Over the course of this last semester, I acquired a taste for blended teas. I have been drinking black milk tea for years – starting around six or seven years old. But my tea intake from one to two cups in high school doubled to three to four in college. Tea was the start of the day, the end of the day, and any little break in the middle of it. And banality of one stagnant taste took hold soon enough: I was working my way through a single container of Assam black tea spiced with cardamon. It eventually got old.
Later in the year, I purchased an iron cast tea pot with two tasting cups, an infuser for loose teas, and an assortment of flavored teas, starting with a brand I had tasted two summers prior, Tea Forte. Cinnamon, Orange Chai, Black Currant – these fruit flavored aromas were all in the lot. Later on, I started blending teas, and hundreds of cups later, had chosen a few favorites. I am a fan of many different tastes of milk tea – a taste that is multivariate in more ways than commonly understood. The body count, thickness, flavor, aroma, after taste – all of these are factors in making of a black tea.
While this article implies I am attempting to concoct the perfect black milk tea, I would preface that I understand tea is a subjective matter. Some people like sweeter drinks, stronger drinks, or tart drinks – creating a perfect drink is impossible. But I have outlined two tea blends that I feel reach a balance that is perfect in what they are trying to achieve. For me, especially, the multivariate quality of a tea is important: it keeps it refreshing after two sips – an average time it takes to make a drink go from oo-la-laa to bland. We grow bored of tastes quickly.
To solve this issue, I set out to create an easy-to-make tea blend that dynamically changes as you drink it. The answer to this soon became obvious: tea can possess a bitter taste to it, especially when consumed raw. Therefore, a gradient of varying sweetness would transform the drink. But this isn’t a simple means of dropping a few sugar cubes to the bottom of a glass – a drink with a mucky sugar goo stuck at the bottom isn’t that inviting.
Thus, a sweet gradient must radically transform the drink if it is to maintain an unique taste from start to finish. I wanted to form a blend that would radically be different from the first three sips to the last three sips and final gulp. I eventually settled on two different blends, when mixed with honey, which achieved this effect noticeably. And the people I shared the concoctions with readily agreed.
I am a melodramatic when it comes to tea so I decided to name both blends. The first I call the Wallach. It involves two major tea blends (you can either brew each independently or in the same pot – I noticed it doesn’t make much of a difference). I prefer to use a staple, non-flavor impactful tea as the base. I found using a more basic tea was helpful in preventing a too-strong flavor from dominating the gradient and also spoiling the balanced nature of the liquid. That might sound like some gibberish, but an overly flavored tea transforms it more into a hot juice opposed to an aroma-heavy drink.
The Wallach involves using either Earl Grey or English Breakfast as its base. For an 8 oz. glass, I would recommend about 5 ounces of the base. English Breakfast has been optimized for milk while Earl Grey possess a hint of bergamot oil that gives it a tinge – often drunk plain but equally pleasant with milk.
The second ingredient is a more rare tea blend, although its popularity is rapidly growing: Lapsang Souchong. It is a tea originated from the Wuji district of China. Souchong refers to the size of the leaf used – a medium sized blade that is larger than your average pekoe (if you ever ordered a tea on an airplane, almost every bag is an orange pekoe, a smaller variety of pekoe and among the smallest of tea leaves). Lapsang establishes that the leaves, after being dried, are smoked over pine. The tea has a very forest-like smell, a perfume that reminded many of my floor-mates of a ‘camp forest fire.’ The analogy hold true: while brewing, it wouldn’t be unordinary to have a stranger walk in and comment that it smelled like a few logs burning. Lapsang Souchong has a stronger, thick bodied taste to it. Drinking it alone is a bit overpowering – no amount of honey can counter the forest aroma it possesses. Therefore, mixing it with a base of Earl Grey is helpful: you still possess the forest-like taste while not overpowering the drink. I recommend using between 2-3 ounces of this for an 8 ounce cup.
It is important to use very little sugar for this drink. A no-sugar-tea can prove a bit too bitter and strong for certain tea drinkers, but exceeding a teaspoon would ruin the effect of the gradient. I settled, eventually, on using half a teaspoon – something that gives the surface of the tea a still slightly sweet taste while focusing more on the forest-like, strong aroma from the Earl Grey/Lapsang Souchong combination.
I heavily prefer milk teas opposed to plain teas: I think the milk achieves a nice balancing to the tea’s stronger tastes. This is more of a personal preference but I know a preference many people share. Whether you add milk or not comes down really to an arbitrary preference, but I heavily encourage you try both. When adding milk, I try to stay between an ounce to an ounce and a quarter per 8 oz. Using too much milk will dilute the tea too much: the sugar will have a less pronounced effect as there will be less tea-strength to counter.
But honey is the crucial element. Before pouring the tea into the cup you plan on drinking from (it is advisable to brew the other elements either in a teapot or some other container), drip around half an ounce of honey onto the bottom of cup. Make sure it coats just around the inner circle of the cups base but avoid dripping it on the sides or near top of the cup. After you accomplish this, simply pour the other ingredients in (it is important you do not stir, as that would ruin the honey’s stagnation on the bottom; stir in the sugar in the other container).
What you achieve is a tea that radically is affected by the sweetening elements. Without the honey influence at the top, the tea has a strong taste that smells woody and feels thick when swallowed. But as you near the bottom, the tea drinks more like a warm milkshake with a sweet pine-like tinge but not a dominating taste. Due to the strong sweet taste of honey and opposite bitter taste of tea, the drink radically evolve over time – the honey mixes in a little bit on the deeper levels of the container, providing an effect that lasts over the drink opposed to being fully situated at the end.
The second drink, one I dub the Incubator, uses the same honey effect, but this time performs it sweet-throughout. I used twice as much sugar – about a full teaspoon, and used a lighter tea: Darjeeling which has a thin body count pronouncing a lighter shade of brown. I noticed an odd effect with Darjeeling – amid its lighter taste, it is less affected by sugar, and therefore, a stronger tea overtone is necessary to balance it out. While Earl Grey or English Breakfast may accomplish this, I settled on a spiced Chai, especially an Orange Chai sold by Tea Forte. This gives it a nice kick on the top – where you have the ability to choose the flavor. Chai is especially multifaceted, so the Darjeeling helps dilute this effect allowing the gradient to take its hold again. Honey on the bottom is, again, the necessary touch: you get a similar gradient but this time to transformation is from a spicy overtone to a sweeter one.