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February 8, 2013

The Rare Tea Lady on the Art of a Good Blend

By Spear's

Whether you’re drinking whisky, tea or whisky with tea, a good blend can be a real pleasure but be weary of cheap, bland blends.

Some people are of the belief that only a single malt whisky is any good. There are some exceptional single malts. I am definitely not disputing that. My favourite is Spring Bank 18 year old.

But there are also some rather decent blends. I have recently been enjoying Johnny Walker Double Black. The master Distiller, Dr Jim Beveridge, is a man with over 25 years’ experience in the art of blending, and he knows a thing or two about flavour. I hope he would approve that I have been enjoying the Double Black in my tea over the coldest nights of winter.

A great whisky needs a great blend of tea. I took a little of our Lost Malawi and a few grams of our Second Flush Muscatel Darjeeling — two extraordinary single estate hand-crafted teas. I blended the Malawi tea for its deep, malty, caramel notes. I added the Darjeeling for the rich but bright florals. The result is a tea that works beautifully with the soft smokiness of the whisky. Served warm it aromatises the spirit and makes a drink of heady delight.

There is a difference, of course, between a blend of good whiskies to produce something excellent and a blend made to achieve uniformity and a low price point.

Much the same can be said of blended teas. Some are made for bland consistency. A great number of the teas found on our supermarket shelves are blended for price and colour before flavour. I have been on a tea garden where the farmer told me plainly he had been asked by a big British broker to produce tea for colour and price alone, with absolutely no regard for the taste.

But we need not be in thrall to the tyranny of big brands. English Breakfast tea is a style of black tea. This style was once different in every household. Some favoured richness, while others a brighter cup or a smoky depth.

These subtleties of flavour were achieved by mixing the tea leaves available from their trusted provider. The main purpose, of course, was to compliment breakfast. We do not have to have the breakfast tea proscribed to us by multinational agro-businesses hiding behind historic British brand names. We can blend. Trust me.

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If you like smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for breakfast may I suggest trying a blend of really decent green leaf tea — it really is a splendid flavour pairing. With porridge made with water you might try a blend rich in First Flush Darjeeling, while when porridge is made with milk I would favour the second flush.

If you distain the ready-made blend of a tea bag, you are free to experiment with a blend that fits your mood and taste. If we think of the tea bag like a ready-meal, loose leaf tea is more like fresh ingredients you can cook with yourself. Of course, just as you may want employ a top chef to cook for you, you may want a blend created for you. Indeed the world’s top chefs come to me for a blend.

Having a blend tailor made is rather like having a bespoke suit or a pair of handmade shoes — a work of art, unique to their owner. It takes a great deal of skill and craft and time to produce. It costs a great deal of money. But it will fit you perfectly and will be yours alone as a singular pleasure.
Read more from Henrietta Lovell

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