What’s a Hand-blended Tea?

There is some debate within the tea community on what is a blended tea. It’s part of the ongoing debate about various tea terminology, including the one that a tea company has claimed they inadvertently and regrettably started: calling “rooibos” a tea. So, what do tea aficionados mean by “blended tea”?

2009 Menghai 7562 Classic Ripe Pu-erh Brick tea
(an average of Grade 6 leaves blended for optimum flavor)

Definition Options:

  • Two or more varietals of tea combined.
  • Teas from different gardens or flushes, regardless of varietal.
  • Tea leaves mixed with various flavorings/scents. This would include genmaicha, jasmines, and all of the fruit/floral/spice flavored teas out there (what many call “flavored tea,” not “blended tea”).

Why Blend Tea?

  • Even out the flavors of the teas to keep them consistent for a marketplace that is geared to those expectations.
  • Raise the taste profile of a lesser tea by blending it with a higher grade of tea (common in pu-erh tea cakes where the blends follow specific recipes as indicated on the cake wrappers).
  • Combine existing teas to create an exceptional yet distinguished and unique taste as well as texture and color.
  • To compensate for the quality of the water in particular areas. Ireland’s water tends to be fairly soft (low in various minerals, especially calcium). Water in the western part of the U.S. can be rather hard and full of a variety of minerals. Each location needs a different blend to taste right.

The Blending Process

Creating new blends is done by tea lovers as well as tea sellers. Different kinds of tea are available at different times of the year. So to keep the supply constant, tea sellers have to rely on different blends of tea.

They obtain a large selection of teas and establish a catalog of different blends of these teas. Later when they replenish, the same teas may not be available, but the blender wants to keep the flavor profile the same for that blend. He may substitute a similar tea so the blend tastes virtually the same. It happens all the time with popular British tea brands. Their staff of blenders are constantly assessing the tea to assure the taste stays consistent. These teas are usually blended using large machines, but there are many hand-blended teas.

As previously mentioned, pu-erh tea cakes are blends of different grades of tea leaves, done according to certain recipes. These and other high-end teas are usually blended by hand as opposed to the large machines used for those bagged black tea blends. Batches of leaves go through hand-processing, and then the blender takes over. One option is to go by a set recipe, using so much from this batch and so much from that. Another is the tasting method. Tasting cups are set in a row, a small quantity of each leaf batch is put in the cups, hot water is added, the tea is steeped and then strained into a tasting cup, and the tea blender (usually someone with many years of experience) tastes the teas. Then it’s time to select which teas to use in the blend, partly decided by the flavor profile desired.

The chosen tea leaves or combined in small batches, stirred together, and then packaged. This is repeated until all the tea leaves have been blended. The key here is control. The blender can get the exact flavor profile desired.

One caveat: unlike mass-produced machine-blended teas, these smaller-batch hand-blended teas will vary from batch to batch, since the quality of the teas in them will vary slightly year to year, and some of the teas may not be available in sufficient supply.

About Janice and Stephen Shelton

Purveyors of Premium Teas
This entry was posted in Tea Info for Newbies and Up and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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