Creating the Perfect Tea Blend: Plum Republic

Hello, I’m Corrina, and I’m a tea addict. The booth that I frequent the most at various conventions? The tea booth. And I’m also lucky enough to have a great loose tea store where I live.

But I’m always looking for new flavors and my preference is black tea blends. When PlumDeluxe.com in the Northwest offered me a chance to try some of their custom blends, I jumped at the chance.

I tried three blends and was thrilled with all of them. That led me to ponder: Exactly how does one create great tea?

In an interview, Andy Hayes, founder and creator of PlumDeluxe.com, answered that question, plus talked about how he chooses his blend and how it is it to become addicted to tea.

Plum tea, photo by Corrina Lawson
One of Plum Deluxe’s blends, photo by Corrina Lawson (Uh, yes, I might have drunk it all before I remembered to take a photo. It was too good to resist!)

GeekMom: What goes into putting a blend together? How do you decide on the ingredients?

Hayes: I look at 3 perspectives:

Visual: Is the tea rich, beautiful to look at? (How many times have you heard the saying, “We eat with our eyes”?)

Scent: Great teas smell good! The majority of our taste receptors rely on smell to interpret flavor, so fresh ingredients that are fragrant are very important.

Taste: Last, but certainly not least! We usually go through at least 3, but sometimes in the teens or twenties, of recipe rounds before landing on a particular blend. Sometimes you get lucky. 🙂

When I begin, I start with an intention: A tea to honor autumn. A tea for calm mornings. A tea before bed. That helps narrow down ingredients and flavors to start the process. Though sometimes I’ve been known to think, “Oh gosh, X and Y would taste good together,” and just throw something in a teapot to see what happens.

GeekMom: What’s your best advice for those who want to start drinking loose tea but are reluctant because it seems too complicated?

Hayes: Well, did you not want to ride a bike because it seemed too complicated? Would you ever think of not driving a car because it’s, well, rather complicated? This is such silly reasoning–I say just give it a try and see what you think before you decide it is too complicated.

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This unusual blend of chamomile and black tea was a hit for me. Photo by Corrina Lawson

The easiest and best tool for loose leaf tea is a French press–you might already have one, or if you go and get one, you can use it for coffee too (just wash between uses, please).

Or, throw some loose tea and hot water in a cup, and then strain it into another. Just real quick. And give it a try. Or pop into a tea shop that carries loose leaf and tell them you’re new to loose leaf and need a tour. I promise once you taste the difference, you’ll see why “too complicated” just isn’t a good enough reason.

GeekMom: How often do you create new blends?

Hayes: I’m tinkering with blends all the time–because it’s fun, and I find it relaxing and invigorating. (Nevermind that we have a tea of the month club that gets a custom, never-before-seen tea every month–nothing like paying subscribers to keep you on your toes!).

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It was the hazelnut that added just the right extra taste to the morning blend. Photo by Corrina Lawson

Larger tea shops keep a more regular stock, but we try to rotate through seasonal blends around 4-6 times a year–the fall and winter lean towards spicier comforting teas and teas that pair well with heavier foods, the spring and summer more floral, fruity, and iced-friendly teas.

GeekMom: Where do you order your base teas?

Hayes: This is where the magic happens! We patronage a short list of organic, fair trade suppliers and try to source our ingredients–especially herbs and spices–from independent farms from right here in the Pacific Northwest wherever possible. We also try to source direct from plantation where possible to ensure the freshest quality product.

Fun fact: There are tea plantations in the United States! Most do not make enough to be commercially viable that I know of, except for a handful owned by the larger tea companies themselves.

GeekMom: How does one get started in the tea business?

Hayes: My advice is always to ask what your concept is–what makes you unique from what’s out there?

Plum Deluxe is unique in that we offer small batch teas that, despite being top quality and creative artisanal blends, are still fun, relaxed, and approachable for even a novice tea drinker.

Also, spend a LOT of time working out your sourcing–this takes much time and effort, and since I’m guessing you are not opening a commercial-sized garden in your back yard, you’ll need to build relationships with suppliers who you can count on.

 

You can find all their blends at PlumDeluxe.com, and not just the black tea blends I love. I definitely need to try out the Chocolate Hazelnut Dessert blend, even if it does lack caffeine.

And I definitely need to check out the Tea of the Month club for only $10 a month.

Writer, Mom, Geek and Superhero. though usually not all four on the same day. Author of the award-winning Phoenix Institute Superhero series and the steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.