A Tea Addict's Journal

House blend, or floor sweepings

September 13, 2012 · 12 Comments


Finally, some tea.

I’ve unpacked all my teas, although my teaware is still largely confined to their respective boxes. Turns out I have a lot more puerh than I thought – about double my original estimate, now that I have taken an inventory of everything I’ve got. It does scare me a little bit, and puts things in perspective. I think one reason I underestimated the amount of tea I have is mostly because I forgot about the gifts I’ve received, and also some tongs of teas that I bought a long time ago but have been in deep storage, or more less, and therefore wiped from my memory. Well, no more, as now I have a spreadsheet of everything I’ve got, minus the half cakes and the broken pieces that I have collected in various bags.

When you move, you also end up with a lot of fannings. Using ziplock bags means that the fannings are, by and large, contained, and so as a cleanup measure, I emptied the bags of their fannings and then brewed them in my little gaiwan. It’s actually not a bad cup, despite its mixed nature. Hobbes has something like this at home, and we can all do this with leftover samples and bits and pieces, as Scott from Yunnan Sourcing also does. It’s not a bad way to consume tea.

It’s also an interesting, uncontrolled exercise in tea blending. Since we currently live in the age where a lot of more premium puerh teas tend to be single-origin, sometimes down to the farmer level, it is increasingly common to find cakes that are very one-dimensional – they display one single trait very strongly, but there’s a certain hollowness in other aspects. That has generally not been the case in the past, when tea merchants would blend cakes. The public factories obviously did massive blending, with their famous formulas, but even private shops pre-1949 did a certain amount of blending as well. We don’t know their formula, but we know that the leaves on the exterior of the cake and the interior of the cake tend to be different, and there’s a mixing going on perhaps of age as well (different seasons or even years). So, these single season, single-origin cakes are really new in many ways.

I sometimes think of my cakes as raw materials. When aged, I look forward to blending them with each other, possibly to create teas that are more interesting than they are on their own. With blended teas there is a certain fullness that comes with the mouthfeel that you can’t get with single-origin teas. Whereas one tea in the cake might be sweet all the way, another might show more bitterness, while a third may be particularly minty. Blending them in the right proportions can create a tea that does all three things at the same time. Some will claim that’s no good, that they enjoy finding the unique characteristics of one village or another. That may well be the case, but it can also get boring.

I do wonder how all these teas will age in time, and how we will view them twenty years hence. I suspect many will be viewed unfavourably – stuff like laoman’e, with its everlasting bitterness, might not be liked as much by then. I even wonder if this whole single-origin thing is just a giant fad that will fade within the span of a few years, and the blended stuff, especially high end blended stuff (and they do exist, even now – I should post about them) will be treasured among all. Only time will tell.

Categories: Teas

12 responses so far ↓

  • Hster // September 13, 2012 at 2:16 am | Reply

    Do you think the flavors from blending ex post facto is as good as an originally blended beeng? Or even the middle way of storing leaves from broken beengs together to age is even better than just blending directly in the cup?

    p.s. Now you tell me about Lao Man’E! I got a beeng for sheer curiosity but I can’t get the gumption to even brew it. But a man who enjoys Puccini may never enjoy Lao Man’E where as a hard core fan might. Different tastes no? Hoppy IPA beer has it’s fans and it’s probably not you. It’s definitely not me.


    • MarshalN // September 13, 2012 at 2:43 am | Reply

      I suspect they’d age a bit differently, but I doubt it’s going to be too much of a problem. After all, they’re spending plenty of time in a small enclosed space in my tea closet.

      Laoman’e is pretty much impossible. Had one the other day labeled as “Banzhang” and it was simply unending bitterness. Some are a bit better, but not by a lot. Let me know how this bing of yours go.

      Beers that are 95% hops and 5% flavour are not my thing. I like Belgians.

  • Hektor Konomi // September 13, 2012 at 9:40 am | Reply

    Maybe the obsession with single origin is due to the fact of a general feeling of untrustworthiness with pu’erh teas available in the market?

  • Emmett // September 13, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Reply

    After reading about Hobbes house blend I started to do the same and now have a full canister of mixed leftover samples and fannings and started a new one, I have even thought of one day after accumulating enough to press a few cakes of it. We will see how it turns out.

  • Ira // September 14, 2012 at 10:44 am | Reply

    most beautiful tea tray – this is indeed a very fine picture for your blogsite.
    my friend told me years ago that BTH actually would blend the sheng and shu into their own “house blend”…i assume you are drinking fannings from sheng here?

  • Kate // September 16, 2012 at 10:13 am | Reply

    There’s also a big push for single-origin coming from tea meant to be given as gifts inside China, regardless of whether it’ll be appreciated or not. Single-origin or a famous brand makes a tuocha a great gift to gain face with, especially in recent years, so I think that is pushing the market along as well.

  • darwin // September 16, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Reply

    how about a picture of the entire cabinet or collection?

  • JayinHK // September 17, 2012 at 7:04 am | Reply

    I think the single origins and blends will coexist, much like single malt and blended Scotch can in the whiskey world. 🙂

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