Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tea madness: three things a tea drinker would never do (that I did)

In the past I've shyed away from sharing my deepest, darkest tea drinking secrets, the exploration of tea drinking that some could see as abomination.  But here goes.

Mixing teas:

It's a subject that comes up sometimes, people mixing different types of teas that don't necessarily go together.  Gary Robson mentioned trying out pu'er mixed with oolong in a blog entry, and more recently Robert Godden talked of trying a blend of Australian and Indian teas to celebrate shared national days (that was the whole idea, nothing more to link to, but Australian tea sounds interesting).  Of course some mainstream tea companies are blending in fruits and caramels and whatever else, like this David's Tea page of chocolate teas--crazy, but that's a different thing.

Gary's post inspired me to try it out, it just took awhile to get to it.  I should preface this by saying there is no need to take this in a scandalous direction, potentially ruining a rare and expensive tea that deserves more respect.  There are more common grades of tea to be tampered with, some of which I've inherited from my wife, even in the form of tea bags, which I somehow generally never get around to drinking.  After a test run or two maybe blending really good teas would be in order.

Back to the point, I tried mixing a high-mountain oolong from Taiwan with a Darjeeling.  It seemed like the teas would brew and balance better if I started the oolong steeping first, to let it open up, and then added less Darjeeling than oolong to let those more pronounced flavors not overwhelm the oolong flavor base.

I was surprised that it worked.  Somehow the two teas seemed to settle together into one continuous flavor profile, with rich, smooth, slightly vegetal undertones supplied by the oolong and high-notes of fruit and earth coming in from the Darjeeling.  Of course there was almost no astringency in the resulting blend.  The mix even seemed to work in later infusions, another surprise.

I tried a similar blend again, this time with a Chinese oolong, and a more even proportion of the two teas.  It totally didn't work.  Somehow the stronger Darjeeling clashed with the oolong, throwing the mix out of balance, with a discord of high-end tastes overwhelming the base.

I personally wouldn't drink odd tea blends regularly but it was interesting as an experiment.  In some context it might make even more sense, for example to make an interesting version of iced tea (but adding ice to tea is too crazy even for this blog entry).

Adding chocolate to tea:

Very recently, after reviewing a few teas I referred to as having cocoa flavors, it occurred to me to check if real cocoa tasted just like that.  I had a few Hershey's kisses with a breakfast, along with drinking an oolong from Taiwan a friend gave me, and I mixed the last one into the last half the cup.

It turns out the tea flavor I was identifying "cocoa" is quite similar to actual cocoa (maybe no surprise there).  The addition sort of doesn't "work" since the milk and fats in the chocolate make a muddy mess of the tea, and it ended up tasting like some crazy blend of hot chocolate and tea.  It would probably work better with a darker chocolate, and maybe with a fruit and tea blend it would make more sense.  Or maybe if I just had some caramel to add, or a few marshmallows...

The ultimate frontier:

Recently I did the truly unthinkable and drank tea made from a low-end commercial tea bag.  I've had tea made from higher end tea prepared as tea bags a few times in the last half-year and that went well enough, and I've had good luck with a commercial grade loose product of Ceylon tea, but this is something else.  And I'll go on to review it.

It tasted like cheap tea.  It was actually a little strange getting the brewing right since in theory there is nothing to it; throw it in for as long as you like, mix in more sugar if you leave it longer.  I probably didn't go long enough first infusion to get the most out of adjusting for the tea being dust, and didn't account for using less tea than I ever do.  In this case I wasn't so concerned about not getting the perfect brew out of it.

It's interesting they added "single origin blend" on the box packaging; not sure how that works.
The tea wasn't necessarily bad, just the blending process combined out what was probably most interesting about it, and aging and grade issues diminished it the rest of the way.  At least it wasn't astringent, or bad in any other notable way, just not distinctive or good in any way.  The taste was balanced from blending, with a hint of the original interesting character, a faint wisp of orange / grape wisp flavor, but in general it was generic, might as well have been powdered.

I have been drinking some commercial loose tea from Ceylon (Sri Lanka), which runs a little astringent, and is nice with sugar and milk.  I almost think of it as a different thing than the other teas that I drink, a different type of beverage, but it's fine for a change sometimes.  I don't really have anything against tea bags, and someday I'd like to try "PG Tips" for hearing about it regularly, but in my experience higher grade tea bags are fine for getting through a pinch, like at a work seminar, but the ordinary grade doesn't usually do much for me.

When I visit my parents back "home" I really love the ritual of having a strong-brewed tea-bag-tea at night with them with milk and sugar. The visits are not so often; I'm on the opposite side of the world, and have a family of my own to look after, so easier for them to come here now. I suppose the taste isn't as important as the setting and the company, some quiet time together before sleep.

I've really taken up taking tea more seriously in the several years since that last visit there but I'm sure I would still really enjoy that tea break.  Of course I've since introduced them to better tea, so there is surely some loose oolong lying around to substitute, after checking again how I like the taste of Lipton.


  1. speaking of mixing teas -- :)

  2. thanks, nice tea recipe post, and a beautiful looking blog. I've not been elevating tea drinking to a refined experience lately but it has been nice to experiment with mixing teas.