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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?
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.
“Chamomile tea is something I have great use for as a dancer.”
If that sentence describing chamomile as a “tea” raised a red flag for you, then you can count yourself as a well-versed tea drinker. There has been much discussion on this blog about the distinction between a tea and an herbal infusion, or tisane, and what is often marketed as chamomile “tea” is actually not a tea at all since it does not contain the tea leaf, Camellia Sinensis. So before I go any further, let me clarify. When I say chamomile tea, I am not talking about the pure chamomile infusion. Instead, I am talking about teas that contain some chamomile. Some examples might be a white tea with chamomile and peach, or a green tea with chamomile, lemongrass, and ginger. The reason for this is simple and purely a matter of personal preference: despite the fact that it is a favourite tisane for many, I do not love the taste of chamomile.
So then, why drink it at all? Well, while pure chamomile is a little overwhelming, I do enjoy the taste when paired with other flavours. But, more importantly, I am after some of the benefits that it can provide, namely its anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties. Translated into everyday language, this means that chamomile can help relieve muscle soreness and relax the body—something I definitely need after a particularly challenging day of rehearsing or performing. While it is not a magical cure-all, I find that a cup or two of tea containing chamomile is a helpful complement to the stretching I might do and the hot baths I might take to help relieve muscle soreness. And this is not just for dancers—anyone whose work involves physical exertion, or who has been lugging a heavy laptop around all day, or who put themselves through a particularly strenuous work out at the gym might find they can benefit from chamomile.
But where do I acquire all these delicious sounding teas with chamomile? I create them! I always keep a tin of pure chamomile flowers at home, to blend with other teas as I see fit. That way, I can cater to my tastes in the moment (white or oolong? Ginger or mint?), and adjust how much chamomile I am using depending on how sore I am. A white tea with chamomile is especially good at night because of the exceptionally low caffeine content, and so I will often opt for this at end of a physically demanding day. Rooibos, although also not technically a tea, also makes a nice base for chamomile infusions at night for the same reason. Of course, if you are looking for the most beneficial chamomile infusion, your best bet is to go with pure chamomile. But if, like me, you can never quite manage to enjoy that cup of pure chamomile, blending your own chamomile tea might be the solution to enjoying both the benefits and the taste of your chamomile tea.
Disclaimer: This is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your physician for your particular needs.
It must therefore follow that by the skillful and judicious mixing or blending of a number of Teas, each differing in variety or grade, a more uniform, pleasing and palatable Tea, that is, one richer in liquor, heavier in body and more aromatic in flavor, can be produced by this now acknowledged principle at a more moderate cost to dealer and consumer than can otherwise be obtained from any single variety or grade of Tea.
It’s hard to say who was the first person to come up with the notion of blending different varieties of tea, but by 1896 the practice was sufficiently well established that author Joseph M. Walsh was motivated to write a manual on the process called Tea-Blending as a Fine Art. I wasn’t able to find much information about Walsh, aside from the fact that he wrote several other books about tea and at least one volume about coffee. His book is a rather practical guide and is filled with a great deal of nuts and bolts information. It appears to mostly be geared toward grocers and others seeking to boost profits with tea and contains a range of information on more than just the basics of the actual blending process for tea.
The opening chapters are presumably geared toward those who don’t have much prior knowledge of tea. There’s information on the classification and description of the various types of tea, including varieties from China, Japan, India, Ceylon, and Java. There are also chapters on selecting and testing teas and on determining whether the product has been adulterated, something that was not all that uncommon in earlier times.
From here it’s on to a chapter on the actual blending process, which includes a number of actual formulas designed to achieve a very specific end result. The rest of the book is devoted to more practical tips on selling tea, including a chapter on storing, selling and preparing tea, one on government standards for tea and one called Important Facts About Tea.
Walsh wraps it all up with a chapter called Art of Advertising Teas, which includes actual advertising slogans, basic pointers on how to display tea and other tidbits of general advice that are not necessarily specific to tea selling. Some of these are quite offbeat, including the caution to not “wear your fingernails in half-mourning,” whatever that means. It should probably go without saying that the grocers and/or tea merchants shouldn’t “spit on your floor or allow others to do so” but Walsh includes it as a useful pointer even so.
Name: English Evening
Brand: English Tea Store
Type: Black and green tea blend
Form: Loose leaf
Review: I’m not quite sure what makes this an “evening” blend, though I suspect it’s somewhat austere flavor has something to do with it. I can’t speak to the caffeine content: As always, if you are concerned about caffeine, be cautious when drinking this or any other tea (and always follow your doctor’s advice) . Have half a cup and see how you feel. Personally, I find that this tea doesn’t give me much of a buzz, which I count as positive, but your mileage may vary. If you find that English Evening has more caffeine than you can handle in the evening, try a decaffeinated tea or an herbal tisane.
The tea leaf itself is a blend of black and green teas with a pungent nose while still dry. Black leaves, which I suspect are of Darjeeling origin, dominate the blend, though the green leaves are quite visible upon close inspection. The tea infuses to a bright orange, light-medium bodied liquor. Upon first sip, I taste a bit of sweet spiciness, though that quickly gives way to more robust flavors and the sweetness quickly dissipates. Its finish is slightly bitter and vegetal, which I attribute to the green tea. The gamut of flavors makes this a rather complex cup: One layer of flavor gives way to the next with each sip and it reminds me a bit of drinking a dark oolong.
Preparation Tips: Because of the green tea in this blend, I recommend a fairly short (2 minutes) steep and water that has been cooled down to 190F. Making this tea with boiling water, or steeping it too long will produce a bitter and disagreeable tea.
Serving Tips: More of a “sipping” tea than a food tea, though I could see serving this with light tea-time sandwiches such as cucumber or watercress. Not suited to milk or sugar.