Start With What?
The first thing you want to ask yourself is, “What kind of tea do I want to make?” What purpose or properties do you want this tea to have? Do you want it to replicate certain flavors, ideas, or a place in time? Is this tea medicinal? A sleep aid? A way to perk up in the morning or refresh yourself mid-afternoon?
Answering these questions will help you decide what kind of tea to use (black, green, decaf, herbal) and how to flavor it (herbs, spices, essential oils).
For instance, at a recent tea blending workshop at Steven Smith’s Teaworks in Portland, Jolie Guillebeau wanted to invoke memories of her grandmother’s Southern summer tea, so she used a blend of black teas with sweet-and-spicy herbs and essential oils.
Choose and Gather Ingredients
Rebecca Goldschmidt of The Random Tea Room in Philadelphia suggests starting with your personal favorite tea as a base. If you don’t have a favorite or still aren’t sure what to use, Goldschmidt recommends Sencha, a Japanese green tea that will readily absorb any flavors you add.
When selecting your ingredients, make sure you find high quality teas, herbs, and flavorings. Your local tea or herb and spice shop should have what you need, but if your area doesn’t boast one of these stores there are a number of places online.
Frontier Natural Products Co-op
Mountain Rose Herbs
If you are preparing an herbal blend, Goldschmidt cautions that you do ample research first to make sure the ingredients don’t negate each other or cause complications to current health conditions. Also, essential oils are great for adding flavor, but first make sure they are meant to be ingested; use them sparingly as they can cause allergic reactions, and don’t apply them directly to the tea leaves. Goldschmidt recommends applying the oils to a cotton ball instead and placing inside a sealed container with the tea overnight.
Blend and Taste
When you have all of your ingredients gathered, you are ready to start blending! The amounts of tea, herbs, or flavorings you add are entirely up to you, so you should feel free to experiment.
It’s a good idea to make an initial blend, then brew and taste the tea. If the flavor isn’t quite up to snuff, don’t despair! Simply add more of the lacking ingredient(s) and try again until you’re happy.
“I kept holding back, because I was worried about going overboard and ruining the tea,” said Guillebeau, “but after a few tries, I realized in this case, more is probably better. It seems to be about getting those smells and tastes layered in the right way. My initial batch was pretty boring, and after tasting a few of the other blends being created I decided to be a little bolder with my herbs and spices, to balance the strong black teas I had chosen for a base.”
Packaging Makes Perfect
Once your tea is blended, you’ll want to think about packaging and storing. If the tea is just for you, an opaque, airtight jar is the perfect way to store your brew (air and sunlight will make the tea go stale). Find something pretty and keep it out on your counter.
If you’re planning to give the tea as a gift, look for small, airtight tins or kraft paper treat bags. If your friends prefer tea bags to loose leaf, you can make your own teabags and wrap them in a pretty little box.
Don’t forget to make labels! You’ll want to include the name of your tea, the ingredients you used, and brewing instructions.
by Ciaran Keast
- 4 ounces Assam tea
- 2 ounces whole cloves
- 2 ounces whole black peppercorns
- 2 ounces cinnamon chips
- 2 ounces cardamom seeds
- 1 ounces ginger root
Place all ingredients into an air-tight container, close tightly, and shake to blend. It's best to let the tea sit for a few days (a week is best) so the flavors can "marinate" nicely. Divide into clear plastic bags or air-tight gift tins to give away, but don't forget to keep some for yourself!
Southern Summer Tea
by Jolie Guillebeau
- 3 parts Yunnan
- 1 part Second Flush Darjeeling
- 1 part Assam
- 1 part Honeybush
- 1 part Lemon Myrtle
- 1 part Blackberry leaves
- A pinch of Sasparilla
- A pinch of licorice root
- Two pinches of dried Cyani flowers for color (These don't affect the taste, but they make the tea look pretty.)
- 3 drops of peach essential oil
- 2 drops of Manuka Honey essential oil
Place all ingredients, except for the essential oils, into an air-tight container, close tightly, and shake well to blend. Add essential oils to two cotton balls and drop into container with tea; seal and allow to sit over night. In the morning, remove and discard cotton balls; seal and shake tea again to blend.
Bourbon Vanilla Honeybush Tea
from Random Tea Room
- 3 ounces calendula petals
- 1 ounce vanilla
- 1 pound honeybush (similar to rooibos)
On a baking tray, spread the calendula petals evenly. Using a small spray bottle, coat the petals lightly with the vanilla. Place in the oven on its lowest setting and with the door slightly ajar for 10-15 minutes or until the petals are dry. Blend with the honeybush and enjoy!
Photo Credits: patrick_george, author, author, author, Jolie Guillebeau, and Jesse Moore.