Quick Recipes and Easy

Tea Basics 101 – What’s In a Blend?

Have you ever wondered what’s in the tea you have for breakfast every morning?

Most major tea retailers, as well as small, make their own specialty tea blends. There’s no hard-and-quick rule as to what goes into a tea blend, but there are a few classic blends on the market that tend to contain the same mix of teas.

Earl Grey — a black tea blend of all Chinese, or Chinese and Indian teas scented with the oil of the bergamot citrus fruit. The bergamot gives this tea a refreshingly light, citrus flavor with a pungent, flowery aroma. This blend sometimes consists of all Ceylon tea. English Breakfast — a black tea blend of Indian (usually Assam), Ceylon and African teas. A traditional English Breakfast is usually not a blend at all but straight Chinese Keemun. Irish Breakfast — a blend of high grown Ceylon and Assam teas. It produces a strong, dark, malty brew. Afternoon Blend — usually a light tea blend, sometimes with an added scent of jasmine or bergamot. Can consist of Darjeeling, Formosa Oolong and light Chinese and Ceylon teas. Russian Style — usually made of black or oolong teas from China or Taiwan with a hint of smoky Lapsang Souchong mixed in. Some blends consist of Keemun, Assam, and Chinese green tea, and still other blends consist of black teas only. Spiced Blends — these blends usually use a black tea base of high-quality Ceylon tea to which is added cloves or cinnamon bark, and pieces of dried citrus peel such as orange or lemon. Other spices sometimes used are anise and cardamom. Chai is a perfect example of this type of blend. Herbal Blends — these blends usually use a black or green tea base to which is added different varieties of fresh or dried herbs, the most well loved being mint. Peppermint goes well with a tea base of Ceylon or Assam, as does spearmint or lemon mint with a high-quality green tea. All herbal tea blends make wonderfully, refreshing iced tea. These tea blends shouldn’t be confused with herb and fruit tisanes, which contain no tea leaves (Camellia sinensis or assamica).

Some of these classics, including the spiced and herbal blends, fall into the category of scented or flavored tea. Ever since its discovery, tea drinkers have been adding flavorings to their tea. Scented/flavored teas are black, oolong, green or white teas that have been processed and then blended with a variety of spices, herbs, flower petals and or essential fruit oils.

Processed tea leaves are very conducive to being scented or flavored — they readily absorb the fragrances and flavors of both flowers and fruits. During the scenting/flavoring process, the tea leaves are either piled along side the flowers/fruits, or layered with them, and then left for hours to absorb the fragrance/flavor. This process is sometimes repeated many times. Once the flavoring is completed, the mix of flowers/fruits and tea leaves are re-fired to remove any moisture that might be present and then the flowers/fruits are either removed or mixed into the tea leaves. Jasmine tea is one of today’s most well loved scented teas. Other well loved scented teas include such floral additives as rose petals, magnolias, orchids and chrysanthemums. Some of the more well loved fruit/spice scented teas include cherry, lemon, ginger, apple, mango, passion fruit, pomegranate, and any of the other red fruits.

The majority of tea drinkers have a favorite tea that they appreciate for its unique taste and aroma. But, we all have different palates and sometimes it’s hard to find that perfect taste, so many tea drinkers are turning to the art of tea blending. Making your own tea blends is as simple as 1-2-3 and the results can be surprisingly enjoyable. Tasting your creations is half the fun!

Successful tea blending is a direct result of a lot of experimentation and tasting. Your goal is to produce a blend that gives you a well rounded, flavorful cup of tea. Blending tea is simple, once you start to know each individual tea’s distinct characteristics. When starting a blend, start with a high-quality, full, rich tea as your base, such as a Ceylon, Assam, Keemun or Darjeeling. Base teas are usually selected for their body and color, or their distinct flavor. If you are mixing several different varieties of tea for your base, try to mix teas of a similar leaf size. Smaller tea leaves, if mixed with larger ones, have a tendency to settle to the bottom of the container resulting in a blend that’s hard to keep mixed.

Being an agricultural product, tea is subject to yearly taste and quality variations, due to soil and climate changes that can occur in a tea’s growing region. As well, changes in the manufacturing processes used on the tea leaves can have an enormous impact on a tea’s taste and quality from year to year. So in order to maintain a somewhat controllable consistency in your blends, try to measure your ingredients either by volume or by weight. This will help ensure your tea blend will taste similar from batch to batch, year to year.

Once you’ve chosen your tea base, reckon about your favorite flavors or aromas and of those flavors/aromas which ones you prefer most in your tea. Rate the flavors as to their strength, and then choose which ones you want to be the most predominant in your blend. When looking for flavoring ingredients, look for excellent quality ingredients that can be found at most local or online gourmet, food stores. Flavoring ingredients can include spices, herbs, dried fruit, flower petals and essential fruit oils. The natural, essential oil extracts are usually highly concentrated and can be the largest flavor contributor to a tea blend, so make sure you don’t end up covering over the taste of your tea by adding too much. As they say — sometimes less is more! You still want the distinct taste characteristics of your high-quality tea base to shine through.

To start, measure out a small amount of your tea base and blend in your chosen natural oil extracts (usually by the drop), allowing the blend to dry a bit after each addition. Then add your spices, herbs, dried fruit or flowers and mix thoroughly. Make sure to add your chosen flavor ingredients a small at a time, and always test, test, test, or rather taste, taste, taste after each addition. If you learn a blend you like, don’t change it, but if you find there’s not enough of something, or there’s something missing, add it in small quantities and test again, until you get it just right. It does take a bit of practice to get that perfect blend, but don’t get frustrated and give up; the results of your labor can be wonderful!

With the thousands of distinct varieties of tea currently produced, and the huge variety of floral/fruit scents and herbs available, the number of possible tea blends is nearly infinite. So go ahead, roll up your sleeves, and get mixing — you may just make the next classic blend!

Mary E. MacDonald is the owner of The JavaPot, an online tea and coffee shop that offers a premium line of gourmet tea and coffee, with an emphasis on organic products. You will also find more fantastic articles, some unique coffee and tea -related gift items, tasty recipes, and product reviews. Check out The JavaPot for more details about current gourmet bean coffee and specialty leaf tea offerings.

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