Most recently, I was tasked with creating signature teas for an art exhibit. Having a decent amount of knowledge in loose leaf tea and tea history, I thought it would be easy. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately (the verdict is still out on that one), it was much harder than I initially anticipated.

I had wanted to blend teas that were embodiments of the exhibit itself, a series of pieces focused and inspired by Niagara Falls. As the exhibit was entitled, “Whispers & Rages,” it was evident to me that at least two teas would be needed, one that exemplified “Rages” and one that exemplified “Whispers.”

When thinking of Rage in regards to Niagara Falls, I think of extreme and utter power. Locations such as Luna Island or the Brink of the Horsehoe Falls on the Canadian side come to mind. I wanted to blend a tea that was both powerful in taste and smell, with an underlying sense of rage. Using my prior knowledge, I knew that Pu’erh tea would be my base. Pu’erh is a very unpleasant smelling tea leaf, and has a very earthy and robust taste, mainly due to the fact that it is a fermented tea. For me, Pu’erh is power in a cup. I knew that Pu’erh blended well with dark chocolate and had made and tried a trial batch. The tea had the power, but lacked the rage. Inspired by the current trend of spicy chocolates, I hazard a guess and added a tiny amount of crushed red pepper flakes to the batch and brewed it. The resulting tea was a perfect blend of power and anger, creating a smooth tasting cup with fiery undertones.

“Whispers,” as a tea was much more difficult to create. I knew Whispers had to accompolish two things:

1. It needed to be decaffinated.

2. It needed to be indicitive of a peaceful Niagara Falls (or as peaceful as it can be).

With past experience in tea, I knew I had several options to pick from, but none of them really stood out to me as being the correct solution. They were too tame on their own. I thought of locations such as Terrapin Point, an open area that is calming, but has underlying power. Peppermint, I had decided, needed to be included in this whispers blend. Peppermint, in my opinion, would provide that underlying sense of power, offering a slightly cooling effect to the final cup.

With peppermint in hand, I narrowed down my decaffinated tea options to Rooibos, a naturally decaffinated tea with the same amount of anti-oxidants as Green Tea. I began blending the rooibos and peppermint with various floral and fruit notes, finally achieving a rather delicious finished product with notes of lavender and raspberry.

The teas ultimately were a huge success, and were quite exciting to blend. What I realized in the process, is that the design concepts, elements, principles, etc, that we learn in our classes, don’t just apply to visual or performing arts. I followed the same process I would blending these teas as I would designing lights for a show (there might actually be some analogue gestures somewhere in my notes on the teas). Moral of the story: take what you learn and play with it a bit.