By definition, tea blending is the simple process of putting teas of different characteristics together to form a final product. The golden rule of tea blending is consistency in taste, while reflecting nuances of the which is especially important to the consumer.
Classically, tea blending is associated with black tea production. As tea companies require a specific taste for their house black tea [English Breakfast], Tea Tasters in Sri Lanka & India would have to create and maintain unique black tea blends for the tea companies, also known as a “Standard” in the industry.
For major tea companies, it is paramount that each batch of English Breakfast taste the same as the previous one, so that when a consumer next purchase the same tea he/she will not be able to detect a difference in flavour.
Tea is also a very fragile plant with the ability to easily receive any aroma, which works against it sometimes during the manufacturing process or transportation. We as tea blenders will however be able to use this fragility to our advantage with this introductory session in tea blending.
HOW IS TEA FLAVOURED?
A tea can be flavored in many ways. Often more than one method is used:
Inclusions: the direct addition of fruits, blossoms, herbs or other additives to add to the visual or sensory effect.
Extracts: are flavoring agents derived by extracting the essential oils from the leaves, fruits, blossoms, roots or other parts of a plant. Extracts carry the distinctive scents or flavors that we come to expect from that plant.
Natural Identical (NIs): flavoring agents are obtained with the aid of chemical synthesis by a chemist. NIs tend to be more stable than extracts and are usually significantly less expensive. Many flavored products are flavored with nature-identical flavors.
Artificial Flavors are created by altering the chemical structure of a naturally occurring molecule to create a different & more intense compound. ETTE TEA does not use artificial flavoring agent in any of our blends.
Scenting derive their flavor simply from physical proximity to strong flavors. While some jasmine teas may be artificially flavored, "real" jasmine teas are scented with Jasmine blossoms which are then removed (jasmine blossoms have a much shorter shelf life than tea). Lapsang Souchong is scented by being exposed to the smoke of burning pine root.
Most inclusions alter the flavor of the cup but are usually not strong enough to deliver the punch we want. Most "flavored" teas, are flavored with Natural Identical flavoring agents. The total amount of agent applied depends on the flavor and desired strength, but usually falls between 0.5% - 5% of the weight of the tea being flavored.
The flavoring agent is poured or sprayed over the dry leaf subsequently mixed to ensure an even distribution. Larger companies do this in large rotating drums filled with hundreds of kilograms of tea. Most teas can be flavored (properly absorbing the extract) in under 30 minutes, though some flavors do require significantly longer.
At ETTE TEA, we hand blend our teas in small batches with quantities up to a maximum of 3 kg per tea blend.
PRINCIPLES IN TEA BLENDING
The following will be the 3 key ingredients in creating a beautiful tea blend :
Objectives - What are we making the tea blend for? Would we want to create a wellness cocktail for the health benefits of the additives we use or simply for the gourmet & artisanal factor of creating a exquisitely crafted tea blend that brews well in a cup?
Secondly, from a technical standpoint, tea blending is about balance.
- Aesthetically beautiful dried leaves
- Rounded & balance bouquet or aroma [more applicable with extracts & NIs
- Taste & structure of the mouth-feel
Last but not least, the most important factor in creating a tea blend is the intrinsic factor of emotions. Tea blending can be an exercise of empathy where tea leaves & herbs, when put together, are used to invoke a feeling or to tell a story of my own.
Do you have a story to tell today?