Sunday, 31 October 2010

Interview: Stepas Parulis, Adagio Teas Europe

Stepas Parulis runs the European side of the American tea company, Adagio. A company that prides itself on its wide range of quality teas and something to suit just about every tea lover's palate!

1) How did you first become involved in the tea industry?

My adventure in the tea business started when I first visited our company's headquarters a few years ago. The idea of working with something delicious and healthy was what appealed to me at the time and is what continues to drive me.

2) What is your favourite tea a) to work with and b) to drink (and why?)

I enjoy working with flavoured and herbal varieties, because they are a great way to initiate people to gourmet tea. Their taste is easily accessible and a good starting point to the world of tea. On a personal level, I particularly enjoy oolongs, such as Ali Shan, Dancong and Ti Kuan Yin.

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

Tea has a myriad of aspects that is difficult to rank in an impartial manner. Each region has a rich and unique heritage when it comes to growing and consuming tea. In my opinion, the Fujian province in China and the Darjeeling region in India have some of the finest tea producers out there.

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

We rely on our staff members to create blends that are fresh and intriguing. We also value our customers' input - it is surprising how passionate and creative some of them are!

5) Why do you think it's important for people to experience good quality tea?

Gourmet tea has an impressive variety of flavour profiles that helps train your palate. It makes us realize that there is more to the crop than fancily packed fannings at a random supermarket. Tea is also a great way to discover distant regions and expand your cultural horizon.

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

I believe that the way we conceive food and its role in our lives has changed dramatically over the last several years. People have become more knowledgeable and sophisticated about what they eat or drink. Quality and health are central themes for shoppers and producers alike. In this respect, independent tea businesses have been at the forefront of this movement thanks to a product that is both healthy and delicate, and are well positioned to continue to sap this trend as it moves towards the mass market.

7) If you could have any five people at a tea party, who would you have and what would you serve them?

I would have my closest friends from around the world gather in one place to discuss anything from movies to politics. Dancong would be my weapon of choice to keep the conversation brewing.

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

Gourmet tea is still in the early stages of adoption across Europe, despite an important heritage in several countries. The key is to continue spreading the word about its diversity of taste and numerous health benefits. The challenge for tea companies in the future will be to adapt this ancient beverage to modern lifestyles. Therefore, one area where I see a lot of potential is the ready-to-drink tea market.

A Good Brew...

I have to admit that I prefer loose leaf teas, but I do hate the mess that they can make! I thought I would run down my favourite (and some more unusual) ways of brewing a good cup of tea. I have used all of these at one point or another, but if you have another way of making your tea, do let me know!

1) The filter bag- these are a really reasonably priced option. At £3.70 for 100, these are perfect for work (where I often use them) and I like them at home, because once I've used them, I can chuck them on the compost bin. I always have a stash of these, because I feel a little bit bereft when I run out of them. You just fill them with tea and then treat them like a normal teabag. Easy peasy!

2) The Ingenuitea Teapot- I had a similar thing to this a couple of years ago when I first got into tea, albeit a much smaller one. They really are fab, especially when brewing oolong, as you can keep the leaves in for a bit to get your multiple infusions. What I like about this one is that you get two cups of tea from it. You simply put your tea leaves and water into the pot, watch the tea brew and then put the pot onto your mug. Hey presto, tea pours into said mug and no mess!

3) Infusing wheel- this is an invaluable part of any tea lover's armour. Put your tea in and treat like a teabag. The only advice I would give you is to be mindful that they can be a little messy (I've had one pop open into the mug of water and have spilt tea leaves down the side of the bin too) and you must clean them really well. However, perfect for those who maybe just have the occassional cup of leaf tea.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Adagio Ti Kuan Yin Oolong

I have never really tried oolong before and so before I tasted Adagio's Ti Kuan Yin, I was a little bit unsure as to what I would experience.

Like many teas, Oolong has attracted a positive press with regards to its health benefits and the fact that it can, apparently, help with skin and weight problems. Whatever the truth, it is a very refreshing and interesting tea to sample.

Ti Kuan Yin is a Chinese goddess; the name translates as 'Iron Goddess of Mercy' or 'compassion'. The tea leaves are grown in Fujan Province and undergo a complex process to make the tea; as a result, this is one of the most sought after in China. Oolong is a tea that is best described as being between black and green and can, in theory, be drunk with milk. I wouldn't recommend milk with this tea though, as it falls more on the 'green' side than black. The interesting thing about oolong tea is that it improves after various infusions- something that can justify what can, at first, look expensive.

Anyway, this tea is a mellow green-ish colour (typical of the colour of traditional Chinese green teas) with a sweet, flowery smell. The taste is interesting; sweet top notes and a slightly floral and also nutty aftertaste. What I liked most about the taste is that it didn't have the bitter, vegetable taste of some green teas. The flavour is refreshing and mild. It's a lovely tea for mid day and would be really nice after lunch, as it's a really cleansing blend.

As an Oolong novice, I would recommend this to a first timer, as it's reasonably priced and is a great introduction to a very interesting tea.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Tiger Spring Tea- Balham Builders' Blend

My absence from the blog over the last week has been due to a cold inhibiting my taste buds. As this was the case, I drank tons of Typhoo tea at work, only caring that the hot liquid might ease my symptoms. Obviously, as I couldn't taste anything, I didn't want to waste any of my review teas!

Yesterday, I was made a cup of Typhoo. Yuck. Bland, overly tannin-y and a weird aftertaste convinced me that I was to search out a better 'builder's blend*' of tea now that I was better. And I think I have found one that I can recommend in good conscience.

Tiger Spring Tea's Balham Builders' Blend is a classic blend of Assam, Ceylon and Darjeeling; the latter tea giving a delicate top flavour to compliment the earthy, malty robust flavours of the Assam and Ceylon teas.

The taste is gorgeous- perfect 'proper' tea (I will have to get a caddy of this to replace the lonely box of PG Tips that I keep for guests who request 'normal' tea. I think they will be converted instantly) and is perfect with or without milk and sugar. The smell is slightly sweet and the aftertaste is mellow and pleasant. Seriously, if you never know what I'm talking about when I discuss aftertaste, which is very important with black teas, buy some of this and then compare with a bog-standard tea bag. You will notice a difference.

This is just lush.

*For those unsure what is meant by 'builder's blend'- a British term for strong, black tea, the sort given to builders when they come and do a job at your house. Also usually fairly sweet, but I don't have sugar, so I can't comment on that bit!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Earl Grey Taste Challenge- Day 18

It has been a very busy week this week and so I took a new Earl Grey to work with me. Golden Monkey Tea Co  have a lovely EG (which I had to stop at least one co-worker from stealing some, she liked it so much!) which is very reasonably priced.

The tea has a strong, inviting smell and a really good colour- unlike some EGs, which can look a bit anaemic. As I've found with a few quality Earl Greys, there are cornflower petals in the mix; I'm not entirely sure why they are added, but they look pretty when added to black tea.

The taste itself is classic, good quality Earl Grey through and through. The tea, a luxurious Ceylon OP, gives a strong, malty and robust base flavour which is complemented by a zingy bergamot taste. This is EG at both its basic and finest- no messing about, no fiddling with quantities, just straight up citrus; perfect when you have a cold brewing (which I have had this week). Comforting, warming and delicious. What more could someone want in a no-nonsense, traditional Earl Grey?

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Autumnal teas?

I'm looking for some really nice teas that just suit this time of year. Any suggestions?

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Earl Grey Taste Challenge- Day 17

Every now and then, I come across an Earl Grey that really knocks my socks off. Tea Palace's Organic Earl Grey St Clements is one of those teas.  Tea Palace is a gorgeous tea shop in Covent Garden with an equally gorgeous website; I could happily spend a lot of money there (I am also very tempted to have them create a bespoke blend for me, although I'm unsure as to what I would have in it...)

In homage to the popular- yet, as I discovered, really quite grim- nursery rhyme, the tea itself is a black tea  that is absolutely filled to the brim with real orange and lemon peel. The effect is mouthwatering as the caddy is opened. The smell is wonderful, like old-fashioned, homemade lemon curd. An added bonus was that the scent is cheerful and sunny; perfect on a horrible October's day.

The taste itself is amazing- a rush of black (I think China) tea washes over the tongue, followed by a clean, snappy citrus flavour, the topnote of bergamot nicely complimented by the delicious Just absolutely gorgeous. Afterwards, my mouth felt clean and refreshed, without the bitter aftertaste some black teas can leave in the mouth. So no need for a chopper to chop off your head after this tea.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Interesting teas: English Breakfast

Britain's love affair with tea is legendary- we are the second biggest consumers of tea in the world, narrowly beaten by the Irish. Tea has a firm place in our history, whether it's being chucked off boats in Boston or travelling the Silk Route to eager London tea merchants, desperate to supply to the rich and famous. Tourists still flock to cafes and tea houses to experience a 'proper' tea.

English Breakfast is at the heart of this. I always think of it as a posh way to describe 'normal' tea. A blend of black teas (usually assam or ceylon, sometimes more expensive teas such as keemun), it's designed to perk you up in a morning. English Breakfast is an excellent soother of woes; hunger, hangover, heartache can all be soothed with a nice cup of tea. The beauty of English Breakfast is that its malty taste is designed to go well with milk and sugar. Anything else might be considered odd. I like mine fairly milky, no sugar, which in the health concious 21st century is not perhaps considered too weird. This tea is also the first we are exposed to as a child; as a result, I cannot drink a black tea without milk without feeling a little bit strange. The black teas often benefit from it.

I very rarely drink English Breakfast, but that means that when I drink it, I do appreciate it more; sometimes life does not need scented, fancy teas. Sometimes you just need a strong, macho builders' brew to do the job. I find it amusing then that this blend was originally devised for people with lots of money- now it's the most democratic of beverages.

The tea I tasted for this post was kindly supplied by Cup of Tea