Tasting Lab: No. 9

AJ Ward - March 1, 2024

One of the more difficult aspects of reviving old recipes from our Blend Book, is that styles of tea production have changed over the years. For the particularly old blends, sometimes there's not a perfect analogue in available teas today. This leaves recipes open to interpretation, and can result in a lot of variation.

In my post about Poet's Blend, I touched on this as I spoke about the use of scented green and black teas in blends. Often-times, the exact scented tea used isn't indicated. Terms like 'scented pekoe' and 'scented caper' were used to indicate the use of whatever scented tea was in-season at the time. I mentioned a few--jasmine, rose, magnolia, gardenia, osmanthus, chrysanthemum, orange blossom. There are quite a few teas in our Blend Book that call for a scented tea without specifying which, leading to a lot of variety in the final blend. So I sourced as many scented teas as I could get my hands on, and meticulously taste-tested old blends to find which scented green I thought best paired with each tea blend.

That brings us to No. 9. We've got a few numbered teas in our books--and many more lost to time. Some went on to be renamed--our illustrious No. 11 was renamed to Baker St, as we thought it perfectly invoked the smoky sitting room of the Great Detective. But many simply fell out of fashion, kept on-record just in case. No. 9 is one such, looking--from the recipe--a bit like Library, and a bit like Poet's Blend. It calls for brisk Ceylon teas from a particular estate in Nuwara Eliya, aromatic oolongs, and two scented teas--one jasmine, another unknown.

So I'm left with some wiggle room on how to interpret this blend, remain faithful to the intent of the original tea, and bring it into the 21st century.

Jasmine can be quite a strong scent, so picking a second aroma that balanced that can be a challenge. Jasmine is commonly balanced with magnolia, but that didn't seem like the right tea here. Or maybe I just wanted to try something a little different. Osmanthus is gentler than jasmine, but with a warmth and sweetness to it that I think compliments the very fresh, lively scent of jasmine quite nicely. I find osmanthus lightly toasty, almost buttery, a flavour that mixes well with the rich oolong also included in the blend. The final ingredient is a full-leaf Ceylon tea from the Nuwara Eliya region, adding a final note of oaky, citrusy richness.

The result, I think, is a lively, brisk cup that is light in body, high in aroma; it takes milk, but I think it really shines without. A very nice evening blend, I'd recommend it to those who area already longtime Library fans. Symphony, CBC Radio, and Poet's Blend fans will find something here too.

But I've been putting off bringing up one last tidbit of history--where does No. 10 fit in? One of the long-standing 'stories' of where No. 10 got its name, is that it was named after No. 10 Downing Street. But if that's the case--why does Murchie's have a No. 9? Or a No. 11, No. 22? That seems to contradict the story. Maybe! But No. 10's recipe goes back so far, that despite being listed in our Blend Book, the recipe itself isn't included. A tightly-held secret that predates the book itself.

Maybe No. 10 was named for No. 10 Downing Street, and the other numbers came after. It was very common to number your blends back then. Or maybe No. 10 was made a tribute to the location after the fact. It wouldn't be too surprising--Murchie's famously paid tribute to No. 10 by styling the front entrance of one of our earlier Victoria locations after the door (those that have followed our Throwback Thursdays will recall the picture!).

There's lots of little mysteries in Murchie's old Blend Book, and they're always exciting to pick apart. I hope this tea delights those long-time Murchie's fans as much as it delighted me to reblend and research it.

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