Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blending Tea at Workshop SF

I love tea, especially those with a lot of fragrances that just takes me to another place. Many of my favorite teas in the past have been blended ones, with appealing ingredients like peach, rose, lavender, or mint.

But I think I’ve mentioned in the past how I can find a lot of interesting teas in my travels to New York, Paris, or London, but I can’t seem to find very original tea here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve found that the shops here are mostly purists, who don’t like the idea of blending tea with anything other than the specific variety of tea leaves.

So when I heard about a Tea Blending Class at Workshop SF, I signed up right away. Workshop SF is a nonprofit space over in the city’s Panhandle area, where a lot of DIY classes are held. I actually first learned about it last month when I visited for a pop-up bake sale around the holidays.

It was there that I met Christopher Coccagna, a certified tea specialist who just started selling his own line of blended teas. He told me about the class that he taught, so I checked the Workshop SF calendar to find the next one, which happened to be this past Sunday.

Coccagna is really passionate about tea, and he spends the first half of the class giving people an introduction to the different types of tea. It was interesting to learn new tidbits about tea, and to dispel some myths I apparently had. For example, one of the myths I had about tea is that the label explains the ingredients. But that’s not always the case. Take mango tea, I always thought it had mango bits or maybe came from mango leaves, but the tea leaves have probably been flavored with some kind of mango flavor or extract.

While Coccagna encourages blending tea, he is also a bit of a purist and doesn’t like to use flavorings. So much of the natural flavors he infuses into his tea are through adding interesting or unusual ingredients such as ginger root, cocoa nibs, or rose petals.

A special note to all the single guys out there: This class is a chick magnet. I was one of only two guys in the class, and the rest of the class was filled with young, pretty girls. If you want to expand your knowledge of tea and meet some young ladies in the city, this is the class to join. I’m just saying.

Back to the class, after the introduction, Coccagna let us hit the blending, throwing us into our own little adventure in creating our own signature tea using the various ingredients he laid out in what he called his “tea buffet.” I was really impressed how everyone just jumped into the blending, picking at ingredients and blending them together.

I, on the other hand, was a little overwhelmed. (This is why I’m not a fan of sales because I get overwhelmed by the decision-making process.) So I started off a bit conservatively, I have to admit, going with flavors that I just thought I liked, not really thinking much about whether they would complement each other.

So my first concoction started with a mix of black tea (keemun), a bit of green (Jasmine), and some ginger, dried orange peel, and cinnamon. The smell was like a holiday tea, but when I added hot water to make a test cup, the ginger was just too strong and I didn’t like the overall taste.

So it was back to the drawing board and I started with the black tea again (I like black tea as a blending base), and this time added coconut ribbons (an ingredient I never saw before in tea but thought was exotic), cocoa nibs (for that chocolate flavor), and lavender, which is one of my favorite flowers/herb.

Despite being a lavender lover, the lavender had too much of an herbal taste to the overall tea and I was looking for more rounded edges to my drink. Maybe I put too much lavender? Even though I thought lavender was pretty, I thought maybe it was too powerful for the other ingredients. So I scrapped it.

I kept much of the other ingredients – black tea, coconut ribbons, cocoa nibs – but instead of lavender I substituted rose petals, another one of my favorite flavors. This time it tasted much smoother with the rose, instead of the sharp herbal taste of the lavender. But it needed a bit of a punch, I felt.

Even though the ginger was overpowering in my first batch, I added some ginger root to this final blend – just a little bit because I learned my lesson. And the slight tinge from the ginger gave my overall tea a nice complexity, so this became my final blend.

Everyone was coming up with names for their tea blends, but I couldn’t think of anything creative on the spot, so I just listed the ingredients and put a big B for my initial. But if I had to name this signature blend, I think I would call it “Hawaiian Rose,” just because I’m from Hawaii and that plays off the coconut in the tea, and rose because the rose petals are one of the main ingredients.

Spending a whole afternoon playing with tea and talking to others who love tea was such a great time. Some of you know I’ve been renovating my kitchen, so I haven’t had a chance to brew myself a pot of my signature tea yet, but I’m looking forward to doing it in my new kitchen.

If you’d like to learn more about tea and play with creating your own signature blend, Coccagna’s next class is on Sunday, Feb. 13, right before Valentines day. Sign up with your special someone or maybe go to meet someone. Just like the tea, it’s nice when you can blend things together.


Chubbypanda said...

That sounds like a really fun class. I'm a fan of florals or citrus with green tea, myself.

Kim said...

Was it free? What a neat way to spend an afternoon.

Single Guy Ben said...

CP: Yeah, I like any tea with citrus or florals.

Kim, the class cost $38.

Carolyn Jung said...

What a fun class! Experiences like that give you so much more appreciation for people who blend flavors for a living. I remember I once went to a wine blending class. It was so enlightening. Like you, I went overboard with one of the varietals in my blend just because I happen to like that particular varietal. Teaches you that you don't need much sometimes to make a big impression. ;)