Monday, June 7, 2010

Tea, Monkeys & Palaces

When we speak of ‘tea’ in the UK - where we are known to drink so much of it, most of us immediately think of ‘builders tea,’ or the one with a knitted sock monkey and a fat bloke off the telly. To tell you the truth, I drink the same tea this monkey drinks- I love mine with milk-and-one-sugar-please. However, I do know that other teas exist – hundreds of them and I have been on a mission to spread the news for a very long while. Will anyone listen?
My tea shop in 2007
 
I opened a little tea boutique a while ago; we had a range of premium loose teas from whites to oolongs, to greens and blacks – all of the finest grade only to be constantly asked by passers-by – do you have any coffee?

My little venture couldn’t over ride the greedy sharks of real estate and of course it went under towards the hands of Crossrail who couldn’t find any value in our business and gave us a few sixpence for the trouble to pay off dorsal fins.

My tea master class concluded with many lessons of the ruthlessness of the economy, business and failure as well as being naive enough to think that people will change their Yorkshire Brew for top notch Assam – just because it tastes good, better and wonderful.
Oolong - Oriental Beauty
 
 Green Tea - Flowering Osmanthus
 
There are some few of us who are tea connoisseurs, knowing the difference between a Darjeeling and a Lapsang, slurping Oolongs and breathing in the fragrant air of Sencha like a fine wine. Paying top dollar for a cake of Pu-Erh while most of us go for the pyramid teabag – I am not out to turn everyone into a connoisseur – I am by far one of those, I just wish we all knew more about tea, how great a cup of tea can be and start consuming real tea because it tastes really good and its actually good for you.

Even if we are buying the most expensive teabags in our supermarket, the tea is actually a powder, it is dust,  it is actually a by-product of tea – you know, the bits no one from the rest of the world wants. Even worse, if we are buying green teas (because we hear its so good for us) from our supermarket, it’s the lowest grade of green tea making most of us disagree with the bitter taste of green tea altogether and run a mile! Monkeys!! -(the supermarkets I refer to)

Milk and one sugar is what we are used to (because the teas we know, taste so bad we have to disguise it)– Don't get me wrong, I love a real (or fake) cup of Assam or Breakfast Blend in the mornings or afternoons – there simply isn’t anything like enjoying a cup of tea whether its with a good book or as you rush out the door.

Its become an institution just like a cup of latte from our local giant coffee corporation – we’ve become accustomed and locked in our way and there is nothing wrong with enjoying what we enjoy (although there is something massively wrong with enjoying coffee giants – but that’s another post). We snub our noses at instant coffee but not at cheap dust tea bags. Why is that?
 
Thanks to Qype, Simon and I were invited to The Intercontinental Hotel in Mayfair to try out their Afternoon Tea selection of cream cakes and sandwiches at The Cookbook Cafe. They have just started to collaborate with Tea Palace and have a very nice tea list going there.
 
 
We met Tara Calcraft, founder of Tea Palace who gave us Qypers an introduction to tea; the differences between blacks, greens, oolongs and whites – it was great to get to taste 12 different teas from the range. And comforting to know that there are people who are also trying to get tea – out there – to you…
 
Tea Palace has hundreds of teas in their shop in Covent Garden – go and smell some, taste some, and I am sure you will fall in love. From the tastings, my favourites:

The First Flush Darjeeling, Thurbo 2010, one of the nicest teas I have ever tasted because its fresh – its just been picked and its from the real leaf. If you can have your milk and one sugar with one of these Assam or Ceylon, I guarantee you; your day will become more wonderful. These are fantastic teas, clear, bright, flavoursome. Perfect.

I love the simple things and I don’t like my teas being messed with too much, so if you are like me, you wouldn’t like the Number One Park Lane Blend they did for the Intercontinental – the “hint” of vanilla and marigold is just too much for my plain fancy. White Peony With Rose Buds nor Sencha Aloe Vera appealed to my palette for the same reasons.

The Intercontinental Hotel Afternoon Tea Selection

With the greens, I love their Japanese Bancha, Organic Chinese Sencha - amazing! & White Money are all so refreshing and clean tasting. (Lara was telling us how, a Chinese farmer had a white monkey he always brought with him to the market and told everyone that the monkey had picked the tea in order to sell more tea – and everyone believed him – he made a fortune!… he he… that’s why they keep using monkeys to sell tea!)

My favourite of all had to be the Iron Goddess Of Mercy – the finest of Chinese Oolongs – which are usually drank with lunch/ early dinner to aid digestion and break down fat molecules to make you feel light and well even if you are full after a wonderful meal.
Green Tea Icecream taste really good on the first hit but very potent half way through

Our Afternoon Tea experience was certainly special – we were lucky enough to have a little masterclass/ introduction. I had been giving them to Simon for ages so it was really good that he heard another voice and got to try all different sorts of teas in one sitting. This experience is not one you would get at the hotel itself, and we didn’t have the usual sit down of it, we stood around munching cucumber sandwiches, scones and cakes – of which I thought were quite ordinary for such an establishment.
The Grubworm & Simon enjoying a cocktail after tea tasting
 
Still – We enjoyed it all immensely. Thank you Qype. If only we weren’t all so stubborn, we would reap the health benefits of Green, White and Oolong teas and enjoy a flavoursome cup of Darjeeling. Ahh – more of all the tea in China for me please.

You can find our breakdown of tea knowledge here on our blog. Do I have to get a monkey now?!


Some other independent teashops that you should definitely visit:

Camellia- World Of Teas: Top Floor 2.12 Kingly Court, London W1B 5PW
http://www.camelliaworldteas.com/
Homely with wonderful service, nice food, sandwiches and cakes and an array of caddies you can dip your nose in and order from a range of fantastic teas.

Tea Smith: 6 Lamb Street, London E1 6EA
http://www.teasmith.co.uk/
Very trendy and slick tea bar – has a very good and wide range of all the varieties and great knowledge from the staff about tea, how it should be served and drank. A great experience to have and enjoy.

Tea Palace: 12 Covent Garden Market, Covent Garden, WC2E 8RF
http://www.teapalace.co.uk/

I wouldn’t go to Whittard- not unless you want instant tea!!!

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