Formulating your own tea or tisane blend is a great way to express your creativity and come up with a truly unique brew. Custom blended teas and tisanes make great gifts that you can share with your friends and family. And with a myriad florals, herbs and spices available, not to mention many hundreds of teas, the only limit to your next great blend is your dedication and imagination.
In this post, we've shared some practical advice to help you get the most out of your tea or tisane blending process.
1) Set up your blending station
Before blending, it's important to dress appropriately and set up a clean, uncluttered workstation with equipment appropriate for the task. The ergonomic comfort and safety of your blending area matters: after all, you'll be spending plenty of time on your feet. Start by setting aside a quiet, well-ventilated space that has enough room for you to store your mixing bowls, tasting spoons, cups and loose ingredients that are stored in airtight containers. Your uniform should consist of an apron, hair net and disposable gloves to ensure that you keep your blend free of unwanted contaminants. Good ventilation is important if you will be adding natural or artificial aromatising agents to your teas.
For equipment, you'll need a kettle for boiling water, an accurate micro-scale (preferably calibrated to 0.1 grams) for measuring minute quantities, as well as high quality digital kitchen scales that can weigh a maximum of at least 1 kilogram. Additionally, keep a notepad and pen on hand for recording your blend name, ingredients and date. Lastly, a reliable pair of scissors and a mortar and pestle are essential to hand-processing ingredients, such as spices and fruits, in your blend.
2) Profile your ingredients
An important part of the recipe development process involves reading and taking notes. Firstly, learn about your ingredients by taking reading the packaging information from your supplier. Here, you can find information about place of origin, a nutritional panel and most importantly, the particular attributes of a herb or spice. Secondly, take notes by performing your own analysis. For all the teas, herbs, florals and spices in your pantry, prepare a warm solution of each ingredient and record its attributes such as tasting and smelling notes, colour, aroma and mouthfeel. The notes we obtain help us to make an educated decision about which ingredients will work in harmony with one another, to ensure a balanced and palatable blend. Before long, from your reading and your experience, you'll have a comprehensive knowledge of a range of blending ingredients and how to best blend with them.
3) Less is more
Quite often in the enthusiasm of blending, it is easy to add too many ingredients or flavouring agents without considering the balance of the blend as a whole. When blending, work by the method of subtraction: use the least amount of each ingredient added to the base tea or herb, and gradually increase in order to achieve your desired result. In exercising restraint, you will ensure that your base ingredient can still be tasted and experienced for what it is, and that each ingredient has equal footing to express itself without being smothered by a more plentiful or pungent ingredient. For example, ingredients that are woody or possess a firm shell, such as nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice, can easily overbalance a blend with excessive unwanted warmth and pungency, meaning they should be used in moderation.
4) Trial and error
Tea and tisane blending is a rewarding but challenging process that requires a great deal of patience, perseverance and good organisational skills. Much like a science experiment, a good process in developing a blend involves minute changes to the variables — your ingredients — that are recorded and compared against an original attempt at the blend, as well as a control blend: just the plain, base ingredient.
At Endeavour Tea, we use spreadsheets with percentages to measure the amount of each ingredient that is used in our blends. The process involves making incremental changes to singular ingredients, which leads on to the blending, visual and scent analysis, brewing and cupping and finally, tasting the product. As part of the research and development process, we expect to discard many of our initial blend attempts in search of the most balanced brew.
5) Keep everything even
It is common for smaller ingredients, such as fine seeds and spice dusts to settle to the bottom of a mixture, while larger ingredients, such as cardamom pods and milled ginger pieces to rise to the top. Generally, a well-balanced blend should contain ingredients that are mostly similar in size to each other, so that each spoonful provides a little bit of each ingredient. There's nothing worse than a spoonful of tea that is full of big ingredients with scarcely any tea! Be sure to use a pair of blender, a pair of scissors or a kitchen knife as a last resort to break down larger fragments to an even and manageable size.
6) Work with a plan
As the old saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. With so much choice and a wealth of information available to you, it's a good idea to set up a parameter on your imagination and keep things within a theme. Formulate your blends with a clear goal in mind and run with it for a short while is perhaps the best advice to come up with a cohesive menu of blends. For example, when coming up with a range of health-promoting teas and tisanes, it may be helpful to focus on a particular range of ailments that you are targeting, matched to a selection of botanicals and spices that are known to alleviate particular symptoms.
7) Take a breather
The act of blending ingredients tends to release some of the essential oils and aromas of the ingredients you have processed. For example, your freshly ground spices such as peppercorn and cinnamon will smell their most potent right after being pounded in a mortar and pestle. That’s why before you begin tasting and smelling evaluation of your final product, it is best practice to ‘age’ your blend for at least a few days in a sealed container to allow the aromas to settle and spread to the other ingredients in your blend. In this way, you can be sure that the airborne aromas have settled and what you are evaluating is more balanced.
8) Get ready to share
Whether you're satisfied with the final product, you're just starting out or you've hit a roadblock, don't be afraid to speak out and gather as much feedback as you can from friends, family and co-workers. Constructive criticism is the best way for us to improve ourselves and our blend. That's why it's a good idea to put aside a small amount of your blend for sampling and sharing.
We hope you've found a little bit of inspiration from our advice. Good luck with your blending adventures!