Tea blending refers to the process of mixing several different teas together to create a final product. The idea is to balance the flavours and health benefits of many types of tea together to create a rounded whole. Experienced tea drinkers may prefer to do this themselves using individual varieties but many blends are so successful that they have become mass produced and sold as separate teas. Blends are primarily made with different types of black tea although sometimes other teas such as Pu-erh from different regions are used. Tea also has the tendency to adopt the aroma and flavour from anything it is stored near. This is often a problem but it has also been exploited and used to make blends with perfumes, flavourings and essential oils, either to enhance the experience or hide sub-standard quality of the actual tea. Each blend has its own unique history and health benefits and should be described separately.
Types of Blended Tea
English Breakfast tea is a mixture of several black teas to create a full bodied, robust and rich tea that is designed to go well with milk and sugar in a style traditionally associated with the hearty full English breakfast. There are many individual brands but most include Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan teas with occasionally Keemun in the more expensive blends. This is by far the most popular kind of tea drunk in Britain and when served in tea bags is sometimes referred to as “builders tea” due to its reputation as being the favourite drink of construction workers, and in fact all workers in all sections of British society. Irish and Scottish breakfast are variations on English breakfast but refer to the specific brands available in Ireland and Scotland. For many people in the British Isles, especially in Ireland and some sections of England, these blends are simply referred to as “tea” as their popularity is almost universal and sometimes the only kind of tea that people are familiar with.
Perhaps not surprisingly English Breakfast tea was not invented in England. Two stories about its origin are common. One states it was the invention of a Scottish purveyor who first begun to sell a “breakfast” tea in the mid 19th century. It quickly caught on in England and became a cultural tradition becoming known as English tea in other countries. The names merged became English Breakfast. A second source says its inventor was Richard Davies in 1843, who commenced a tea company in New York. He mixed together congou (a Chinese black tea) as a base, adding a pinch of flowery pekoe and a particular type of pouchong and called it English Breakfast tea. Being the cheapest of his blends it quickly became very popular and the ingredients were recorded and kept very uniform in quantity, with small amounts of each batch kept to compare against the new batches. Today this original recipe is no longer followed but the name is still used to refer to many blends that are rich, full bodied and designed to be drunk with milk in the traditional English style.
Russian Caravan is a blend of Oolong, Keemun and Lapsang Souchong. Its name derived from the 18th century camel caravans that carried tea from China, India and Ceylon to Europe via Russia. It would take at least half a year to make the difficult six thousand mile journey. While the sea route might be quicker it was thought that the tropical heat impaired the flavour of the tea while passage through the cold, dry climate of Mongolia and Siberia helped to improve it by removing the unpleasant taste of the firing process. This made the harsh northern journey worthwhile as the teas could sell for a much higher price. It has a distinctive smoky aroma caused by the Lapsang Souchong that was originally intended as a preservative.
Teas Blended with Scents, Flavourings and Oils
This is a distinctive tea with the flavour and aroma of bergamot oil, a fragrant citrus fruit. It is named after the 2nd Earl Charles Grey, a British Prime Minister in the 1830s who oversaw the abolishment of slavery in the British Empire and was said to have received a gift of tea flavoured with bergamot. He then gave the recipe to Jacksons of Piccadilly, a tea house by royal appointment, who have been making this tea from the original recipe ever since. It is one of the most popular kinds of tea in the Western world. Traditionally it is a black tea but the name is often used to refer to any tea flavoured with bergamot. Several other varieties have also appeared such as Lady Grey, a blend developed by Twinings, which is flavoured with lemon and Seville orange as well as bergamot and with the addition of blue cornflowers for an even more pleasant aroma. Several other Earl Grey blends have adopted the use of blue cornflowers, often just called Earl Grey Blue Flower tea.
Green or white tea with added jasmine blossoms has been drunk in China since the Song Dynasty in China (960-1279). As well as the flowery aroma it is also sweeter in flavour and generally regarded as less harsh for drinking. The jasmine flowers are picked early in the day when the petals are tightly closed and kept cool until nightfall when they begin to open. The tea is blended with the flowers and stored overnight. It takes four or more hours for the fragrance to be absorbed by the tea and this process may be repeated six or seven times. The tea must then be re-fired to prevent moisture absorbed from the flowers from spoiling the tea.
A spiced tea from India, often just called chai in English speaking countries which is simply the Hindi word for tea. It has no fixed recipe and each household may have its own technique. It is generally made with black tea flavoured with cardamom. cinnamon, ginger, star anise, black pepper and cloves and boiled in a pan with a mixture of ¼ to ½ parts whole or condensed milk to water and sweetened with sugar, honey or jaggery to create a rich warming brew. A Kashmiri version called Kahwah is milder, made with green tea and more subtle flavourings such as almonds, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and sometimes saffron. The health benefits of chai depend on the spices used but some of the masala spice mixtures are derived from Ayurvedic medical texts and selected especially for their medicinal properties. Many chai blends are available commercially but for the adventurous there is no better way to start experimenting with blending than to try and mix your own spices, either from your own knowledge or from a recipe guide, with some tea in a saucepan at home.
Blended teas are generally prepared according to the type of tea they contain. Refer to the individual packaging for purchased blends, or the recipe you are using if attempting to blend your own.