I love tea and I love history. I even love browsing through antiques fairs and admiring beautiful old things such as Georgian wooden tea caddies. But I’ve never thought much about the way in which tea was consumed in the past, though I do know that tea drinkers used to buy loose tea and blended different varieties and styles together themselves to create their perfect brew.
Today, it seems that only the big tea companies retain the art of blending, which is primarily a way for them to ensure consistency of taste for their consumers in the face of differences in the quality and flavours of every harvest.
But of course, tea is also still blended by tea masters – artisans, if you like – looking to create something that is more than the sum of its parts.
Just like in the world of whisky, there is something to be said for blends and there is something to be said for single estate teas. The former allows a master blender to achieve a more complex finished tea, with the best possible aroma, mouthfeel and taste. The latter allows the consumer to enjoy the distinctions that come from different climates and growing techniques, what the French describe as terroir, and appreciate the skills of the individual producer.
I’ve always loved tea, and have been enjoying a wide range of loose leaf teas since I was a teenager, when I used to buy packets of assam and darjeeling and mango tea from an elderly stall holder in Camden Market. But I’ve never thought to combine more than one together to create my own blend.
The Tea Board of Kenya sent me three Kenyan black teas to try just that.
On the left is Kaamba, in the middle Marinyn GFBOP and on the right Kenya Estate Milima.
(GFBOP = Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe, learn more here).
I opt to leave the leaf tea at the bottom of the cups, where it quickly settles during the brewing time.
Before I can do any blending, I need to assess the individual teas.
The Tea Board of Kenya describes Kaamba tea as having “a very malty flavour with light hints of currant“. I find just a hint of malt, and a fair bit of tannin. The overall taste is very one dimensional; it strikes me as a very simple “black tea” kind of taste. The tea liquor is the darkest of the three.
Of the Marinyn GFBOP, they tell me that it’s grown in the highlands at altitudes of up to 9000 feet and is a “strong, brightly flavoured tea with a sweet quality“. Certainly it has a sweetness on the nose and in the taste. It’s a far more complex tea than both the others, with a lovely hint of citrus reminiscent of bergamot. The colour of the tea is a pretty copper or amber.
Apparently the Kenya Estate Milima is a very rare tea with a large loose leaf, has a “full, slightly malty flavour” and is “fruity and spicy with some sweet floral notes”. I do get lots of malt in the aroma but it doesn’t come through on the palate. In fact, this tea has very little flavour at all and I certainly don’t detect malt, fruit, spice or flowers.
Because the Kenya Estate Milima tastes of so little, I exclude it from my blend and combine one part Kaamba to two parts Marinyn GFBOP. Immediately, I see that the tea has a rounder flavour. The Kaamba provides a rich backbone onto which the Marinyn GFBOP layers its sweet, floral properties.
With so many loose leaf teas in my cupboard, I’m certainly enthused to try my hand at blending teas from different growing countries and regions and even different types of teas such as black, oolong, green and white.
Have you ever blended two or more loose leaf teas to create your own cuppa? If so, I’d love to hear about it!
Kavey Eats received tea samples courtesy of The Tea Board of Kenya.