Tea blends come about for love or money. Some blends are classic creations shared across millennia, while others are the secret formulas of tea growers and merchants hoping to capture the affections of tea drinkers with their exclusive blends. Today’s tea blenders face challenges in both continuing the lineage of traditional blends and in staying on top of contemporary flavor and functional trends. Fortunately, given the long history of tea, inspiration can be found in both old and new ways that insure a successful tea blend.
“The man who has really mastered it can defy all competition; by careful testing he can buy as well as the large houses, and by making the characteristics of the water in his locality his special study, he can please his customers far better than any outsider can possibly do, however extensive his operations may be, and at the same time secure a good profit for himself.”
Quoted from the book, Tea and Tea Blending, by a member of the firm Lewis & Company, Crutched Friars, London, 4th edition, 1894; the suggestion has merit in our times. Traveling across many countries, the nature of the local water, hard vs. soft, with differing trace minerals, can significantly alter the flavor of some teas. Local tea companies that become knowledgeable about which teas will taste flavorful vs. those that will go flat, can tailor their tea blend offerings accordingly.
General Advice on Blending Tea
A fraction of a penny in buying low-priced teas will often make all the difference between a good and a common tea ; it is false economy to inflict nasty rubbish on your customers to save a farthing.
Helpful tips on letting a tea blend rest for a period of time before considering it finished and ready to sell, along with instructions for the proper storage of teas are also found in the book,
“When the mixture is made up, it should be allowed to stand in air-tight canisters at least a week before it is sold, the flavour of the component parts thus assimilates. Remember – if your tea is allowed to stand near and strong smelling articles, it will absorb their flavor; fine teas are often spoilt by contact with soap, cheese, or other items in a grocer’s shop.”
The Tea Blender’s Goal: Being Memorable
Lastly, the need to monitor the quality of one’s tea blends and the desired outcome are considered, “Be sure your blends have some distinctive flavour; let them always be the same style and always kept up to standard quality, so that people will learn to rely on them and come for them again and again; it is thus big businesses are built up.”
Wise words “time traveling” from 1894 to tea blenders of our time. Now go, create.
Image provided by the author.
This article has been updated from the original publication in August, 2013.
Tea and Tea Blending is in the public domain and available for download in several formats. One source is Internet Archive. (Link to this publication.)
Now that’s an interesting idea Guy. Certainly suitable for local tea shops but not applicable with internet sales. As I’m an orthodox tea drinker – almost exclusively, I’ve tended to turn a blind eye to blends. I saw their biggest advantage to disguise the taste of teas that have been over heated and over steeped. That said, there are some wonderful, creative and innovate tea blends out there that warrant a second look. I’m amazed that your quotes are from over a century ago. A lot has changed and a lot hasn’t.
Not sure how many people around the country/world can use unfiltered tap water however. I know tea shops often purchase costly filtration systems, only to find that customers can’t seem to get the same taste when they bring home their whole leaf purchases. How do you deal with that? If one is lucky enough to live in a region where the water is good, perhaps that’s not an issue. When ever I bring tea onto an airplane, it’s never tasty. They won’t allow me to bring water from home so I’m doomed to have to use their dreadful hot water. That’s where I bring a teabag with the strongest fruit flavors I can find. It still doesn’t quite get the job done however.
Michelle, definitely can identify with the tea on a plane (like “snakes on a plane”?) issue, it is almost a lost cause. Water quality is a challenge in some regions, yet with the availability of a lot of reasonably priced charcoal filtration systems for the home that attach to the tap and can be easily switched on and off, tea drinkers can optimize their water for the best tea flavor. Maybe what we need is a tea water treatment tablet that is added to a pot of heated water to balance the water quality before infusing tea leaves? —-> Kickstarter idea! :)
Blends don’t necessarily mean just teas with added fruit, floral or spice ingredients. Many black tea blends, like a signature afternoon blend, can be a mix of orthodox teas. Even within a specific orthodox tea, growers will blend different harvests or different plucking locations from the tea farm to get an optimal flavor, be it a Darjeeling, a Keemun or a Ceylon. The balance between the art and science of tea is what makes it so intriguing and, at times, unpredictable.
You’re right about blends. In my mind however, it’s the fruity ones. It is an art to blend different whole leaf teas to create something unique. Seems like a bigger challenge than added flavors.
Love the kick-starter idea. Know any food chemists:)