Inspiration: the quintessence of tea blends

When making our own tea blends there are numerous things to consider:  what we know about tea, the botanicals we use, how to incorporate essences, and many more details. To create a tea blend, not only do we have to focus on the ingredients available to work with, but it is essential to concentrate on the sensations we seek to produce, the places we wish to evoke or the feelings we want to awake. The purpose of the mixture is the start of our creation, that's why we talk about designing a tea blend, devise it, dream about it... 1It is our goal to find our own source of inspiration. It can be a friend, the person we love, a flower, a landscape, a journey or a moment lived... There are so many sources of inspiration as you wish. “Our tea blends express our values: the love for nature, poetry, the blend of Orient and Occident and a ludic marriage of contrasts”, affirms Kitti Cha Sangmanee, tea blender and president of Mariage Frères. “My inspiration mainly comes from these sources: food, pastry and gastronomy; nature and trips. Nature is an endless and vibrating source of inspiration. Each product cultivated with care and respect in its land has an unrivalled flavour”. Naturally, there are other factors that may influence inspiration and the message we wish to convey. One of the first things we will analyse when we start in the design of a set of tea blends is our target audience. We will satisfy their demands by identifying the market segment we will focus on, knowing consumers, their customs, and what they appreciate. Per Sundmalm, founder of Tea Shop, who is constantly in search of new and better blends for his chain of stores, affirms: “My best inspiration is the contact and relationship with the customer, which is essential for us: listening to their opinions, their personal taste and suggestions are a part of our inspiration to create new blends”. 2In a meeting held in Hamburg with the tea blender of the German tea distributor Alveus, he told me that in his case, in order to start to create a blend, the first thing he does is establishing a range of prices where the product will be included, in order to be aware of the raw materials he can use. Once we identify our goal, we must start looking into our sensory memory and identify scents and flavours that arises these sensations. For that purpose, we must possess a deep knowledge of each ingredient. As I always tell my students, we have to “become friends” with the ingredients we are going to work with. Trying new food, fruits, spices will give us ideas to create new blends. 3Jeremy Sturgess, one of the tea blenders who worked longer for Twinings (more than twenty-three years), told me how he finds inspiration: “Whenever we are on a trip buying tea, it is a great source of creative stimuli tasting new flavours in food and beverage all over the world”. The key to become a tea blender is practising, practising, and practising. Only with practice will the deepest instincts understand how the Pakistan rose smells, how Yunnan black tea tastes, or whether jasmine combines with ginger. After all, practice will form that “unconscious” conscience we call experience, which will lead the way to our senses. Just like a musician creates a melody or a painter paints a picture, in the creative process of the tea blender, the composition depends as much on talent, intuition and creativity as knowledge and practical experience on the subject matter. After all, creating a blend is like composing a song or painting a beautiful portrait. We must be aware of the technique to let the Muse come in and inspire us; but as Pablo Picasso used to say: “The Muse exists, but she has to find us working”.