Loose Leaf Spree
Over the past few years our national drink seemed to be in retreat as coffee waged a hostile takeover. Coffee presses and houses, it appeared, were replacing teapots and tea rooms in the nation's affections. The humble British cuppa could not hold back the global advance of a smirking George Clooney and his encircling cohort of Nespresso pods laying waste to our traditions.
Tea was starting to develop an image problem. This wasn't helped by the general standard of tea on offer in supermarkets - 'fannings' of the lowest grade tea dust hidden in tea bags being the general order of the day. By comparison, coffee had upped its marketing game and it became easy to obtain quality products, load up on designer paraphernalia and find niche suppliers.
Tea needed new champions who could enthuse about the best of what tea could offer — its incredible variety, the history and the romance of the old tea estates, the rituals of its preparation. People like our chums at the UK Loose Leaf Tea Company.
Loose Leaf source teas from all over the world, including smaller estates, with many limited and seasonal batches. Dear chum Martin from Loose Leaf recently sent over a few samples for us to try at Tweed Towers. Look at the quality of the leafage in the photo below. Excellent tea.
This called for a mini Tea Festival. I bought some shortbread and invited a couple of tea-loving friends over to offer their opinions. (Apologies to any professional tea tasters if our observations make little sense.)
The teas we sampled from UK Loose Leaf were:
- Green Keemum Congou
- Badamtam First Flush
- Assam Bari
We weren't sure of the best order to try these teas, but we thought we would try the Green Keemum Congou tea first, which is described as a 'rediscovered exclusive rare tea' from China. Once served — brewing time 2-3 mins — Oscar thought this had the colour of quince. I suggested the colour khaki. The smell was like peachy bread with vanilla. Surprisingly, for a green tea, there was little bitterness in the taste. We tasted a virtuous fusion of citrus and orange, with watermelon and hint of bubblegum. 'Whiffy' (well-travelled as he is) also tasted prickly pear. A good tea to cleanse the palate.
Next up was the Badamtam First Flush from the Badamtam estate in Darjeeling, India. The tea produced a lovely golden colour on brewing (3-4 mins). The smell of this one was totally unexpected and a delight, with pineapple, lemongrass and kiwi. The taste was like a tropical punch with a slight bitter finish to remind you that you are drinking tea. I started to sing Underneath the Mango Tree as I sipped on this wonderful tea. Oscar joined in, but Whiffy didn't, though we all agreed this was a spirit-lifter, and had a great pick-me-up effect.
Finally, we tried the Assam Bari. Assam in India is well-known for the black tea that is typically used in breakfast blends. But not all black tea from Assam is created equal. This brewed into a very clean-looking brown hue, if that makes sense? Tannic, as expected, but with a fresh, invigorating taste that had a slightly sweet maltiness. Oscar detected a mild mushroom flavour, which he found agreeable. We thought he was being silly. We noted that Assam Bari is an excellent all-rounder for any time of the day, not just breakfast.
What conclusions did we draw? First of all, why not hold a Tea Festival yourself? All you need is a teapot. Secondly, tea has nothing to worry about from coffee if it can get the message out about its incredible variety in flavour. There is a tea for every mood and period in the day, for every season and everybody. Go discover yours.
If you are in need of a teapot, then why not consider the classic Brown Betty? The Brown Betty shape is famed for its ability to allow the tea leaves to swirl properly and give a better brew. The Brown Betty is (thankfully) still being produced in Stoke-on-Trent by Cauldon Ceramics (see top photo) and Adderley Ceramics — without the promotion of George Clooney.