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:
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.)
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!
Simon’s Crumbs by Janis Badarau
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