See if this scenario sounds familiar: You buy a tea blend, you love the tea blend, you run out of the tea blend, you buy some more of the tea blend, you don’t like the new batch of the tea blend. If it does, then read on to find out what might have happened and why tea blends can vary from batch to batch.

Testing the blends. (Screen capture from site)

Testing the blends. (Screen capture from site)

First a bit of a look at what tea blending is. In theory, it is simple. In practice, it is a skill that takes years of experience and a creative mind to develop. The result will be a flavor unique to that blend. You start with the processed leaves, and these can be greens, blacks, Darjeelings, oolongs, or combinations. (There is now a restriction on labeling teas as “Darjeeling” if they contain too much of a non-Darjeeling-area- grown tea.) Some tea vendors include the addition of other substances to the leaves as part of the blending process, but it is really a separate step called “flavoring.” There is also  “scenting” the tea that is often done as part of the processing of the tea leaves, such as a nice jasmine green tea. Here we are just talking about blending different batches of tea leaves together.

The goal of blending is important to keep in mind. Most of the time, the sole objective is to maintain consistency not only throughout the batch currently being processed but from one batch to the next. This is where things can get tricky, for nature comes to play here. What were the weather conditions during the growing season, what was the harvest like, did teas from other terroirs have to be added in to give enough bulk? The skilled blender can make sure all of these things are balanced so that the new batch tastes as closely as possible to the previous batch. He is “ironing out idiosyncrasies” (as one blender put it). The pros that blend such brands and Barry’s, PG Tips, and Lyon’s know that a lot is riding on their noses and tastebuds.

Now imagine a tea that is a blend of two rather different tasting teas whose characteristics have to be combined just so to result in that unique taste you have come to know and love. For example, Scottish Breakfast blends Assam and Keemun. You get that malty richness from the Assam and that more smoky quality from the Keemun. Getting the blend just right batch after batch depends on the blender. If he/she has an off day, so does the blend. If the Assam quality is more malty than usual or the Keemun more smoky than usual, that will also throw off the blend. And then there is the “bottom of the barrel of the blend” – that last little bit left from the batch and where sadly the tea in your package could have come from. The best thing to do is let the vendor know and see about a replacement. Most are happy to accommodate. They want you to be pleased always.

Personally, I don’t mind a bit of variation batch to batch since I know the blenders are only human and that teas vary anyway. But I certainly understand being persnickety about one’s tea!

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

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