with any of these: cocoa (a personal favorite pairing), ginger root, peppermint (in oil form), coconut (shredded), saffron, and rose petals.
  • Tea Blend with Orange and Cinnamon: start with a top quality black Ceylon tea (about 4 ounces), add some diced orange peel (well dried) to suit your taste, and add in a half ounce of ground cinnamon, mix together, put into a storage jar, and let sit a day or two. Steep as you would any black tea.
  • Blend with Rose Hips and Lemon: put some crushed dried rosehips (that bulbous shape that forms after the bloom has died and the petals have all dropped – if you have roses at home, you can gather these after the bushes have finished blooming, or else you can get them at a store selling fresh herbs) and some dried lemon peel into a container, shake a bit to blend, and let it sit for a day or two. Infuse in boiling water for about 8 minutes. Full of vitamin C. You could have some as a nice non-alcoholic hot toddy.
  • Classic Masala Chai (Spiced Tea) Blend: the idea here is to start with a strong black tea (typically a lower quality tea in CTC form) so it will still taste like tea with the spices and milk added in, then add in various spices (typically cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, cardamom, cumin seeds, allspice, and nutmeg – each is best if you use the whole ones slightly crushed). Let the mix sit in its container a day or two, shaking it once or twice. Steep in boiling water in a saucepan for about 5 minutes, then add milk to the pan and let it simmer, strain into cups.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Consistency for many is a very good thing while for others it is a bit of a bore. The same is true of consistent tea. For some it is ho-hum and for others it is the “must have” cuppa three, four, or even five times a day. So, what is a consistent tea and what makes it so appealing to many? Time for a closer look.

Stephen Twining (right) helping to get the proper blend (Screen capture from video)

Stephen Twining (right) helping to get the proper blend (Screen capture from video)

What Is Consistent Tea

In short, consistent tea is one that maintains a consistent flavor cup after cup. This can be tricky to achieve. Tea crops vary due to a number of factors. There are things like the growing climate for that harvest (called a “flush”), when the harvest is done (there are from 3 to 5 per year for most black teas), where the teas are grown (China, Taiwan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Kenya, Mauritius, Australia, etc.), the tea plant cultivar (there are hundreds with some being better for producing black teas and others for green, oolong, pu-erh, and white teas), and even how they are harvested and processed (by machine or by hand – usually it’s a combination of the two). These differences mean that the batch of tea leaves from one garden harvested in the Springtime will be different from the leaves harvested in late Summer or in Autumn from the same garden or even one nearby. This can pose a huge challenge for tea companies who want to satisfy customers that have become accustomed to their tea tasting the same cup after cup after cup, something that came about over time, presumably thanks to companies like Twinings. And a process called blending.

Some Notes on Tea Blending

This step in the processing of tea leaves is the key to achieving that consistent tea flavor. It, combined with carefully selecting the batches of harvested tea leaves, will determine the flavor profile of the finished product. The process will make use of the strengths of each batch of tea leaves used (they can be from different countries or just different growers in a particular area of one country, such as Kenya). Attributes like clarity, color, flavor, and aroma are balanced to get just the right result and to bring out the best of each batch. The top vendors selling these blended teas go through quite a process. They will cup a sample (steep some and taste it) sent to them by the grower. They place an order based on the cupping results. When the shipment arrives at their blending facility they will cup some of that. (They may even try some right off the delivery truck.) And of course they will cup some after the blending to be sure all has gone as planned.

Some Consistent Tea Brands

PG Tips, Twinings, Typhoo, Bewley’s, Barry’s, Taylors of Harrogate, Harney & Sons, Red Label, Lyon’s, and a host of others are all blended for this consistent flavor. In fact, they have more than one blend, each created for certain characteristics.

Some examples:

  • Yorkshire Gold Label Tea is a blend of teas from India, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and Africa that have been balanced to produce a malty tea with a rich brown color and overall stronger flavor that is great for breakfast with milk and sugar added to smooth things out. In contrast, the Yorkshire Red Label Tea blends premium teas from the same countries but for a strong aroma, rich color, and satisfying flavor.
  • Barry’s has a Gold Blend, an Irish Breakfast blend, and a Classic Blend. The gold has a uniquely refreshing taste and a bright golden color, using the finest quality teas from the high mountain slopes of Kenya and the Assam Valley of India skillfully selected. The Irish breakfast is robust and designed for any time of day, a little smoother and milder than the gold version, using teas from the high-mountain slopes of Kenya and the Assam Valley of India (gives the tea a pungency, strength and flavor). The classic uses only the finest teas, blended by experts, to create a taste that is distinctive and refreshing and enjoyable every day and for any occasion.
  • PG Tips has their original signature tea blend and several new ones, including The Fresh One and The Strong One. The original has been around for over 75 years, blending the finest Assam, Ceylon, and Kenyan teas to produce a rich and refreshing flavor. The Fresh One is a blend of 100% Kenyan tea (from various growers) for a fresh and smooth taste and an aroma like “freshly baked bread.” It steeps up a deep red color and is as fresh as tea gets. The Strong One is a blend of Kenyan and other African teas for a bold taste, a strong, bright red coloring, malty aroma, and thick tea character.

The Appeal

The appeal here is that people can pick a brand and then don’t have to think any further. They will know what to expect when they steep some up. This is great when their tea needs are fairly straightforward, wanting something to lift them up in the morning, soothe and invigorate at lunch, perk them up at Afternoon Tea, and yes even calm them in the evening. For many there is nothing to equal that cuppa Typhoo or Lyon’s, etc., for giving them the predictable flavor and effect they want. And the professional blenders have the very important task of assuring those brands live up to that expectation.

Enjoy!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Some teas are best when steeped in a gaiwan. Others in a Yixing style teapot. And still others were specifically produced to be served British Style, that is, steeping up a strong and somewhat bitter liquid that reacts well to milk and sugar (these should enhance, not drown out, the tea’s flavor). Sure, you can steep up a weak version of these teas (infusing for two minutes or less), but you won’t get their full glory. Here are five of the better known ones:

Assam tea CTC style (ETS image)

Assam tea CTC style (ETS image)

1 CTC Assam

Let’s face it, this tea steeps up fast and strong. It is made from leaves of the Camellia sinensis var. assamica member of the tea plant family. The leaves are larger and heartier than many other tea plants. They are withered, rolled, fully oxidized to turn them black, then dried and ground into the typical CTC (crush, tear, curl) shape (sort of like smaller versions of Grape Nuts cereal). There are a number of options for this tea, including this one sold loose and bagged.

2 English Breakfast Blends

Usually in a very fine ground leaf form (often called “dust” or “fannings”) and a blend of the finest Assam, Kenyan, and other choice teas. A strong tea to start the day with a full malty flavor and a rich dark color that is best served hot with milk and a little sugar (or artificial sweetener). Several customers have remarked that they rely on this tea as their morning wake-up cuppa. Hubby and I enjoy it all day long, preferring our tea served British style. See a full selection here.

English Breakfast Blends (ETS image)

English Breakfast Blends (ETS image)

3 Irish Breakfast Blends

Usually in the CTC form (as described in #1 above) where the leaves are a stout robust blend of February Kenya BP1 and 2nd flush Assam in some brands, a blend of Ceylon and Assam in other brands, and leaves from Assam and Darjeeling together in other brands. They all have superb color (usually a rich ruby red), a delightful aroma, and a flavor that is described as rich, malty, and full of subtleties such as notes of prunes, cherries, hazelnuts, and honey. You will get some bitterness or astringency when steeped strong (usually 5 minutes using water brought to a full boil), but that’s where the British style of serving helps – the milk and sugar subdue those negative qualities and enhance those wonderful flavors. Some customer comments say this is not just a great wake-up tea but also a perker-upper in the afternoon. I heartily agree! See a full selection here.

Irish Breakfast Blends (ETS image)

Irish Breakfast Blends (ETS image)

4 Scottish Breakfast Blends

Ever been to Scotland? Brr! Even in Summer you need a hot cuppa to get you going in the morning. They also have mainly soft water (not a lot of extra minerals, etc., in it) which tends to steep up a rather flat tasting tea. So this blend tends to be rather more bracing, malty, and full-bodied due to a blending of leaves from various gardens in the Assam region of India. Milk and sugar are strongly recommended. They bring out that maltiness and make this a tea ideal with typical Scottish breakfast foods like Scott’s Porridge Oats. One customer says she drinks this tea all day long since it usually has no bitterness. So true! We always keep some on hand and rotate this with the others as our morning cuppa. See a full selection here.

Scottish Breakfast Blends (ETS image)

Scottish Breakfast Blends (ETS image)

 

Yorkshire Harrogate Tea (ETS image)

Yorkshire Harrogate Tea (ETS image)

5 Yorkshire Harrogate Tea

Strong black teas blended to produce a full-bodied tea with a rich flavor. Harrogate is famous for its water that people would drink as a medicinal cure, and it steeps this tea up perfectly. But don’t worry – you don’t have to travel there or have some of their water flown in. Your water at home should be fine. Be sure it’s brought to a full boil and steep for 5 minutes to infuse all the goodness in those leaves into the water. Don’t forget that milk and sugar – the key part of that British style cuppa. And since Harrogate is also where the annual Crime Writing Festival is held, you can sit back with a good crime novel while you imbibe. See the tea here.

Whether you’re slurping a cuppa with breakfast, gulping one mid-morning, brightening up your lunchtime with a fresh potful, or any other time of day, this tea will keep you going – in British style!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Variety is the spice of life. It’s a somewhat overused phrase, but when it comes to tea drinking it’s true. I’m a black tea drinker first and foremost, and there’s nothing I like more than a good Assam. But I also like to mix things up with other varieties of black tea from time to time and just for fun I’ll throw in some green tea now and then and maybe even some oolong once in a while.

Black teas (ETS image)

Black teas (ETS image)

But it rarely occurs to me to mix any of the aforementioned in the same cup. Which is to say that for most tea drinkers the major types of tea like black, green, oolong and whatnot tend to be consumed apart from each other. I touched on this topic briefly some time ago when I wrote about a tea I’d run across that blended black and green tea. But I thought I’d revisit the subject and do a little experimenting of my own.

The topic came to mind again when I ran across (but haven’t sampled yet) a black and green tea mix from one of the big-name tea companies. It’s described as a “full flavored black tea with the refreshing goodness of green tea.” Which seems like it’s defeating the point on both counts but what do I know?

One of the main issues I see with this sort of thing is the nagging question of how to prepare such a blend. One article I read claimed that boiling water should be poured over the tea bag and steeped for about three to five minutes. Which might be good advice for black tea, though I tend to err on the side of shorter steeping times there. However, the common wisdom with green tea is that the surest way to ruin it is to subject it to boiling water and long steeping times.

The simplest way around this dilemma, of course, is to prepare both teas ahead of time and mix them. Which might be a bit labor-intensive for hot tea but for those of us who always have iced tea on hand it’s a little more convenient.

The downside to all of this, as I’ve found by undertaking some amateur tea mixing experiments is that the sum of the parts leaves something to be desired. I mixed a quite good black tea in equal parts with an acceptable green tea. I’m sorry to say that the result could be summed up in one word – bland. But perhaps more experimentation is called for. I’m not completely ready to give up on blended black and green tea just yet but for the moment I think I’ll stick with one or the other.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Buckingham Palace Garden Party Loose Leaf Tea - specially blended by experts (ETS image)

Buckingham Palace Garden Party Loose Leaf Tea – specially blended by experts (ETS image)

[Editor’s note: the following article uses the term “blend” to refer to both blended and flavored teas, which are actually two very different things as shown in this other article on our blog.]

There are a lot of tea vendors out there who offer a blend-your-own-tea option, but how useful is this, really?

Customisation is in at the moment, with organisations and companies of all sizes trying to attract the individual consumer by offering them exactly what they want and tailoring the product specifically to their needs. But is expanding this penchant for customisation to tea taking it one step too far?

Typically, a shop that offers a blend-your-own-tea option will offer different choices for the base of your tea or herbal infusion (black, white, green, rooibos, etc.) This  base is then combined with other teas or flavours, such as dried fruits and herbs, to produce your very own blend. But is the average consumer really going to be able to put together a tea they will like? After all, tea blending, just like any specialty skill, is often considered to be an art, with tea blends carefully crafted to bring out the best of the flavours on offer. Expert tea blenders are experts for a reason—surely their knowledge of tea exceeds that of the everyday tea shopper, no matter how much of a tea connoisseur they might be?

But what happens when a tea that you’re hankering for is not on offer? What if you have always wondered what this or that tea would taste like with a particular flavour? In these situations blend-your-own-tea can be a great option, but you still need to make sure that you know what you want. Otherwise, it is all too easy to end up with a tea that sounds great, smells great, but might not taste all that great.

Blending your own tea works best when you have as much information as possible, and as such is not something I’d recommend for those who are only just getting into tea (unless, of course, you’re up for experimenting and don’t mind potentially spending a lot of money on teas you don’t like). If there is a tea you really enjoy but wished it had just a little more of this or a little less of that then blend-your-own-tea could be the answer to your tea dilemmas. To give a specific example, if you enjoy Lady Londonderry tea but wished it didn’t have such a floral tone, you could try blending a black tea with strawberry and lemon to suit your taste. If you have researched which black tea is typically used as a base and the amounts of each flavour that tends to be used in Lady Londonderry, then chances are you’ll create a blend you’ll enjoy.

Of course, there is still the risk that you might not end up liking the tea. But then this is always going to be the case when you are trying a new tea, whether or not you have blended it yourself. So whilst blend-your-own-tea options may not always be as good an idea as they seem, they definitely give tea lovers the option to craft a tea to suit their taste.

See more of Elise Nuding’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Having a bit of this tea and a bit of that tea in your tea pantry or cupboard is frustrating enough. You don’t have a sufficient amount of that Ceylon black or Keemun or Kenyan to steep a full pot. You do have a nice batch of CTC Assam around, though, and you know that some Keemun would be great blended with it, as in this Scottish Breakfast tea. Can you combine them? How will they steep up? Are you gonna live to regret your spurt of experimental fervor? Yes. Fine. No. Here’s the scoop:

My wood version of a pestle. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

My wood version of a pestle. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

What is a CTC tea?

There is some debate about what “CTC” stands for (“Cut, Tear, Curl,” “Cut, Tear, Crush,” “Curl, Tear, Crush,” or “Crush, Tear, Curl” are common ones). But they all agree that it’s machine processed tea. Often, it’s a blend of the same type of tea leaves from various growers. Blending helps deliver a consistent quality and taste from harvest to harvest and garden to garden. It helps meet large-scale demand versus each garden trying to market to a public that may not even know enough to tell the difference. The tea bits are in little nuggets quite often (to hubby and me they look like Grape Nuts bits). (More details here.)

What is an Orthodox tea?

Generally, Orthodox teas are hand-processed at least part of the way between harvest and your cup. They are generally higher quality, with less bitterness and more subtle and multi-layered flavors. They are usually harvested by hand to keep the leaves whole and then go through several processes by hand or machine: Withering where moisture evaporates from them, making them limp and pliable for rolling; rolling by hand for the highest grades and machine for the lower grades (usually, large-scale production); oxidation in a humidity- and temperature-controlled room, where the leaves turn from green to reddish-brown and then black; firing halts oxidation and completes the drying of the tea leaves. At the end of all this, the finer teas are in whole or broken leaf sizes, and they steep up differently from those CTC “nuggets.” (More details here.)

Comparison photo:

CTC Assam on the left. Orthodox Keemun Panda on the right (I didn’t have any Assam on hand at the time). (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

CTC Assam on the left. Orthodox Keemun Panda on the right (I didn’t have any Assam on hand at the time). (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

One way to blend them effectively

Whole leaves and broken leaves differ in steeping from those “nuggets” in a couple of ways. First, they take longer to steep than those “nuggets.” Second, they can often be steeped more than once whereas those “nuggets” are exhausted after one round (hubby and I have tried several times to do a second steeping that had any flavor to it but without success). So, what to do? Mortar and pestle to the rescue! Or if you don’t have that, try my own set up shown in the photo posted here.

I tend to grind the orthodox tea leaves a bit so that they will steep up faster (this was also mentioned in another article on this blog by one of the other writers). You may find you’ll also need less tea leaves this way, too, but you won’t get a second steep. It’s a trade off.

It’s also worth a try, especially when those little bits of this and that tea are sitting in your pantry and giggling, thinking they are safe from being steeped. Hardly!

See also:
Simon’s Crumbs by Janis Badarau

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A ready-made blend of Assam and Keemun that I have approximated with my own blends. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

A ready-made blend of Assam and Keemun that I have approximated with my own blends. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

A bit of this, a bit of that, and you find yourself engaging in the time-honored tradition of ad hoc tea blending. Some concoctions will be better than others, of course, and some will be so good that you might build yourself a whole new career as a tea blender, as several people have.

[Note: for the purposes of this article, I am using the terms “blending” and “flavoring” synonymously. Usually, they are two different things, tea-wise, as explained here on this blog.]

The one thing that leads most often to this flurry of tea blending activity is the urge to use up bits of this tea and that left over in their containers. There’s usually not enough for a full 6-cup potful, which is what we need in our house to get us through breakfast. So, some rather interesting combinations have come about as a result. For example, we combined all of our Autumn Flush Darjeeling samples together to get one very robust-tasting tea that can be steeped up fairly strong yet retain those distinct qualities of Darjeeling teas, especially that tangy fruity character.

Another motivating factor in our tea blending adventures is trying to temper a taste characteristic in a particular tea that we like in moderation but find overwhelming in larger quantities. The solution is usually to add in some of that stronger tasting tea to something less brash in the taste arena. Thus we found ourselves adding one teaspoon of Dian Hong to 5 teaspoons of CTC Assam to make that breakfast pot of tea. The peppery quality was still quite evident with the maltiness of the Assam but not so much that we would be tasting it for days afterwards (one of those “ghostly” tea tastes that lingers).

Time for you to dig through your tea pantry (you have one, right?) and pull out those bits of this tea and that to blend into what will hopefully be an unforgettably delicious pot of tea!

See my further adventures and explorations into the fascinating past-time of tea blending:
Tea and the Pioneer Spirit II
Homemade vs. Store Bought Tea Blends — Which Is Better?
Blending Away the Tea’s Character
Blending Your Leftover Teas
Ceylon Blends
Darjeeling Blends
Some Tea Blends I Hope to Never See
The Advantages of Blended Teas
The Advantages of Unblended Teas  

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tea blends and flavored teas (see what the difference is) are available by the hundreds. Some have been around for centuries and are considered classics while others are thought up in the tea vendor’s kitchen (either residential or commercial). Both of these are considered “store bought.” Inventive tea drinkers add to this array with their own creations done at home for their own consumption and to share with some lucky friends. This is considered “homemade.” With all these choices it can be hard to tell which is better. Or is that even a question that should be asked?

My attempt awhile back at a homemade tea blend. Not too bad, but… (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

My attempt awhile back at a homemade tea blend. Not too bad, but… (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

So often the answer to “Which is better?” is totally a matter of personal taste. For a lot of tea blends and flavored teas, though, the answer is very often: store bought. Whether you buy from a large vendor with stores popping up everywhere like those dandelions in your pristine lawn or from that small online specialty vendor who mixes up small batches of their own proprietary blends and flavoreds, you are getting something where the various flavors have been scrutinized and paired up for a particular effect.

For some of the classic teas such as Jasmines, “store bought” is always best, since the process is one that is difficult to duplicate in one’s kitchen. Spreading the fresh leaves out, layering them with jasmine petals, and then removing the petals is a job done best by experts. Earl Grey is another classic that takes that certain touch. Anyone can get oil of bergamot, but knowing what to do with it to get just the right flavor is another matter. English Breakfast Tea is a blend of various black teas in just the right proportions to get that distinct flavor.

As for new flavors involving various fruits and flowers, some flavors go together better than others, and some will clash in the extreme. A tea that has a basically floral character could go with some nutty or even fruit flavors, but not necessarily with other floral flavors. A tea with a more raisiny or stone fruit (peach, apricot, cherry) character is good with nuts, vanilla, and other flavors.

Just as with cooking where you need to know when to use sugar, when you can sub another liquid such as orange juice for water, how rice flour reacts versus wheat flour, and so on, you need to keep these things in mind for blending and flavoring teas. Now, all you folks who can whip up a gourmet meal from a can of sardines, a jar of dill pickles, and some over-ripe bananas are surely going to know how to blend teas and mix in flavorings to get a taste-pleasing result. But the rest of us who can screw up a scone mix that we dump in a bowl and add water to need to stay away from the very idea of trying to blend and flavor teas.

Of course, some of us prefer burnt or flat scones to the perfect ones from the local bakery. So there will be those who prefer their own “experiments” with blending and flavoring teas over what they get online or from the tea shop in town. So which is better? That’s easy: the one you want.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Someone asked the other day why dust in a bag is considered bad but powdered matcha is considered good, even premium. In other words, if whole or broken leaves are supposed to be better, why is matcha an exception? Great question, and one to which I flippantly answered: “Marketing and tradition!” Well, that question deserves a better answer, so it was time to go info diving into the depths of the Internet.

What’s Matcha

Matcha is a Japanese green tea made of finely ground gyokuro leaves. The processing, a key determiner in the final product, is different from making gyokuro in that the leaves are not rolled. They are steamed as usual to halt oxidation and then thoroughly dried, creating what is called “tencha.” These green dry leaves are then ground to a powder that is the consistency of talc and are then called “matcha” (sometimes spelled “mattcha”). This processing also preserves the flavor and health-enhancing properties in this tea.

Izu Matcha (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Izu Matcha (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

You should use 2g (1/2 level teaspoon) for 120 to 180cc (4 to 6 ounces) of hot water. A bamboo whisk is often used in matcha preparation as the most efficient way to mix the powder thoroughly with the hot water and to create a froth.

Matcha is the highest grade of Japanese tea, according to their grading system:

  1. Kukicha — (lowest) made from twigs and stems of the tea plant and historically given to children and seniors.
  2. Bancha — rather low in quality and usually not sold by specialty tea companies.
  3. Sencha — growing in popularity so there is now a very wide range from superb Japanese sencha to Chinese and Viet Namese versions that have uneven results.
  4. Gyokuro — a wonderful, labor-intensive tea made from leaves that are shade-grown for part of the year. It is only produced in small quantities each year, relative to other teas.
  5. Matcha — The highest grade and used during the famous Japanese Tea Ceremony.

What’s Tea-dust-in-a-bag

Irish Breakfast tea, usually bagged. (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Irish Breakfast tea, usually bagged. (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Bagged teas have been vilified by tea drinkers far and wide, myself included, and several myths persist about them:

  • They are filled with floor sweepings.
  • They are filled with only stale tea.
  • They are filled with only the cheapest grades of tea.
  • They cause excess waste.

The reality of teabags:

  • They are filled by machines where whole leaves go in one end and filled bags come out the other (well, almost — but the process does start with whole leaves, not floor sweepings).
  • They come in quite a variety of shapes and sizes, including round, square, flo-thru, and pyramid sachets.
  • They are filled with a full range of teas —  green, oolong, white, and black.
  • Not all tea types are suitable for bagging, with such premium teas as Ti Kuan Yin being a prime example, plus I haven’t seen any decent pu-erhs in teabags.
  • The stale bagged teas are the lower quality ones, but most are freshly made and, since demand is high, they don’t hang around long enough on store shelves to get stale.
  • The waste issue is addressed with bags made of material that will compost and generally seems a bit of an overdone concern anyway.

Bottom Line

The big question was why matcha was considered premium while teabags (the kind filled with fine dust) were not. From what I can see here, it is very likely what I said up front: marketing and tradition. But I have to add in one more item: variety. The range of bagged teas is wide and includes teas just a premium in quality as matcha, but the cheap, stale, low-end teas drag down the reputation of the higher-end bagged teas, such as those carried by Harney & Sons, Typhoo, PG Tips, Barry’s, and Taylors of Harrogate.

I stick to my personal preference to steep even these bagged brands loose in the pot (I cut up the bags and dump the tea dust into the pot) and swear it makes a difference in the taste. But we cannot diss bagged teas just because they are in bags.

A Selection of Reviews on Our Blog of the Finer Bagged Teas

About Some Popular Tea Brands

See also:
Have Bagged Teas Gotten a Bad Rap?
A Tasty Bagged Green Tea?
5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Bagged Tea
Mixing Loose Tea and Teabag Teas
The Growing Popularity of Matcha
Types of Japanese Tea
Tea Bags Revisited
Tea Review: English Tea Store’s Izu Matcha

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tea blends, where teas from various regions, not just several tea gardens from the same region, are combined usually exhibit the flavor profiles of each tea used. Sometimes, though, the blenders can blend away the tea’s character altogether. (Note: we’re not talking about those flavored teas where flower petals, spices, etc., have been added to tea leaves.)

Overblending can produce a taste that’s just plain bland, unlike this tasty pure Ceylon black tea. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Overblending can produce a taste that’s just plain bland, unlike this tasty pure Ceylon black tea. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Hubby and I had an English Breakfast Blend tea the other day and found it to be less than memorable. That is, there was no distinctive character to it. Unlike English Breakfast Blend No. 1 and English Breakfast Blend No. 2, both of which have a very distinct flavor profile, this blend was bland. They had overly balanced the flavors of the different teas used. None of them stood out.

The blend was supposed to be Assam, Ceylon, and a bit of Darjeeling added (yes, there is often a dash of Darjeeling in tea blends in part to add that wonderful Muscatel character and in part so they can appeal to those who have heard of Darjeeling tea and how good it is but haven’t tried it straight). The flavor came out more like something that was just hot and went well with milk. And yes a bit of sweetener was very much needed. There was no Assam maltiness, no Ceylon curranty/raisiny aroma and flavor, and definitely no Darjeeling fruity Muscatel notes. Just heavy taste and hot. Oh yeah, and wet!

Tea blending is an art and should be done by those who have apprenticed with a tea master. It also takes a keen sense of taste and smell, even keener than mine. The process of tea blending is a delicate one that takes an experienced and creative mind plus many years of dedication. The results will be worth that time and effort, with a perfectly blended tea producing an unrivaled flavor enjoyed with every sip. Some say the goal of tea blending is to maintain a standard and uniform taste dictated by the marketplace, but it can be to create a whole new taste, something is a whole greater than the sum of its part (to borrow an old saying).

The senses of sight, smell, and taste are key in the tea blending process: sight in the look of the blend, smell in regard to the aroma of the blend, and of course the taste. No matter what anyone says, I remain firm that tea flavor is the main attraction, even to those who drink tea for some health benefit. It is also key in tea blending, where flavor characteristics are played off each other so that one tempers or enhances another or harmonizes and while you can distinguish them, none dominates or overwhelms. It is a process that has been likened to cooking, where an extra pinch of cumin or a shallot instead of a yellow onion can make a world of difference in the outcome.

So what when wrong with this version of the classic English Breakfast Blend? No idea. Could have been that they started with inferior tea. Some blenders think they can hide poor taste by using the tea in a blend. Could have been old tea or tea that had not been stored away from air and moisture. Another possibility is that none of the teas in the blend was able to stand out against the others and harmonized way too closely. All I do know is that it’s a tea I will avoid in future. When a blend cannot even stand up against such classic brands as PG Tips and Barry’s, it hasn’t a hope of pleasing a tea lover’s palate.

See also:
Great Assam Breakfast Blends
The Advantages of Blended Teas
The Advantages of Unblended Teas
Some Tea Blends I Hope to Never See
Darjeeling Blends
Ceylon Blends
Blending Your Leftover Teas
“Tea-Blending as a Fine Art” by Joseph M. Walsh
Tea Blends vs Tea Flavourings
All Flavored Teas Are Not Created Equal

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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