Sunday, 29 August 2010

Back to School teas...

So, Wednesday is the start of a new term for me and I'm having issues deciding which teas I want to take to stock up my tea cupboard (I have a special 'tea shelf' in my staffroom cupboard!) I want to get the balance right for the more autumnal weather heading our way, but I also want something that's going to keep me going on long days.

What are your suggestions?

Interview: Teapigs

Teapigs sell a variety of whole leaf tea bags in interesting flavours (my favourite is Chilli Chai) and their mission statement is to get the UK drinking 'real tea'. Louise from Teapigs answered my tricky tea-related questions.

1) How did Teapigs become convinced of the need to persuade Britain to drink 'real tea'?

We are supposed to be a nation of tea drinkers but the average brew drunk in Britain is bog standard slop. Tea is like wine there is really good tea (like a fine wine) and there is really bad tea (cheap plonk). We felt that real tea wasn’t accessible to the regular tea drinker, any café or shop serving a decent cuppa seemed to associated with pomp, ceremony and gold trim. We want people to be able to get good quality tea in their local deli, café, restaurant etc.

2) What is your favourite variety of tea a) to work with and b) to drink?

There are amazing black teas, green teas, oolongs it is really hard to pick a favourite.... I think it is good to have different teas for different times of the day. I can’t start the day without a strong black tea.

3) Where do you think the best tea comes from (e.g. Japan, Sri Lanka) and why do you think that?

All tea producing countries produce good and bad teas, each tea producing country produces a certain unique taste due to the individual climates and soils. Everyone can find their own favourite it really is a personal taste thing.... I love a gutsy tea from Assam, but I also love the delicate flavour of Ceylon teas.

4) Where do you get your inspiration for more 'unusual' blends?

The more unusual ones are inspired by different kinds of foods – a love of liquorice, a love of chocolate, crème caramel etc.

5) How important should ethics be in the modern tea business? How have your ethics shaped your business?

Tea and ethics go hand in hand. The tea industry supports huge communities in developing regions, providing infrastructure – hospitals, schools etc. We have supported an orphapange in Rwanda since our launch. The orphanage is in a village where we source one of our teas from, as the business has grown so have our contributions to the orphanage.

6) Why do you think independent blenders and tea merchants have been gaining popularity in the last few years?

Because of the rise of quality tea – offering a level above the ordinary tea bag.

7) If you could have any five people at a tea party, who would they be and what would you serve them?
The rest of the teapigs – there are five.... And they all make great tea!

8) Where do you predict tea businesses (and tea itself) heading in the next few years?

There will always be a mainstream tea market but we hope that the quality or gourmet tea category will develop and people will become more educated about the vast range of teas and infusions which are available.

The British tea drinkers will begin to demand real tea!
Sign the petition for real tea at

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Earl Grey Taste Challenge- Day 14

Lahloo Tea is a Bristol-based tea company, run by Kate Gover. I was delighted to be sent some of the cute little tea tins with their signature Earl Grey blend. I really love the presentation of their teas, whether it's in the travel tins or the bigger packs with a cute little peg. This sort of presentation is what sets British independent tea companies apart from their blander, big company cousins.

On opening the tin, I was greeted by a strong, zesty smell. As today is a very rainy day, it was a welcome, cheery scent that would be great on those mornings where it's cold and dark and grey. I must admit, I did wonder if the taste would be as strong.

The tea itself is a blend of assam and darjeeling, a refreshing blend which makes this a brilliant breakfast blend- warm, inviting and comforting (which EG should be, in my humble opinion) I like this combination of assam and darjeeling, the latter balancing the malty, earthiness of the former into a light tea. The bergamot finely flavours the tea, but does not overwhelm. The tea and oil combine to create a subtle, sophisticated blend.

Apparently, Kate enjoys this tea chilled with lemonade and gin (a 'mar-tea-ni'), something that I am sorely tempted to try over the bank holiday- if this horrendous rain ever stops!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Interview: Mrs Stokes

So, every now and then, I will post an interview with someone involved in the tea industry who I think is rather interesting. Today's interviewee is Catherine, AKA Mrs Stokes, who sells vintage china. She recently got back from Vintage at Goodwood.

1) What would you recommend a tea drinker use for the perfect cuppa?

I read somewhere how curious it is that the British adopted tea as their national drink, rather than coffee as the rest of Europe did. Whatever the reason, us Brits love our tea and drink it in many different ways, so when we talk about a perfect cuppa, it depends on what mood you are in, who you are with and what you are drinking it for. For instance, if you are moving house, or have had a shock or just need a big drink of warming stuff, it’s natural to opt for a mug that you can wrap your hands around, like a hug. But when you are sharing secrets with a girl friend, or tasting tea, or entertaining, only cups and saucers will do because they add refinement and grace to proceedings. But the one thing that mugs and teacups and saucers should always have in common is that they should be made from fine bone china, which aids delicate sipping and therefore appreciation of the tea and the occasion.
2) Why do you think tea tastes so much better in a pretty china cup?

I haven’t tested it scientifically, but I can confirm anecdotally that using fine bone china means you can actually taste the flavour of the tea better than from earthenware or ordinary ceramics. It could be that the thinness of the china means it doesn’t get in the way of the tea’s taste or that that the daintiness of china teacups forces you to slow down and take small sips. Or both. The design of the cup is very important too though because it means you will take much more pleasure from the experience and take five or ten minutes out of your day to relax, which is something we don’t do that often any more.
3) If you could have five guests to your dream tea party, who would they be, what would you serve and what type of tea set would you use?

I love these questions! For my dream tea party I would invite first George Sand, the 19th century French novelist (and first French female novelist to gain a major reputation – plus she wore trousers way ahead of her time and I like a brave woman). I think she would be challenging but stimulating company and could regale us with tales of her tempestuous affair with Chopin. I loved Benedict Cumberpatch in Sherlock recently so he would definitely have to be there along with Marie Antoinette and her love of cake and fine living. Then Paul Merton for his quirky way of seeing the world and finally Lee Mack for his cheeky northern chappy perspective on all the high-flaluting conversation It would all be served from Royal Vale’s cottage collection. It’s a little bit kitsch (well very) but I love the Englishness of the pattern. Or maybe I would go for a full set of either Royal Albert’s Lady Carlye or American Beauty as I love the blowsy big rose design.
4) If money was no object, what tea set would you buy and why?

Just once I saw a stunning handpainted, pink trio (cup, saucer, plate) with the handle shaped like a butterfly. It didn’t have a maker so was probably Victorian. The trio alone was £75, I would love to see and own the whole set.
5) Why do you think vintage china is becoming fashionable?

Probably because people want to own small items of value at the moment. We have become far less of a throwaway society and now that people are watching what they spend, their affordable luxuries are changing from a pair of shoes or a handbag to items of heritage, especially those that are handpainted or crafted or of which there are only a few. My trios range from £5-20 at the moment and my boxed teasets from £10-£45 so all are affordable and my customers know they are buying something special and if it is English-made, something of which there are a limited number as many of the big potteries no longer exist.

I think the fashion started a few years ago when china teacups were found two-a-penny in charity shops for next-to-nothing and people realised they were a unique and affordable way to add a twist to their cafes or their homes, plus they realised how pretty they are. But ever since the explosion of antiques programmes you won’t find so many bargains of good quality in charity shops any more because they know the value of the the china, either from an auction point of view or a desirable point of view.
6) Are you a tea drinker? If so, what do you use to drink it in and what's your favourite brew?

Yes I am a tea drinker and at the moment I have a wonderful blend called Earl Grey Blue Lady. It’s loose-leaf tea that I bought from Wiltshire Tea at Green Park Station Market in Bath where I also have a stall. I use a cup and saucer, currently one that was my husband’s grandmother's – the original Mrs Stokes.

For more info about Mrs Stokes Vintage china visit her website

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Eteaket- Blooming Marvellous

Today has been a gloomy day; I haven't been able to focus on my work and it's been chucking it down with rain. I decided I needed a little pick-me-up. I have a few tea samples to choose from, but Eteaket's Blooming Marvellous caught my eye.

I will just say one thing- I am a sucker for tea with flowers in it. Especially roses. So, it was fate. It was the tea I needed there and then. It's a sencha tea (green) and has sunflower and mallow petals in it and promises fruit. Intriguing indeed.

First impressions- the smell is gorgeous; fruity, fun and cheerful were the words that hit me when I first smelled the tea in the packet. What is even nicer is that the aroma hit me by accident as I was getting a teaspoon. But please don't think that it's overpowering- it's not.

I've found people who are worried by a lovely smelling tea. It won't live up to its promise, they say. The smell is just there to lure you in, it tastes like dishwater. Be afraid no more, doubters. This tea lives up to its promise!

I've tried sencha blends before and have found that they can be somewhat lacking in charisma. Blooming Marvellous does not have that problem. The tea is clean and refreshing, providing a platform for a burst of fruity loveliness. At first, the sip is  luscious and smooth and is quickly followed by a burst of fruit flavour. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it's a berryness with maybe a hint of citrus... Anyway, it is lush. One of my favourite teas reviewed on the blog so far and my favourite green tea so far.

Earl Grey Taste Challenge- Day 13

An interesting side effect of tasting all the different types of Earl Grey has been that I have become better at identifying different types of flavours in what essentially should be the same recipe. I have been surprised in the range and different interpretations of the 'tradtional' EG flavour.

Today's tea, Wiltshire Tea's Earl Grey  was another surprise. The tea smells like a good quality EG, with the bergamot being particularly present- I think a good EG should have a distinct aroma, especially when you consider the weakness of the 'generic' brands. So, so far, so good!

The blend is a really nice Kenya/Ceylon blend, which lends itself to a strong, robust flavour. The bergamot and tea work together nicely, with each having its own powerful presence. The really interesting element to this tea, though, is the smokiness that comes when I drink it. It's a strange, but pleasant taste that hits the top of the mouth and leaves a faint whisp of an aftertaste. (And before you ask, no, I don't smoke!) This strong flavour is a unique one amongst the teas I have tried thus far. I'm inclined to believe that it is the mixture of Kenyan and Sri Lankan teas that have produced such an unusual, yet enjoyable, taste.

Definitely a tea to stock up with for the forthcoming autumn/winter. I would love to drink this on a cold evening by a wood burning fire!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Earl Grey Challenge- Day 12

So last week I was in Cork and, unlike Dublin, the city doesn't have many tea shops. Not to fear, I decided to write a review of a tea that I've had for a while, but not known what to make of it til now. Revolution Tea  has produced an Earl Grey tea with an unusual twist- Earl Grey with lavender.

At first, the whole combination of lavender and citrus appeared to be something of a paradox. How could an ingredient that is traditionally used to calm people down and help them sleep work with EG's traditional, summery and citrus-y kick? I like EG to wake me up and I have lavender teabags to help me drift off. Hmm, a conundrum indeed. Saying that, one of my favourite cakes is rose and lavender (but I never eat it whilst drinking EG, as the lavender hampers the taste of the tea.)

So, back to the tea. A friend in the US sent me the tea to sample and I was eager to try it. It's made of a mixture of ceylon, darjeeling and oolong tea leaves. I was hoping that this combination would enhance the lavender/bergamot flavour, rather than swamping it with tannin flavour.

The smell is unusually sweet (not in a bad way!) There is clearly a note of lavender on first sniff, with the bergamot coming behind and lifting the floral scent away from being too heavy.

The flavour is heavenly- the lavender and bergamot combine to produce an almost spicy flavour that is refreshing and sweet. The lavender hits the back of the throat and is a soothing flavour, which works extremely well with the perkier flavour of the bergamot, which acts as a natural pick-me-up. The lavender is therefore limited to an enhancing taste, rather than an overpowering one. Yum!

I must admit, after my initial trepidation, this has proved to be a very, very pleasant surprise and one that I recommend even my friend who doesn't 'do' lavender in food has a taste of...

(For UK/European site, click here)

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Ronnefeldt Morning Dew

So, we went for a walk this afternoon and got caught in a downpour. What's the perfect solution? Why, tea of course!

I've been drinking a lot of black tea with milk lately (wonder why...?) and decided I needed something a bit different. Then I remembered that I had some Morning Dew tea from Cup of Tea and reckoned that a nice, fruity green tea was just what was on the cards.

The tea is a lovely sencha -the green tea most drunk by the Japanese; 80% of tea produced in Japan is sencha- that contains petals, possibly rose and cornflower, but I could be wrong, and mango/citrus flavours. I must admit, if I'm going for a flavoured green tea, sencha is my favourite. I like the mild taste.

When brewed, the colour is the perfect golden green expected and the smell is fruity, but not overpowering. The mango smell is juicy and inviting and this is the perfect set up for the taste; the tea itself is mild and pleasant. It doesn't quite pack a punch in the same way as green Earl Grey blends do, but it's a lovely tea to drink on a warm and sunny afternoon. For those who like their tea iced, this might be one to try.

Earl Grey Taste Challenge- Day 11

Eteaket looks like the kind of tea boutique that makes it an essential place to visit in Edinburgh (in fact, I might visit one of my favourite cities just to have afternoon tea here...) What pleased me is that they have a cracking website which sells all of their amazing teas, as well as some seriously stylish accessories.

Their Royal Earl Grey is a whole leaf Ceylon tea, flavoured with natural oil of bergamot (another feature I love about their website is that they show you where each tea is sourced on a map). Like a lot of high quality EGs I've come across, cornflower petals add a sophisticated touch to the blend.

First things first- on opening the packet, you are greeted by a wonderful, summery citrus aroma, almost like the best marmalade you've ever tasted. My tastebuds were tingling before the water had hit the cup!

The taste is heavenly- the sharp bergamot taste is delicately balanced by the lower notes of malty, smoky and refreshing tea. I had this tea before my breakfast and it really was a fantastic morning brew. I highly recommend it to those people who like their EG 'just right', it's a regal, yet  cheerful blend that I will come back to again and again.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Teapigs Chilli Chai

On Wednesday, I found myself at my knitting group fairly early- a perfect chance to have a pot of tea to myself! The tea I chose was Teapigs chilli chai, a blend of assam tea, spices and a kick of chilli. I'll admit, I was a little bit hesitant to try at first. Chai is lovely... if it's done right and chilli, well, that's just weird right? Anyway, I decided to take the plunge and figured that if I add chilli to everything I cook, I could take it in my favourite beverage, right?

Oh, how surprised I was- I should be more adventurous! The taste was warm and soothing; I will have to buy a box of this for the winter, because I think that on those snowy days or horrible, wet and windy autumn days, this will really put the feeling back in your fingers. It's also a nice alternative to sugary, over-the-top-milky chai lattes (which I love, but not good for the waistline!) I drank it with milk, in order to calm it down sliiiiightly, but oh, it was gorgeous. Seriously, the next time I send tea to my friends abroad, I will include some of this. It is amazing!