One of the Camellia Sinensis plant’s most beautiful features is that the flavour of the plant is easily altered by changes in humidity, altitude, weather, light, and temperature. As you can imagine this may make the plant a little finicky to grow, but because of this fickleness each tea is unique and has its own distinct flavour. First, tea leaves are lovingly and carefully handpicked, then they are harvested with the utmost care and attention to detail to ensure their separate flavours come through. All of this work amounts to the types of tea we have available for our drinking pleasure, and why teas from one region - like Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiris, all produced in India - taste so different. But another beautiful fact about tea that lends itself to the numerous options we have available is this: tea absorbs the flavour of almost anything. And tea blending is a common process that is used to keep our taste buds guessing at new flavours, and ensure we can recognize the old ones.
Tea blending was originally intended to mask inconsistencies in the flavour of batches of tea. As the flavour of the final tea is so dependent on the growing conditions of the plant, a batch of tea made from leaves picked on a sunny day can taste entirely different from a batch of tea made with leaves picked on a rainy day. Season to season, day to day, any changes in the climate or handling can result in big changes to flavour, and producers don’t want that. They want a tea that their customers can easily recognize, tea that is consistent in taste, colour and quality. So they turned to blending.
Most people, when they hear of “tea blending,” assume that it is done to create flavoured teas like Chocolate Mint, or Apple Spice. Blending is where flavoured teas come from, but many people don’t realize that the majority of black tea is also blended. To ensure that their teas will be consistent many producers mix a variety of black teas together, it helps to even out the taste and makes the tea more reliable.
To make flavoured teas the same practice of mixing flavours is used. There are two ways to flavour tea, and for the best teas the work is done by hand. Sometimes mixed in with the drying leaves, or added to the batch after the tea leaves have already dried, anything that will flavour the tea is used. Dried fruit, flowers, herbs, smoke and spices are the most common additions and can often be seen in the final product - producers tend to leave the flavouring (like flower petals or fruit) in the mix because it adds to the beauty of the tea.
Some teas are not as carefully made. Many lesser quality bagged teas are flavoured with essential oils, perfumes, or artificially made coatings that are sprayed on while the dried tea leaves are mechanically rotated in big cylinders.
When tea is hand blended, however, it results in beautiful creations of unique flavour combinations. And you can even try it out for yourself. There really aren’t any rules for blending teas - except for common sense, obviously don’t add anything that could be poisonous. Check first to make sure whatever you’re adding can be safely consumed, and then use whatever your heart, or taste buds, desire.
It is quite a simple process. Start with dried tea leaves, black or green are most commonly used for blending, place in a sealed container with your chosen flavours - dried flowers, fruits, herbs, spices, candy - and let sit until the flavours have blended. The timing is hard to pin down, the mixture needs to stay together long enough for the tea to absorb the flavour, but once it’s finished you can sit down and enjoy a distinct cup of tea and take pleasure from the fact that you made it yourself.
TeaEra Tea Company - Canada can provide you with gourmet loose leaf teas so you can expirmet with your own blends.