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The Bland Blend

The tea blend is the basis of the Western tea expert's skill, with the sole object of maintaining a standard and uniform taste dictated by the marketplace. As a result, the entire vocabulary of tea tasting becomes moot during this breach of nature, for no matter what the season, the harvest results, the particular garden of its provenance, tea will end up in the same state -- black particles with a uniform taste. Here, the tea taster only serves the tea blender, and in most cases the same person fulfills both functions. He clearly does not taste to discover what aromatic surprises the new crop might have; he "tastes" it just enough to be able to determine the prices on the Colombo, London, or Hamburg markets.

This person tests variations in quality, and he then "corrects" them by blending -- which does not add characteristics but, on the contrary, irons out idiosyncrasies. The comparison with wine or olive oil immediately exposes the stratagem in this operation. Instead of developing a product that brings out or distributes subtleties of flavor, an aggregate is reconstituted, with elements that have been held in check.

In general this reduction starts in the planter's factory, where the different pluckings of the day are mixed according to grade and made up into lots, perhaps 10 or 20 cases of each quality, rendering the product homogenous. The planter takes a sample from each of these lots and sends them to his broker in Colombo. The latter inspects them, tastes them, and gives an estimate based on their quality and the state of the market.

   
 Industrial Tea Blender  Tea piles from a blending facility

In situ, or in London, the blenders get to work again. A blend can contain up to 30 different provenances, regions or even countries; the mixture is worked out from samples bought at auction, on the basis of a recipe similar to that drawn up by a nose in perfumery, but allowing for later additions. The blend will be adjusted as necessary to obtain the established taste. When sent to the factory, the formula for the mixture will allow calculation of the quantities to be packed into the rollers. As with a pack of cards that is cut and cut again, the tea blenders will renew the mix of a tea, whose potentialities have intentionally been cut and cut again in all possible combinations. The blend is only there to be bland -- to lose taste.

One-Minute Tea Tip, 2001

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