Alice Evans, Canton head of tea delves into the art of blending tea with a profile on our most popular tea, Canton English Breakfast.
There is an art to blending tea. It normally works best when a blend is built around a single ‘hero’ component, with other teas then brought in to complement and balance. While we love blending a bespoke tea for our customers, Canton English Breakfast remains our most popular blend.
If you have too many prominent flavours they tend to compete with each other and the result is something far less than the sum of the parts. Equally, some teas are so distinctive that there seems little point in trying to blend them at all. For example, I would say that Darjeeling is far better left to stand alone in all its glory, and doesn’t really work in blends.
If you want something extra special and totally unique, part of my role at Canton as Head of Tea is to provide both bespoke blending and sourcing services, so whether it’s a signature blend or a fabulously rare tea that no-one else has we can make it happen. But in this latest post, I actually want to talk about our most popular blend; Canton English Breakfast.
Canton English Breakfast blend
When creating this blend, my starting point was to pin down the flavour profile that I wanted. English Breakfast, despite its name, is a tea that is drunk at all times of day, as a refreshing pick-me-up, something not too far away from ‘normal tea’, but higher in quality and with the key attributes magnified. It needs to be refreshing, smooth but invigorating, with a clean flavour and satisfying aftertaste. I wanted it to work well even if taken without milk. Once I had decided this, I knew what I wanted for my hero tea, if I could get it: Kenya Kaimosi GFBOP, ideally vacuum-packed at source.
Imagine transplanting over 100 years of tea growing experience from the humid Assam valley in India to the highlands of Kenya. This is Kaimosi, in the Nandi Hills, north east of Lake Victoria - on the equator, 6000 feet above sea level and sandwiched between the ancient Kakamega and Nandi forests. This is a place where everything comes together to provide perfect conditions for tea growing – volcanic soil, steady temperature, regular rainfall and plenty of strong sunlight. When these natural advantages are combined with the tradition and skills of Williamson Tea, a family business with the experience of several generations of tea growing in Assam, the result is quite special. Williamson Tea are widely recognised as running the best quality estates in Kenya, just as they did previously in Assam.
I have very fond memories of visiting Kaimosi, quite a small garden but beautiful and nestled into the hills. On each visit I tried to find time to walk in the Kakamega Rainforest, famous for its abundant wildlife. This includes the black mamba and green mamba, along with the feared Kakamega forest cobra, the most aggressive and dangerous in Africa. Some of the more gung-ho forest guides were happy to turn over stones and logs to find one for me, but I was quite happy to stick with the birds and butterflies.
The specific Kaimosi tea I wanted for this blend is very unusual for Kenya, with large leaves made using the traditional Assam rolling process. GFBOP stands for Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe, a medium-sized leaf that I think has the perfect balance of strength and flavour. When brewed it has a crispness and slight dryness that is lively on the palate without being at all bitter. Williamson Tea also pioneered the technique of vacuum-packing tea in their factories, which preserves the fresh aromas and flavours during shipment. One of my party pieces in the past was to break the seal of one of the solid foil bricks just before packing here in the UK, and to let people savour the aroma of fresh tea. It’s like the difference between freshly baked bread and a normal sliced white loaf. I think some of this freshness comes through in the blend.
I have tried to bring out the character of the Kaimosi by surrounding it with complementary teas:
Assam – Khongea
It would be hard to imagine an English Breakfast Blend without Assam, with its deep colour and rich creamy flavour. It’s important to use a high quality tea produced early in the season, as teas produced later tend to have less richness and more bitterness. I have chosen a small-leaf tea from the Hajua garden, owned by The Assam Company: established in 1839, it was the world’s first registered tea company. Hajua also has the distinction of being India's first fully clonal tea garden, and each tea produced there has the unique characteristics of a particular clonal variety.
Kenya – Kapchorua
Kapchorua is another Williamson garden, on the eastern slopes of the Nandi hills, at an altitude of close to 7,000 feet, making it one of the highest in Kenya. It is bisected by the Timobo River as it flows down towards Lake Victoria. Kapchoua is famous for its small leaf teas, distinctive for their bright strong flavour and golden colour, which have won many awards nationally. The tea I have used in the blend is also vacuum-packed.
Rwanda – Gisovu
Rwanda, known as ‘the land of a thousand hills’, is a relative newcomer to the world of tea, but is already renowned for producing some of the best tea in Africa. The most notable characteristics of top Rwanda tea are golden-yellow colour and exceptionally smooth taste. Gisovu is the star garden in Rwanda, regularly achieving the highest price in auction.
China - Yunnan
And finally, what would a Canton blend be without a China signature? This tea from the mountains of south west China has sweet malty notes and just the faintest hint of smokiness. It gives the aftertaste that little ‘extra something’.
So that’s the blend – brisk, crisp Kenya balanced by creamy Assam, smooth Rwanda and subtle Yunnan. I hope you enjoy it.