Wednesday, 19 May 2010

tea that needs no marketing

Blending teas isn't some sort of alchemy or anything. Blending is a nice name for mixing. Calling it blending might be good for marketing, but it's really quite simple.

It seems most tea people I know are fanatic about green and Oolong teas. They might drink black tea occasionally, but some have admitted to me in confidence that they really don't like black tea. I'm the opposite. I like green tea as well as black, but certainly not more.

I've mentioned this before, but this seems to be the obstacle to enjoying a good Assam for most people: the tannins. That musky, tart taste you get all the way down your throat when you drink it (but especially on the backside of your tongue) is what makes Assam unappetising for so many. But that's easy enough to deal with. You simply mix a tea with a high tannin content with one that is milder. Problem solved, yeah? Not quite.

Some others like (dare I say love) that tart slightly bitter taste. The objective for me when I blend these teas is to keep a bit of the bite but to temper it enough that a non-Assam drinker can enjoy it. That's where the milder Assams come in.

Before I get wrapped up in China blacks and Ceylons, I try to stay at least near the Assam family. Lately I've been using an Indonesian tea that is strong like an Assam but not malty. It blends beautifully to temper the natural qualities of a strong Assam.

When you're buying loose-leaf Assam, this is what you should look for. It's all about the colour of the tips of the leaves. Unlike many good Ceylons, which can be dark dark brown and have no other shades or colours, the Assams I like have light yellow or even red tips. I've had good ones that didn't-that were only deep dark brown. But that seems the exception rather than the rule.

Right now, I'm using Assam Khongea a lot to soften my stronger Assams. Hajua is good for this, too. Please, if you don't like malty, strong teas, don't spend too long here in this neighbourhood. Ceylons or Darjeelings are probably more your style.


  1. You may want to try this with a small amount of tea sometime. I have done it in a cupping set with good results.

    Brew an assam (one maybe of not so great quality just in case) for about 7-8 minutes.
    There is a chemical that comes out of the leaf that counteracts the tannins caused by overbrewing (say if you only brewed it 4-5 minutes).
    We experimented with this at the Black tea certification courses and it was really a surprise!

    Tea is a strange thing =]

  2. I'll try this when I get home. Any books you can recommend that you used in your class?

    I might be in SoCal in the next six months. Could you introduce me to who I need to talk to if I want to take a class at the school you mentioned in your blog?

    Thanks Sir William. I'll let you know the results of your suggestion.

  3. My parents are definitely an exception to your observations, and I know many people like them. They like very strong black teas and generally avoid green teas as being weak or bland. They like oolongs, but they tend to like the stronger oolongs. I gave them a sheng pu-erh though, and they loved that...and they also like gunpowder green tea...I think they just like teas that have a lot of kick to them.

    I've inherited some of these tastes. One of my parent's favorite styles of tea is Russian Caravan, which I also love. But at the opposite end of the spectrum, I love Pouchong / Bao Zhong, which my mom absolutely can't stand, and my dad is indifferent towards.

    I love how people have different tastes!


    The courses are put on by the Specialty Tea Institute. They have classes usually 4 or 5 times per year. It requires much traveling though. And to be honest they are a bit expensive. But for all the information and networking that one takes out of the class, it is worth all the expense.
    About the books, they have manuals that are given out to the attendees of each class, so I could not tell you where to buy any of the materials used.
    Some tea books that I enjoy very much though are:
    -"The Way of Tea" by Lam Kam Chuen
    -"Liquid Jade" by Beatrice Hohenegger
    -"Tea, Aromas and Flavors from Around the World" by Lydia Gautier
    -"New Tea Lover's Treasury" by James Norwood Pratt

    Hope this helps!
    If you would like a more in depth explanation of the classes just let me know!
    Glad to help =]

  5. I am one of those people who aren't keen on black tea. I'll drink it, but it's just not on the top of my list. The Assam actually sounds good, though. I like a tart kuwei in my tea, so I'd like to have some of that.