Thursday, August 6, 2009

Blending Oolong: An Experiment

One month ago during an oolong class that I taught at Teacup, I fielded a question from my friend Michael about the possibilities of blending oolong teas. Michael, who already has a great understanding of both tea and coffee, did not seem surprised when I answered something like: "Quality oolong tea should not be blended. These teas are made in small quantities by skilled tea artisans, and the fact that they are produced in one place and at one time adds to their value and allure." For the most part, Michael agreed with me, but there were certain flavors he liked about the Wenshan Baozhong tea (文山包種茶) that he could see pairing well with certain flavors in the Formosa Silvertip tea (台灣銀毫茶)*. We also discussed the importance of blending for many fine black teas and coffees.

Over the next several days I thought about what Michael had asked. I wondered what would happen if I brewed up a pot of tea using half Wenshan Baozhong leaves and half Formosa Silvertip. Would it be greater than the sum of its parts? The next time I saw Michael I decided we'd find out together (for the sake of science).

Spring '09 Wenshan Baozhong

Summer '08 Formosa Silvertip

I brewed an equal blend of 文山包種茶 and 台灣銀毫茶 using a small ceramic teapot. The aroma was light, bright and pleasant and the tea soup was an odd shade of orange.

The Tea Soup

I did three infusions with similar results. Each time the flavors were muted and boring. Wenshan Baozhong's classic buttery-flowery notes were overshadowed by the stronger Formosa Silvertip. The resulting cup tasted like weak Formosa Silvertip with some brisk, peachy, woodsy flavors. On their own, these two Taiwanese oolongs have good body and aroma but in this blend they seemed to canceled each other out. The quality of the individual teas did become more apparent after the liquor had cooled to room temperature. At that point the blend was a bit smoother with a nice hint of Baozhong.

In the end this was a worthwhile experiment. Perhaps if I were to repeat it I might try 3/4 Wenshan to 1/4 Formosa.


* Formosa Silvertip is a famous Taiwanese oolong that sometimes goes by many other names. My friend Rob recently did a great blog post on that topic. Here is the link.


Jason Witt said...

It's actually comforting to know this didn't work. I'd say, "Don't try this at home." Why? Because it was never meant to work well. Perhaps no one will ever break the rule that fine teas aren't meant to be blended but that poor-quality teas need the blending in order to meet consistent quality standards. That is, I suppose, unless the consideration is blending teas for health purposes as with ingredients like cinnamon or ginseng. But even at those times no higher-quality tea should be part of the blend. --Jason

Brett said...

Well said Jason!