Posted by Gary D. Robson
Before I get to the subject of today’s blog post, I’d just like to get a little announcement out of the way. My last post was the 100th post to Tea With Gary. Yay! Celebration! Fireworks!
Okay, now on to tea blends.
Professionals developing tea blends have several goals in mind beyond just making something yummy. One absolute requirement is that it has to be simple for the consumer to make at home. And by simple, I mean the instructions have to read like this: “Put ____ teaspoons of leaves in ____ ounces of water at ____ degrees, and steep for ____ minutes.” If at all possible, “water at ____ degrees” should be replaced with “boiling water,” but sometimes that’s not practical.
When you’re having fun with tea blends at home (or in my case, at the tea bar), I’m often faced with a conundrum. I want to combine significantly different teas, but they require different steep times or water temperatures — or sometimes both. A perfect example of this is the oolong/pu-erh blend that I made the other day.
I like the particular oolong that I used (Iron Goddess of Mercy) steeped for about three minutes. I wanted to try blending it with a loose-leaf ripe pu-erh, but I really didn’t like the results. Even if I backed off on the amount of pu-erh, that three minutes is just too long for me. If I steeped the blend as long as I’d steep the pu-erh by itself (about a minute and a half), then the oolong flavor didn’t come through properly.
For such an obvious solution, it took me the better part of a day to come up with it. Here are my instructions for this lovely blend:
- Place 1-1/2 teaspoons of Iron Goddess in 16-ounce infuser (or teapot) filled with 200 degree water
- Steep for 1:30
- Add 2 teaspoons of shu pu-erh to infuser
- Continue steeping for another 1:30
- Pour tea into mug, filtering out leaves
The alternative would be to brew the two teas separately and then combine them in the cup, but that ends up being much more complicated and messy, and dirties two infusers. On the other hand, that method allows you to use the leaves more than once — and both of these teas lend themselves to multiple infusions. It also takes some experimentation to make that system work.
A direct translation of that infusion method to multiple infusers would look like this:
- Place 1-1/2 teaspoons of Iron Goddess in infuser (or teapot) with 8 ounces of 200 degree water
- Steep for 3:00 and pour tea into 16-ounce mug, filtering out leaves
- Place 2 teaspoons of shu pu-erh in a second infuser (or teapot) with 8 ounces of 200 degree water
- Steep for 1:30 and add tea to mug from step 2, filtering out leaves
- Once both teas have been blended in the mug, stir briskly
If you just do the math here, it would seem to be a completely equivalent brewing process, but it’s not. The results are quite different when you steep 1-1/2 teaspoons of oolong in 8 ounces of water or when you steep 1-1/2 teaspoons of oolong in 16 ounces of water. Making that second method produce the same results would require a good bit of finagling.
For me, though, this game isn’t about producing the perfect cup for resale. It’s about experimenting with flavors, doing things that Lipton can’t put in a bag, and coming up with something I like. There are some blends that have worked very well for me this way. There are others that have pretty much bombed every time.
Among the experiments I’ve considered successful are adding fresh raspberries to pouchong oolong, adding a dash of zinfandel (wine) to an aged wild shu pu-erh, and mixing a short-steeped green tea with a long-steeped white tea. Primary among the bombs is blending green and black tea. Regardless of steep time and style, I have yet to find a combination I find palatable.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t be afraid to blend things together that might make your tea absolutist friends gasp. Tea should be fun.