Since I've started blending tea, a lot of people ask me how it's done. So, over the course of the next several weeks I’m going to be sharing the process of developing each blend in The Literary Tea Collection.
Each of the blends that I’ve developed has gone through a lot of iterations, some way more than others. The Sherlock Holmes blend was the first one that really came together, and if I'm honest, it's my favourite blend from the collection.
Most people when they smell it are pretty surprised. I always get the same comment "Whoa! It smells like a campfire!" Yep, it does. And that's the way I love my tea. It's not for everyone, but it's definitely for me.
The process of blending is really not that complicated. It's just like developing a food recipe: refining taste over the course of many versions until you end up with something that you like. It’s a bit like a science experiment, which I think Sherlock Holmes himself would quite appreciate. Consistency and attention to detail are key so that you know which changes you make produce certain effects in the taste of your tea.
When tasting any tea we use a method called “cupping.” This involves weighing a specific amount of tea into a small cup, steeping, and then decanting into a small white cup. By always using the same amount of tea, temperature and amount of water, steeping time, and serving cup, you can control the variables and compare various teas accurately.
The Sherlock Holmes stories are some of my favourite works of classic literature. They have such a great sense of atmosphere and the short stories are a great illustration of how much story can be told with only thirty pages or so. More than just being great mysteries, the series is an excellent exploration of character, particularly on the evolving nature of friendship throughout the course of a life. Sherlock Holmes is much more than just a detective. He’s a complex character with iron hard resolve, but also a deep heart and a surprising kindness. He’s a fascinating character and I knew I wanted to find a way to capture that complexity in a cup of tea.
The early concept for the tea was pretty bare bones: “Smokey, luxurious, with a hint of sweetness. Something that would go well with honey" is what I wrote in my journal.
I knew the base of this tea had to be something solidly “English”, so I started off by tasting as many black teas as possible, since those are what's usually considered to be a traditional English tea. I narrowed it down to a few that I thought would work as a base and started to build from there.
Of course when anyone pictures Holmes it’s almost always with his pipe and deerstalker (even though the deerstalker never makes an appearance in the original stories!), so the next element was pipe smoke. There are a few different teas with a smokey flavour, but by far the most potent (and my personal favourite) is lapsang souchong. This is a Chinese black tea which is smoked over pine embers, giving it a very strong smoky flavour. It tastes and smells quite a lot like a campfire, with lovely caramel undertones. It also has a really "manly" flavour; it's said to have been Winston Churchill's favourite tea.
I combined a bit of lapsang with the various black teas that I’d selected to try to find the one that paired the best. I settled on an English Breakfast blend with just a touch of bergamot, reminiscent of an earl grey that paired really well with the strong smokiness of the lapsang.
Holmes is constantly tinkering with his experiments and I wanted to find something that would bring just a bit of a chemical or medicinal quality to the tea to reflect this. I wrote up a big list of all kinds of herbs and spices that might work: fennel, licorice, ginger, cinnamon, nettle, anise, and so on. After tasting all of them with the existing blend in various proportions, nettle ended up having the right slightly medicinal quality I was looking for.
Lastly, I wanted to incorporate Holmes’s surprising sweetness. As anyone who’s read The Lion’s Mane knows, Holmes eventually retires from his beloved London and moves to Sussex to keep bees. So, honey was an obvious place to start. Luckily, there is a plant that tastes quite a lot like honey when brewed: South African cyclopia, commonly known as honeybush.
Now that I had all the components, it was just a matter of getting the ratios correctly so that each element had a chance to shine in the blend. And then I was done! It's strong, smoky, and just a little bit sweet, just the way I wanted it. It's like a warm, cozy campfire in a cup! I think Holmes would approve.
Try it for yourself on our Etsy store.