On Jan. 30, tea lovers throughout the Tampa Bay region will gather for Tebella Tea Company's signature annual event—its tea blending class. Held at Tampa's popular Oxford Exchange, the class is capped at 35 people and takes a "deep dive into tea-blending 101," says Tebella owner Abigail StClair, who will lead the class.
The workshop is very hands-on and "pretty freestyle," StClair says. "My lecture is about 20-25 minutes, and I'll give a demo of a tea that's been on mind. Then there's a good 90 minutes of blending."
Students will be able to choose from a selection of six or seven base teas—a white peony, a green tea, three or four different black teas and a couple of caffeine-free options, such as chamomile and rooibos, StClair says. From there, they can pick from more than 40 botanicals, herbs, spices and flavorings to create custom blends. The Tebella team will be on hand to answer questions, provide guidance and help students cup—or taste—their blends; attendees can expect to take home about a pound of loose-leaf tea, which usually comprises two or three blends.
So how do you make a tea that looks and tastes good—whether you're blending at home or in a class environment?
"A great tea has beauty, brains and depth," StClair says. "Beauty means it needs to be visually appealing or people aren't interested in purchasing it. Brains means character and complexity, and depth is the layers of flavor. I always advise people not to add too many things, because that's everyone's first inclination. Sometimes less is more; it's really hard to make a kitchen-sink tea come out tasting the way you want it. I encourage people to start simply and not blend everything on the table together."
Dessert teas—with flavors like cinnamon, coconut and vanilla—are typically the most popular blends, StClair says. "But I get all kinds!" she adds. "Sometimes people come in with a specific flavor profile in mind, or want to recreate a tea they once had somewhere else. We get some phenomenal blends."
As for trends in tea right now, StClair—who often travels to India, China, Japan and Sri Lanka to buy tea, and —says that the matcha trend is still going strong, and alcohol-flavored teas are also popular right now. She'll have a champagne flavoring at the blending class so people can create mimosa- or bellini-style blends, and Tebella offers a whiskey pu-erh tea and a bourbon breakfast tea on its menu now, too.
In addition to its three popular Tampa and St. Petersburg shops, Tebella also operates a shop in the Mall at University Town Center, and StClair says the company plans to expand its wholesale business in Sarasota. The company was also up for two international tea awards in 2018.
Tebella's Tea Blending 101 class will be held January 30 from 7-9 p.m. at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa. Tickets are $75 each or $130 for a pair and all materials are included. To purchase, call (813) 254-1212 or visit Tebella's shop at the Mall at University Town Center.