Dad taught me how to make a ‘proper’ pot of tea before I was old enough to drink caffeine: “warm the pot first, one heaped teaspoon per cup and one for the pot . . .” My love of tea grew from there. We never had teabags at home, though I rely on them these days – but when we go out for tea I like to try different blends. On Day 19 of #100DaysNoTV I joined a friend and fellow tea lover to create a new tea blend. And, I’m really quite proud of it!
Having grown up with PG Tips (it was the 80s!) I always assumed that teas from a Tea House were made using some magical formula with recipes handed down through the generations. It turns out new teas are being blended all the time, and with help from a tea aficionado (she might not admit it, but she really is), it’s easier than I thought!
ely loves its tea
For such a small city, Ely is well served with tea houses and coffee shops. There are your typical High St brands, but also a number of fantastic independents – the Samovar being my favourite. Its unique interior features genuine samovars (traditional, decorative urns used to boil water for tea) and other tea curios, as well as artwork from local artists and teaware for sale.
The tea menu is extensive with over 100 blends. I hope there might be another one added to that list one day. 😉
My friend Sofia is the Samovar’s owner; she is deeply passionate about her business and was only too happy to help when I asked her if we could create a blend together.
easy as 1-2-tea
Tea blending is something you can try at home, and here I’ll tell you the basics.
First, have a think about what teas you like to drink. Do you prefer black, green or white? This will help you decide on the base for your blend, to which you’ll add your flavour.
If you can’t decide on the tea leaves to use for your base, read Sofia’s tips below about the flavours that go best with each type of tea. You might find this an easier way to begin: if you like chocolate and caramel flavours, try it with a black tea base; if you prefer a fruity tea, try a green tea base, etc.
One of my favourite aromas is rose and I loved the Fujian White Long Rose tea that I tried (at the Samovar) with the Clandestine Cake Club. I was keen to use this as a flavour in our blend. We went with a green tea base: after trying a few, my choice was the delicious Green Monkey. Rose would normally be put with a black or white tea, but I do like to be different!
Rose buds and petals were added to a scoop of Green Monkey, along with a vanilla pod – another of my favourite scents. Again, not flavours that are normally found together but you’ve gotta try these things. 🙂
To cut a long story short, we made four slightly different versions using the same three ingredients, but varying the proportions each time.
We left each blend in the water for a couple of minutes to steep in the pot, before pouring the tea into – I love this – a jug of fairness. The tea is strained into the jug of fairness, leaving the tea leaves and other bits in the pot. This means the flavour and strength will be the same (fair) for each cup. Perfect!
Tea blending is a brilliant sensory experience: as well as (obviously) taste, your eyes and nose get to join in too.
The tasting can be quite intense and, to be honest, after the fourth cup I was beginning to wonder whether I could still taste a difference. Our third version was the favourite – it had a slightly larger proportion of rose buds to green tea, with just the right balance of vanilla.
When we made up the winning blend for me to take home, Sofia suggested we added some cornflower petals; you get no flavour from them but they look so pretty. I definitely lean towards the more visually appealing teas, and I think ours looks pretty darn good!
in-tea-view (last pun, i promise)
I asked Sofia a little bit about her business and the drink she loves.
What made you choose Ely as the home for your business?
Initially Samovar Tea House started as a market stall, I started scouting out which towns would be suitable and went to many different places. Ely was always the favourite. I sold lots of tea, the customers were nice and then I was given the opportunity to start the shop on Fore Hill. It was meant to just be an experimental pop-up for a year, but I’m still here.
What do you find particularly special about the Fens?
So many things. I like being able to see all of the sky. I especially like seeing Ely Cathedral from miles away, in whatever direction I am coming back to Ely. I like the black earth. It feels expansive and undiscovered in some places.
How many new teas do you think you’ve personally created?
I would roughly say around 25-30 teas. I’ve created blends especially for people which don’t appear in the Menu of Samovar Tea House, and many which do. Some are unique, I believe, and some are takes on classic things.
What’s your favourite tea of all time?
That is not a fair question! Haha. Well, I don’t have a favourite. But, I think if I had to choose it would probably be an Oolong I tried about six years ago, in an unmarked package. I’ve not been able to get it since and have no idea what it was but it tasted of butterscotch and cut grass. Apart from that, I really enjoy a black tea we stock from Iran. It’s light and bright and tastes of lychees.
I know you’ve blended teas for the Duchess of Cambridge and Sue Perkins. Have you created blends for any other famous people?
As of yet, that’s it. Although watch this space, because I have been asked to make two blends for two separate musicians who are quite well known. All will be revealed later this summer!
What’s the best biscuit for tea dunking?
A penguin. For sure.
Do you have a favourite tea quote or joke?
Pretty sure Karl Marx said “All Proper Tea Is Theft”.
If you could choose anyone in the world to make you a cup of tea, who would it be?
That’s a tough one. Probably my brother because he lives in China and I don’t get to see him very often and if he was making me a cup of tea it would mean he was either visiting with interesting teas or I would be there trying something different.
When tea blending, what flavours are best with black, green and white teas?
Black: sweet flavours, caramel, chocolate, vanilla.
Green: fruits, strawberries, raspberries.
White: light floral tones from petals. White tea is delicate and easy to overpower the flavour.
What would you tell someone who wants to try tea blending at home?
It’s really easy. There’s no trick to it. There might be herbs in your garden you could try blending with a green tea, or some spices from your kitchen. The best thing is to imagine the things you like and put them together. You can’t really go wrong.
one last plug . . .
As well as being home to amazing teas, homemade lunches and cakes, the Samovar is a real community space with regular events, gigs and pop-ups.
In fact, if you’re local or visiting the area in May, the Samovar is hosting an event for the Eat Cambridge food & drink festival – why not pop in to see the Wandering Yak serving up some yummy Middle Eastern street food on 13th May. While you’re there, enjoy the tea!!
Bye for now!