Every now and then, we are surprised about a wide range of new and exotic tea blends. We try them, we enjoy them, and we wonder… how do professionals make them? What are the secrets and techniques behind these mixtures that lead us to delightful labyrinths of memories, hidden treasures in our childhood, or unknown places. The fact is that tea blends are made of one part passion and one part technique. There are no fixed recipes for making tea blends, however, they always require knowledge and creativity.
Determined to unveil the mystery, I spoke with the best-known tea blenders around the globe, colleagues that share the passion and excitement when it comes to making new tea blends.
Victoria with Per Sundmalm and Jane Pettigrew
Per Sundmalm, the Swedish visionary who founded Tea Shop in Spain expanding the brand to Portugal then Brazil, started his business with the desire to make the best tea available in Spain. So he began importing origin teas, then designing brand-authored tea blends to suit the local palate.
Conquering the Spanish gourmet world was not an easy task, but after identifying local tastes, he was able to create personalised concoctions. Following the inspiration of Mediterranean flavour and culture, where his first store was established (in Barcelona), he has been developing –together with a team of trained people- from classic blends to the most innovative ones. One that caught my attention was from my last trip to Barcelona: the “SensualTea Hot”, a mixture of Yunnan black tea, ginger, pink pepper, chilli, Morello cherry, cherry flavour, and hazelnut aroma. This is a spicy tea that will surely make your tongue tingle and shake up your senses in an unexpected way, lovely for cold weather.
In France, Mariage Frere´s president Kitti Cha Sangmanee, a passionate Thai man, has been creating tea blends for more than 3 decades. Inspired by food and travel, he tries to express the original values of Mariage Frères through his blends: attachment to nature, poetry, and the mixing of East and West with a playful marriage of contrasts. The company was established in 1854 and is well known in and outside of France. Their tea blends reflect the French predilection for aesthetics and flavour.
Of course, I cannot avoid mentioning tea in England. There is no need to describe Twinings’ tea blends, most of us have tasted their Earl Grey or their Lady Grey tea at least once (and should if we didn´t), but not all of us know what inspires this global referent when it comes to creating a new tea blend. Jeremy Sturges, one of the most experienced tea blenders at Twinings, assures that when on a tea buying trip, the greatest source of creative stimulus, is tasting new flavours in food and drinks from around the world. One of Twinings’ concerns is consistency of flavour over time; as the agro-climatic conditions vary from season to season, so, too does quality, which then becomes the company´s biggest challenge in delivering consistently great tasting blends year after year.
One of their tea blends I liked most was the one created for the Queen´s diamond Jubilee. A blend of a rich, malty, second flush Assam, and a smooth, mellow, Yunnan black tea, perfectly matched to give balance and roundness to the cup.
As a tea blender myself, I find inspiration in everyday emotions from nostalgia to the fantastical. That is how I was inspired to create tea blends such as Amoroso, Tu Cariño, and in Falling in Love; three romantic potions designed to evoke those feelings.
As a tea-blending teacher, sometimes I find it hard to convince my students there is always something new to create. Some people think everything has already been done, and there is no hope for newcomers. But actually this is the opportunity in a traditional market. My students are the ones who surprise me the most. They fuse their personal histories, their perceptions, and their memories into incredible, sensory-awakening teas, in unexpected combinations that result in innovative flavours. This comforts me, and shows that creativity is always alive and there is a plethora of inspiration, however you need to focus and work hard to find them. Creativity, knowledge, and practice are the only tools to success. As Pablo Picasso said: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”