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Try each tea by itself first to understand the flavours. (iStockphoto)
Try each tea by itself first to understand the flavours. (iStockphoto)

Opinion | Try your hand at blending tea

Like cooking, tea blending at home can be more art than science. Here are a few tips to get you started

A friend told me she had been gifted a black tea that was all right but not one she fancied replacing her usual black tea with. Maybe mix the two, I said. Can you do that? was her surprised reply.

Yes, you can, and professional tea blending is a real job. In the tea business, blending is done to create a standard product for the mass market, to introduce a new offering that may gain popularity, and sometimes, to make a mediocre tea better.

Many of the popular tea brands sold in supermarkets are blended. We recognize them by the brand name and are not concerned about the teas that go into them. For us, they connote familiar taste at a consistent price. And that taste is ensured by expert blenders season after harvest season, regardless of the natural variation in the teas.

At home, blending can be more art than science, like cooking. A few tips to get you started:

Expand your stock of tea so you have a few options to work with. Start with black or green tea. Teas like whites, oolongs or pu-erh need a practised hand. Moreover, they are expensive, so go back to them when you are ready.

Try each tea by itself first to understand the flavours. Like cooking, you are looking for ingredients that work together. My tea-blender friend Jan Dellwisch likens it to music—adding a few upbeat grooves adds funk but too much will turn jazz into radio-pop! You want harmony in flavours.

Start with two teas. Play with quantities. Which tea will you hero? A simple blend is like my breakfast cup, where I mix CTC (for body) with an Assam orthodox (for flavour). Depending on my morning, I may favour one over the other. Sometimes, I choose an orthodox Nilgiri to lighten the bolder CTC.

There are many tea regions with teas that change every season, so it would be a shame not to try your hand at blending—this is not to diss single-estate teas but to indicate the sheer diversity.

If there’s a tea you don’t particularly like, an impulse buy or a gift perhaps, keep it for blending practice. Amp up the flavour with an Assam. Too bland? Add spices or herbs or even fruit and flowers—preferably dried. Again, don’t overload the tea with them. Build the flavours on the tea. Choose the flavours wisely. Cardamom or clove may overpower a green tea whereas jasmine blends harmoniously with both black and green teas. Ginger, lemon, mint add a refreshing note to the vegetal notes of green tea or the fruitiness of black teas. Rose may be too strong for green but is an old friend of black tea.

If you are blending in quantities, use crushed spices such as pepper, cardamom or diced and dried fruit like apple, candied ginger and lemon peels. While storing, note the density of the ingredients, since the heavier ingredients will settle at the bottom over time. Store in airtight, opaque tins. Because no amount of blending can salvage stale teas or those that have absorbed unpleasant flavours.

Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.

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