Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Blending tea

I want to talk about blending tea briefly. Here we are not talking about herbs/flowers/spices blended teas like the western herbal blends. I am talking about blended oolong tea, black tea and pu-erh tea. Many tea drinkers are at constant quest of single estate teas, believe the pure breeds are the best. While this may be true for some, but not all.

Number of reasons to blend teas together:
1, to keep the flavor consistent
2, to create new receipes to enhance flavor and hide flaws
3, combine small batches to make one big enough batch

First reason is a common commercial practice, similar to wine/spirit making. Ingredients are different in taste for each year, grapes can be sour this year and sweet the next. Using the same method to make wine will result in different taste each year, however consumers had it last year and liked it would like to buy something just like what they had last year, hence wine makers blend different batches to match the flavor. Same reason for blended whiskey, it tastes very similar no mater when it's made. However single malt whiskeys have wide range of flavors. That's the difference in consumers preference, burger king burgers vs home made burgers. Burger king's won't be outstanding, but it's not bad. Home made burgers can be excellent but may not be the same every time. Teas are blended to meet market needs year after year with some what consistent flavors. Earl Grey drinkers will not like their earl grey taste like Lapseng Souchong the next time they order a tea bag.

2nd reason for blending tea is to create new flavors. Pu-erh teas are blended mostly, using leaves from different mountains and regions, leaves from different seasons, or any combinations of leaves. One region gives smooth texture, an other region gives more bite, one can be too astringent, an other can be too bitter, by combining all the leaves, the finished product will be more complex with multiple layers of flavor. Wuyi tea farmers also blend leaves frequently. Da Hong Pao commercial products are mostly blended, and China agriculture department approved of such marketing scheme. Commercial Dan Congs can be blended as well. Other than the top 10 fragrance DCs, there are many varietals do not have a signature fragrance, hence mixing them with other aromatic DCs will give the new blend a whole new life. The strength of one can make up the weakness of another. An ever lasting Chinese philosophy.

3rd reason for blending tea is use what you have on hand sufficiently. This type of practice can be seen with old bushes of Dan Cong. Due to small productions of averaging only 3 lbs per tree, for those produces only a lb or less, farmers combine a few trees of similar flavor into one batch. If age of the combined trees vary by far, the older tree will contribute an old bush YUN, while the younger tree will contribute higher note of fragrance.

Blending is an art can be refined only with experience.

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