Tea blends — they’re everywhere these days. Go online and you’ll see dozens of small tea “boutiques” selling their latest tea blends. Some are fairly normal sounding, such as a special citrus and green tea blend, while others are exotic, like a tea blend with a root beer float taste.
There are hundreds of different teas (and thousands of blends made from those teas). They vary by where grown, when harvested, and how processed after harvest. Each of these “pure” teas has its own unique taste, and with hundreds to choose from, you could have a different one every day for a year or two and then start over. So, why blend? Why not just enjoy those teas straight? For the same reason that you might prefer a nut mix to a straight batch of cashews or filberts, or you might prefer fruit cocktail to an apple or peach. Flavors in the nut mix and the fruit cocktail combine to make a new and different taste experience. So it is with tea blends. You do it to get a taste you wouldn’t have otherwise. From the rich maltiness of Assam, to the champagne fruitiness of Darjeeling, to the earthy goodness of Keemun, your blend will incorporate the qualities of each tea in accordance with its proportion in your mix.
There are different types of tea blends. Each brings to tea new flavors that can delight and excite, soothe and smooth. Some are a mix of different teas, others are a mix of one or more teas plus some non-tea substance (oil of bergamot, vanilla, herbs, dried fruit, and dried flowers are fairly well-known). Earl Grey (a blend of black teas and oil of bergamot and often lavender) is one of the most popular, although many who drink it aren’t aware that it’s a blend. (Also, some brands like Harney & Sons now have an Earl Grey made with white tea.)
Another well-known tea blend is “breakfast blend.” There are variations named after the country where they originated and are often still popular. English Breakfast Blend and Irish Breakfast Blend are two of these. Teas grown in different places and processed differently are blended to take advantage of different properties of each and produce a new distinctive taste that will sound a bugle “wake-up call” on your tastebuds. These blends are often based on Indian Assam, with its rich, malty flavor, and add in other black teas that can temper that taste. Ceylonian and Kenyan black teas are other “usual suspects” in these blends. Keemun, a Chinese black tea, is a bit more expensive and is therefore used sparingly. Your nut mix can range from less expensive where peanuts (actually a legume, not a nut) dominate to more expensive with plenty of the pricier nuts like macadamias and whole halves of pecans (not just broken pieces). So can your breakfast blend exhibit that range of value and taste.
Indian Chai (basically, tea with spices added) is another popular blend, and the variations are endless. Most start with black tea, but some new ones start with green and even white teas. They can be strong or subtle, from ones brimming with cinnamon so that the taste stays on your tongue for a week to others teasing your tastebuds with a delicate cardamom that’s as fragrant as it is tasty. They demonstrate one of the great things about tea blends: you can adjust them to your personal taste.
That brings me to the idea of making your own blends. You can purchase pre-blended, like Golden Moon Vanilla Mint, a green and black loose leaf tea with fragrant mint leaves and vanilla bean pieces that’s great hot or chilled. But why not try your hand at blending? It can be a great way to use up those tidbits of tea in various boxes in your tea pantry. Here are some basic steps:
- Start with teas you like as they are (it’s best to start with straight tea, but you could start with a blend and add to it). You’re looking for a good base flavor here, such as a subtly sweet Ceylon or an earthy Keemun, maybe even a kelpy Sencha.
- Think about what kind of flavors you want to add. (Think of that fruit cocktail. Do you want it heavy on peaches, light on the maraschino cherries, or awash in those seedless white grapes?) You can add floral, fruit, vanilla extract (vanilla bean is better), or a host of other options.
- Feel free to play around with small batches. Mix up a bit, steep it, and document your results. You’ll want to be able to remix a winning blend.
Be bold. Try new things. Use up those leftover teas. It’s a win-win situation. Enjoy!
A.C.’s always mixing things up over on her blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!