Tea is a fascinating subject. It's a plant with a range of useful health benefits, which leads many people to believe it's going to taste grassy or bland, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Sure, a plain green tea is going to taste like a plant in water, because that's all it is. The secret, though, is that you can mix up a huge array of different kinds of teas to replicate any of a million different flavors and flavor profiles.
In order to demonstrate, we've broken down tea into its core components. At the center of any tea blend is going to be your core tea. There are two types of tea: true tea and non-true tea. True tea is tea made from the tea plant, Camellia Sinensis. Other teas are actually infusions of non-tea plants, but we still call them teas because they're prepared the same way; a plant-infused beverage. Here are the different kinds of tea bases you might encounter.
- White Tea: This tea is the least processed variety of tea. Tea leaves are plucked and dried in the sunlight, then packaged and sold. It's very simple, it's typically sweet, and it's quite delicate. Sometimes it will taste almost fruity on its own, though no fruit ingredients are added.
- Green Tea: This is the same plant, but is processed a little more. Tea leaves are harvested, and then they're withered to dry them somewhat. After that, they are fired in a pan or in steam to further dry them. Sencha, Matcha, and Genmaicha are all varieties of green tea. This tea is typically a bit more roasted in flavor, nuttier, and greener tasting and in color.
- Oolong Tea: Also known as wulong tea, this is even more processed than green tea. In addition to drying, it is rolled and bruised, to release plant enzymes for oxidation. Oolong teas are often named after the regions where they are processed. They tend to taste floral and occasionally malty.
- Black Tea: Black teas are the most processed of the true teas, which are further rolled, bruised oxidized, and dried for processing. This results in a dark tea that tends to be more malty in flavor, and tends to include a higher caffeine content. These are also known as red teas in China.
- Assam: Assam is a variety of black tea, making it technically a true tea, though purists might dispute this. It's stronger and earthier than normal black tea. Assam teas are primarily made in India rather than China.
- Darjeeling: Another Indian tea variant, much like Assam, this black tea is processed quickly to avoid fermentation.
- Ceylon: Ceylon is yet another variation on black tea, and while it's not a variation on the core plant, it is produced differently. They are primarily cultivated in Sri Lanka.
- Purple Tea: A very new tea that has been hitting the markets in the last few years, purple tea is a variation on black tea that is produced exclusively in Kenya at the moment. It's another variant plant, and it has a unique flavor profile tea lovers may find hooks them immediately.
- Puer: Also known as pu-erh tea, this is an Asian tea variety that cooks green tea immediately without drying it first, preventing oxidation. It's then aged anywhere from 10 to 50 years, which makes them ferment and then further aged.
- Rooibos: This is a tea made from an entirely different plant, the Aspalathus linearis plant. It's grown in South Africa and is processed in much the way black tea is produced. They are caffeine free teas and often used in chai.
- Herbal: Herbal teas are a huge variety of infusions that do not actually include the core tea plant. Herbal teas can contain a huge array of different plants, spices, and even fruits.
Each variety of tea has its own base flavor, to which you can add a variety of different herbs, spices, and other elements to infuse additional notes into your beverage. We'll cover the major types of tea below, to showcase a handful of mixtures and infusions you might find pleasant to try.
What about mixing teas? Can you mix a green and a black tea into one beverage? Well, you can, but we don't recommend it. Green and white teas tend to be more delicate in flavor and pair well with herbal blends, while black teas tend to be bolder in flavor and paid well with spices and fruits.
Unfortunately, this means that mixing a black and a green tea is likely to result in an overpowered tea. You'll primarily taste the black tea, and while you may get hints of a green in it, you won't get an adequate mix, just the one dominant flavor. Of course, it all depends on the blend you use, how long you steep it, and what else you add to it.
Finally, keep in mind that while we can talk about tea blends all day, you're going to get the best results from finding a local tea store and checking out what they have mixed up already. A good tea store will have dozens or even hundreds of varieties of blends already mixed and ready to experience. Nothing beats giving a jar of loose-leaf tea a heady sniff, or brewing up a sample on the spot. Plus, experienced tea enthusiasts will be able to help you and recommend teas for anything from particular flavor desires to ailments you want to cure.
Green Tea Blends
Green blends tend to be lighter in flavor than their black cousins, but that doesn't mean they can't be bold. Greens are often fruity, but can be herbal as well.
Blend #1: Mix up some green tea with lemon peel and some freeze-dried raspberry bits for a punchy, citrusy flavor in your green tea. Raspberry stands out as a superfood as well, making this a great healthy tea option.
Blend #2: Take a green tea base and add in a handful of spices. Mix up some cinnamon with some cloves, then add in dried apple bits and orange peel. The citrus and the spice add to the basic tea base to make something resembling a candied apple in flavor.
Blend #3: Want something with citrus overtones but a smoother base? Take a green tea and blend it with apple, raspberry, and some sweet rhubarb. Then top the whole thing off with a bit of vanilla to give it that smooth finish.
Blend #4: Mix up a base of green sencha and rooibos teas, then add in some rose hips, hibiscus, cinnamon, canella, and elderberry. The resulting tea will be like a robust, accented green tea with a tart finish.
Blend #5: A good green tea base can be accented with curcuma, goji berry, rose, strawberry, and cherry bits for a flavorful, fruity tea. Add in some turmeric if you want a slightly spicier version that isn't quite a black tea.
Black Tea Blends
Black tea blends tend to be bold and powerful, with spices, aggressive flavors, and fruit notes added to them to enhance their taste. Many of the chai blends you find are going to be a black tea, based on an Assam or Ceylon variety most likely.
Blend #1: Mix up some black tea with cinnamon, orange peel, and cloves. You'll get a delicious hot cinnamon spice tea with earthy notes and all of the health benefits of both tea and cinnamon. Orange helps to give you a secondary flavor profile, and the cloves give a hint of spice.
Blend #2: Take your basic black tea and mix it up with some peppermint or spearmint leaves, vanilla beans, and – if you're feeling bold around the holidays – a bit of candy cane ground up for a minty sugar infusion. Your new candy cane tea will be a holiday hit.
Blend #3: Take a black tea and mix in some dehydrated apple bits, some chopped almonds or almond powder, and a pinch of cinnamon. It might not seem like much at the outset, but if you're a fan of apple crisp for dessert, this tea will instantly remind you of that favored treat.
Blend #4: Mix up as many black teas as you can get your hands on. A blend of Ceylon, Assam, and Darjeeling, perhaps with even a hint of coffee bean, brings you what we like to call the English Breakfast tea. It's robust, heady, and a great way to wake up in the morning.
Blend #5: Maybe you want something a little less in-your-face with a black tea base. Start with a simple Assam and add in some ginger, lemongrass, and a hint of cardamom. This blend will bring to mind Thai cuisine, and pairs well when brewed in hot milk rather than water.
Herbal Tea Blends
Herbal teas don't contain tea leaves, but the variety of different plants you can use in an herbal blend is almost limitless. Even plants you wouldn't typically think of as edible, like certain wildflowers, make great elements of herbal teas. They tend to have very delicate flavors, and are often smooth and fruity.
Blend #1: Mix up lavender, rose petals, and rose buds with a base of chamomile. This tea encourages peace, stress relief, and sleep, making it a great after dinner tea or a tea to sip on a stressful day.
Blend #2: Something similar to the above, you take a chamomile base and add rose buds, corn flowers, and orange peels. This is a light tea blend that brings citrus to mind and is almost like drinking a cup of orange juice with breakfast. It's an excellent beverage to accompany breakfast on a leisurely day where you don't need the caffeine to get up and moving.
Blend #3: Teas work great for everything from waking up to going to sleep, but what about teas meant to heal? An herbal blend of fennel, chamomile, and peppermint will be a pungent and healthy way to soothe a stomach ache or intestinal distress.
Blend #4: This blend is stacked with health benefits. Infuse your hot water with a mixture of turmeric and licorice root for a bold start, then add in some ginger for spice. Top it off with a balance of lemongrass and lemon and orange peels for a citrus candy flavor. Top the whole thing off with some honey when you brew it to sweeten it for best effect.
If you want something a little deeper in the tea world, or if you want to stack teas for additional effects and brew it strong, here are a couple of additional blends you can try:
Blend #1: This blend starts with a Sencha tea, a kind of leafy green tea favored in Japan. Mix it up with some oolong and some pu'erh, which will largely override the flavor. Why include the others? For the health benefits! To flavor this tea, add in peppermint, cinnamon, licorice root, and a combination of lemon myrtle, elderberry, hibiscus, and strawberry leaves. This result will still be missing a certain something, so add in apple, black currant, blackberry, raspberry, and orange oil. The total result is a pungent, aromatic tea with more notes than you can count, and it has a ton of health benefits.
Blend #2: Take some tea and ferment it for a while, and drink the resulting probiotic tea. Alright, so this one isn't really a blend you can make at home. Always be cautious with home fermentation; if you do it wrong, it can be dangerous to your health. Still, Kombucha – a kind of fermented tea beverage – has a variety of health benefits when you pick it up at a store. Give it a try!
What is your favorite tea blend combination and recipes? Let us know in the comments below!