Welcome to Blends for Friends, the place where it is all about tea.
Alex Probyn started Blends for Friends with the purpose of using his experience as a Master Tea Taster to create bespoke blends for people, initially friends and family. Today he still supplies and makes blends for customers but also to businesses around the world in much larger volumes. His solid career and experience in the tea industry as well as his love for tea are surely part of his business’ success.
I met him in 2012 at a Masterclass at the Langham Hotel in London. After the class I approached him and expressed my interest to learn more about tea. Unfortunately he wasn’t giving any other training at the moment but he said that if I was interested, I could go to Blends for Friends to help out with his business in exchange for tea training. It was a deal!
So I went there in February of last year for the first time and spent two weeks breathing, smelling, touching, blending and tasting tea, just what I was looking for. It was a great opportunity for me to explore, learn and have a hands-on experience working with tea.
I tasted more than three hundred teas and herbs during those weeks and I even remember getting dizzy because of how much air and mix of herbs and teas I tried. It was also my first time blending samples for customers as well as working on my own blends. Another valuable experience I cherish was the tasting session as part of a consultancy for an important tea brand: the preparation of the tasting and the evaluation of the tea samples were exhaustive and systematic, according to the highest standards.
One of the things I also liked about BFF was that almost every member of the staff knows a lot about tea, probably because there are ongoing tasting sessions open to all staff so you can always have a break and try new blends, herbs, spices and teas. Another great thing is that there are plenty of teapots and cups that you can use to make yourself and others a cup of tea and you are encouraged to do so. You can be as creative as you want, making your own blend or choosing any tea you particularly fancy, at any time, as many times you want. Did I say unlimited tea?
I went back in November again and I was amazed (but not surprised) by how much Blends for Friends had grown in size, in staff, in numbers and every aspect of the business since I went the first time. They now have two working sites with new blending, packaging and stock areas, new machines and of course, new temporary and permanent staff.
Alex is one of the most generous persons I have met in the industry, he is not only passionate about what he does but he is also the kind of person that will give you the confidence and the tools for you to try and do the things you really want. I truly appreciate his generosity and kindness and I am very fortunate to have him as a guide in my present and future endeavors.
While I write this post I am sipping a milk oolong, one of the “top five staff favourites” teas at Blends for Friends. Definitely one of the best choices if you want almost everyone to say “yes please” after you have brewed a pot of tea to share.
Last but not least, I wholeheartedly want to thank everybody at Blends for Friends for their warm welcome and for making me feel part of your team. Special thanks to Sara for taking care of me and for being so wonderful. It was great to see you all again and I look forward to joining you later on this year!
One of the first rules we learn when we are children regarding good table manners are: do not play with the food and do not make any sounds when you eat. But when it comes to tea tasting these rules are basically the opposite. In order to evaluate a tea you have to “play” with it, meaning you have to see it, smell it and taste it. The way tea is tasted professionally is by slurping. The slurp allows the tea to mix with the oxygen to release its maximum flavour. After the slurping also comes the spitting. Master Tea Tasters can taste hundreds of teas in a row and they usually don’t swallow all the teas they taste, they spit them.
Whether you are a professional tea taster or a tea lover, I believe it is a great exercise to evaluate your tea. You are looking for its characteristics, quality, aromas, colour, bright, taste and aftertaste, among other things. It is called sensory evaluation and Master Tea Tasters are trained to systematically and meticulously identify every characteristic of one particular tea each time, hundreds of cups of tea at a time.
But don’t worry if you are not an expert. You can start at home with the teas you have, trying to identify aromas, textures and flavours, also reading about them. You can even ask somebody else to taste them with you and compare your notes.
Finally, forget about “good manners”, grab your spoon and start practicing your slurping skills, -you will notice how much practice it actually takes to do it without choking or dribbling- and open your senses to the variety of flavours and possibilities that a specific tea can provide you. If you love tea and want to start expanding your knowledge and refining your senses, this is a great exercise to start with!
I spend time reading and looking for information about tea: trends, latest discoveries, news, tasting and visiting tea places because it is essential for my occupation and most of all, because it interests me. But sometimes or may I say most of the times, I end up – besides accumulating an enormous amount of information – wandering away, thinking about things that may not be relevant within the context of the tea industry, thinking about tea in everyday life or as I would like to call it “the romantic side of tea.” The other day a friend told me: “I am not having a good relationship with tea lately. We aren’t good friends anymore…” And why is that? I said. “I don’t know, I don’t know, it just happened.” Few days later he came home and I made tea. I said: “Try this, I think it could restore your relationship with tea.” He had a sip and immediately said: “What is it? With this of course you regain your faith in tea!” I loved it and I thought to myself, people do establish relationships with tea and that is fantastic. Last week, I was making copies of my Tea Sommelier CV in a copy place. Few days later I went back and the guy from the store asked me: “I am drinking rooibos these days because my homeopath banned me from caffeine. Is rooibos good for me?” So we started a conversation and I even promised to give him some lemongrass and rose infusion to taste. And I also thought, how nice it is to have a conversation about tea in Barcelona with the guy from the copy store who also happens to be a tap dancer.
It is in these ordinary and random stories, conversations and the daily act of drinking tea where I find motivation and inspiration for myself and for my blog. It also crossed my mind that if you put all these stories and ideas together they might turn into a some sort of “microsociology of tea.” It is in the nature of everyday human social interactions where microsociology stands and where my approach to tea also belongs to: the interpretative analysis and subjective observation. So I am not only interested in the technical aspects of tea but also in the way people relate to it: the private and social rituals of making tea, tea as a cultural institution, a religious practice, a fancy trend, a popular drink, all at the same time. In how “tea culture” varies across countries and people.
I also love to hear people’s stories on how they started drinking tea and meaningful anecdotes they remember. I love when people offer me tea. I love to know about their preferences and choices and to think about the endless possibilities of taste. I love the reactions of people when they experience different flavours and smell different aromas and discover something new. In a nutshell, I am drawn by “our ability to see greatness in small things” as Muriel Barbery wisely said and how these little things become meaningful to us, whether that is in the world of tea or in life.
One of the things I enjoy the most about traveling is the experience of discovering new things. Sometimes we go back to places that we already know and some others, we try new ones. Yet each experience is always different. This was my second visit to Belgium and this time we spent one week in Ghent and another one in Antwerp. In Ghent we stayed at a friend’s house while they were in Norway. They have a beautiful flat with a lovely garden and a sweet cat called Lucy who was the perfect company while finding inspiration and writing for my blog. In Antwerp we stayed at the same flat we rented last year. It had slightly changed since our last time there, it had new pictures hanging on the walls, different crockery and other decoration items but it was all very nice as usual.
One morning I was making tea and this thought came to my mind: “tea at home away from home” and it was a nice and curious feeling. Any place where you spend time at and you feel at ease, where you can unwind, relax and wake up every morning and make tea (or coffee), rapidly becomes your “home”. We start building routines, we choose our favourite spots of the house, we take care of it, we spend time there and we adapt to it without even noticing. I didn’t need much to feel just right and I am more and more convinced that it is because we are these self-contained moving houses that make a “home” wherever we go.
So I had many cups of tea those days, enjoying that feeling of being at home away from home, reinventing myself, daydreaming, experiencing my usual and different cup of tea in every way. They came in a different language, with the smell of greenery, lots of rain, the sound of the tram, krieks, good friends and unforgettable times.
Something as easy as a cup of tea every morning to feel at home? I wish life was that simple but I think this is more about making room in our lives to enjoy simple pleasures no matter where we are, to feel comfortable with ourselves and our surroundings, wether it is at home or away from home.
I want to dedicate this post to our amazing and loving friends: Johan and Carmen (and family), Medhi and Ruth (and family), Femke and Joram (and Lucy) for having us at their homey flat, Robin and Marlies, Mark and Guy (and those we couldn’t see this time) for making this trip so special! Belgium feels like home everytime we go because of you! Big hugs!
There are obvious differences between a mug and a cup in terms of shapes, materials, sizes and styles, but one of the main ones is that a cup is usually used with a saucer and a mug without it. However, I personally think the differences go a bit further…
For me a mug is synonymous of comfort; it is the experience of just making the usual cup of tea –even sometimes half awake, half asleep- early in the mornings. It is also the choice for a lazy Sunday when you are reading the newspaper of just checking emails, staying late in bed and having a tasty brunch. I pick a mug when it is cold outside and I need a big “cup of tea” to warm me up or when I want to carry it with me while working around the house.
I choose a cup when I want to think about my tea, when I want the experience of drinking it to be special and delicate. It is like a boost as it definitely makes it taste better. A cup involves choosing the “right” one for that special tea or occasion and then serving it. It is a more sophisticated pleasure I guess. In a cup every sip counts, the brightness and the sound of the porcelain make everything even more special.
Cups and mugs are there to please our palate and mood, as they are a great complement to our tea. I believe that, although it might feel automatic, we are very careful about our choice, as we know it will “define” the way we drink and enjoy our tea.
We are thrilled to appear on the cover of Venue Magazine’s May issue with an article about Iced tea for the summer! It is written in Spanish but it has beautiful images and many recommendations that you cannot miss. If you have any questions about it or want to know more, please feel free to contact me. I will be more than happy to hear from you!
Find the complete article here!
Enjoy and happy Friday!
Some teas are not just to be drunk but also to be contemplated and appreciated. This handcrafted piece of flower or blooming tea is made of sewed green tea leaves and flower petals that once brewed, unfurls like a blooming flower.
In this occasion I brewed my blooming tea it in a gaiwan with just the amount of water for a cup and let it steep for five minutes or more. I used the water temperature of a white tea so I could brew it for a longer time without the liquor getting too strong or too bitter.
I was surprised about its taste. These types of teas usually lack on flavour as they have more of an aesthetic purpose, but in this case the result was lovely. It was delicate but still very aromatic and flowery with a sweet honey-like aftertaste. The bundle developed into a beautiful bright deep pink chrysanthemum flower.
This is a tea that instantly catches your attention and delights your senses.
Allow the power of the flowers impregnate your sight, your smell and your palate…!