The first tea I ever liked was the John Watson blend, a discovery I made on Adagio after discovering a strategic Tumblr promo. Saturated as I was at the time with oversteeped and unsweetened Lipton, my image of tea was limited, to say the least. Oh, those were the days. Now I own more loose tea than T-shirts, and my ever-expanding tea drawer brings me joy.
This love of tea combined with my recent foray into the world of Hannibal inspired me to try blending tea for myself. What started out as a weird little idea I thought I would do just for kicks became an unusual exercise in understanding the characters I was attempting to portray.
Tea blending is not looking at what you think a character is like and throwing some flavors together. It isn’t like frozen yogurt toppings. If you have a basic understanding of your own taste, you add kiwi or reese’s pieces or what have you, and it’s pretty much guaranteed to be good. Tea flavors are different. They are difficult to coax out; they need to be tried and retried, played with until just the right teas bring out just the right combination and the blend can become more than the sum of it’s parts. You’ll be surprised by what works and what doesn’t. What seemed to be obvious combinations were disastrous, and a few Hail Mary blends turned out to be just the miracle I needed.
This is a very good parallel for what characters are actually like: each a strange and sometimes unexpected combination of traits and experiences that forms a unique whole. Trying to work with the features of tea as well as the intricacies of the characters, I learned more about them than I thought was even there.
Some teas turned out to be much easier than I expected. I got Freddie Lounds in one try, but Hannibal took me seven. Choosing which teas to add to Jack was pretty easy, but I had to play with the amounts a lot, whereas the Will/Alana blend was a breeze.
Now, Hannibal being difficult made sense; he’s a very complex character, and I wanted to do that justice. I originally tried to capture a very sharp and somewhat bitter blend, but Hannibal is more than just weird and interesting, and he’s not that bitter. He’s subtle, clever, manipulative, dangerous, and strangely attractive. Those ended up being the important traits, both in the blend and in the show.
In this case, the tea proved me wrong.
For Freddie Lounds, on the other hand, the blending was easy. In the show, we only really see one side of her, so that’s all I had to make work. She has the ability to be so manipulative, you think she’s honest. She never shows all her cards, and, contains that strangely compelling tenacity that drives her decisions.
The tea also surprised me when I couldn’t find an aspect of Will’s blend that would also fit into Hannibal’s. I thought this would be the obvious thing to do, since they both have a similar way of seeing things. But they don’t, really. Will is weighed down by empathy, his concern for others makes his own life miserable. But Hannibal doesn’t have that at all. He’s incredibly careful, self-controlled, and self-aware, and doesn’t invest himself in other people. The only person he considers his friend only got there because Hannibal feels understood.
I was deluded into thinking the same thing Hannibal did: that just because Will understood him meant that he was like him. The blend reflected this; my attempts to force Cocomint Green into being the “crazy serial killer tea” were shot down.
Will/Alana was a blend dictated by the method of elimination. I tried every combination of the respective Will and Alana blends until I found the only one that worked. I was so set on using Will’s chocolate chai (empathy), before I realized that Alana’s much safer capacity for empathy (Vanilla green) worked much better. In the same way, I was not expecting White Peony, which was a small contribution to Will’s blend, to flourish and become so integral to the blend when they were together. (I’m still not quite sure what that represents. )
After I finalized Vanilla Green and White Peony, I was struggling to find a third tea to pull it together. As a random effort, I stuck in peppermint, and voila! Their relationship allows them to be stronger, to work harder for their goals. I have many ideas of what those goals might be in my mind, but more important than the specifics is the fact that it was getting at all along-that a good relationship is always more than the sum of it’s parts. It was also interesting that Will’s empathy, the chai, made him bitter, but when he was with Alana, the blend was incredibly smooth.
This interesting interplay of the contrast between blends was interesting, and, moving forward, it happed yet again, this time in the opposite way. After creating what I thought was the perfect blend for Jack Crawford, I was upset to find that Ginger was in both his and Hannibal’s. I thought these characters were completely different-I couldn’t use this!
Here lied another lesson to be learned, that a specific trait can become something very different what it is present in different people, and honed with different choices.
That affinity for justice, the adherence to a moral code; no other characters embody this as strongly as these two. Jack will stop at very little to implement the justice of the law, and is willing to put Will’s well-being in danger because he knows it will help others. Hannibal, on the other hand, sees people behaving in a way that he feels is inappropriate, so he stops them from doing so. He protects those he thinks should have protection (Hobbs and his daughter), and treats the people he kills the way he believes they deserves. Jack and Hannibal both are certain they have it absolutely right, and their respective worldviews are unflinching. Also of note where the tea is concerned-you only need a touch of Ginger to have it contribute to the full effect.
Peppermint was yet another tea which made it’s way into many different blends, this time in Hannibal, Freddie, and Winston. All of these characters have a certain tenacity, and a diligence to where they’re always working towards a goal that the character is convinced is the most important thing. Freddie will stop at little to get her story, Winston waits loyally for Will, and Hannibal, of course, has a very specific set of goals.
Jack was especially interesting. My original goal was to have his blend be really strong, but with a hint of sweetness. (Ah, but he is not a one-dimensional character, Jaclyn!) I kept needing to tone down the strong smoky tea and bring forward the lighter, more appealing one. The final product seems disgusting-that is until you add sugar, and it all comes together. That tells you a lot. He has a great capacity to care about people, and when that side comes out, it works with his other traits to make him so much better.
Will’s Nice Day came together was another adventure of a blend. I thought it would just be sweet, filled with dogs and Alana (and no Hannibal!) But these attempt failed. Will’s nice day is simple. Because his mind and his life are so complex, a simple, plain, psychological stimulation-free day is really the best thing for him.
As strange as it seems, this really obscure method of fan expression taught me a lot about thsee characters, and hinted at the depth and complexity the show contains. I was gently shown to be wrong, and surprised at what turned out to be true. As I struggled to make the tea reflect my perceptions of the characters, the attributes of the tea itself showed me better ways of thinking about them.
Human beings are incredibly complex. Those attempts to assert my opinions of these characters showed me how much more they had to them.
For those of you who were wondering, these were the final blends:
Alana-Oriental Spice, Vanilla Green, Osmanthus
Will-Chocolate Chai, Cocomint Green, White Peony
Hannibal-Ginger, White Monkey, Peppermint
Jack-Green Chai, Lapsang Souchong, Ginger
Will/Alana-Vanilla Green, Peppermint, White Peony
Freddie Lounds-Rooibos Cinnamon Apple, Foxtrot, Peppermint
Winston-Toasted Mate, Peppermint, Almond
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