Green tea with roses & Lewis Carroll’s Alice

Tea, though ridiculed by those who are naturally coarse in their nervous sensibilities…will always be the favored beverage of the intellectual.

 – Thomas DeQuincy (1875-1959) Confession of an English Opium Eater –

… and what is intelligence without a dose of madness? – ‘Take some more tea,’ the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.’I’ve had nothing yet,’ Alice replied in an offended tone, ‘so I can’t take more.”You mean you can’t take LESS,’ said the Hatter: ‘it’s very easy to take MORE than nothing.’….



Delicious Assam, with a touch of history

A cup of freshly brewed Assam tea
A cup of freshly brewed Assam tea

Today’s rainy morning demands a strong kick to wash away this feeling of drowsiness. Assam tea it is. With its malty, yet sweet notes, reminding me of honey and cocoa beans, the Assam tea is definitely among my favourite ones. I let the water heat to 90 degrees and I steep the leaves for a good 3 minutes. I prefer my Assam quite strong so I pour less water in the cup than usual.

A short history of the Assam tea

The origin of this tea lies in the Assam province, on the banks of the Brahmaputra river. It is also here that the commercial production of tea in India originated, pioneered by the East India Company in the early 19th century. The truth is that a variety of the tea plant already grew locally and the indigenous people were using its leaves in cooking and by brewing, in drinking. The East India Company though still sourced the Chinese variety and introduced it in the hot, steamy climate of the Brahmaputra valley with little success. In the end, they settled on the native specimens which flourished well at the sea level altitude. Surprisingly, the Chinese tea plants did well in the Darjeeling region, at high altitudes where conditions resembled those of the Chinese hills soaked in mists and rain.

East Indian Company in Assam
East Indian Company in Assam – weighing and packaging of tea. Source: IndianDiplomacy

Although the locals were enjoying tea long before the British trading company switched to India to grow tea on a large scale, it was the demand of the markets at home and in Europe that drove commercial tea production here.

Today, countries like Kenya, Argentina, Iran and Turkey are big exporters of wonderfully tasting tea. And England. Not an exporter, but a pioneer in growing tea in the temperate, often capricious climate of Great Britain.

The Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall began research in 1999 and now produces small quantities of locally grown English tea. You can even buy your own tea bush to plant in your conservatory. If you happen to be in Cornwall, do pay it a visit as I certainly will on m next passage there.

Sources consulted:
Delicious Assam, with a touch of history

What is white tea and how to brew a perfect cup

White tea 4

What is white tea?

We are half way through spring and summer seems close enough. April is also the time when the tea harvesters, from Fujian mainly, pluck just the buds of camellia sinensis, the tea plant, to produce the white tea. They also do that in autumn and summer, but the spring plucked tea is the best. We are not talking about different tea plants – the same tea plant camellia sinensis is used and the difference is only in the way the leaves are treated. White tea undergoes limited treatment in its process of production, two stages actually: withering which reduces the humidity of the leaf and drying which brings the leaves to their final form. There is so little invasion that when you look closely at the leaves, you can still see the little hairs that cover them. It’s this trichome, the proper term for plant hairs, that also gives the tea a silver-white nuance, hence the name.

White tea is considered one the finest teas. It carries a very grassy, herbal smell in its dry form, and when infused, produces a light liquor with sweet or acidic notes. White tea also doesn’t have that much caffeine or tannin as the green tea for example and is a good choice for your 5 o’clock tea time.

How to brew white tea?

Because the white tea is so fresh, having suffered a minimal treatment, it requires a longer infusion time, about 15 minutes. In the same time, this tea is very fragile so have your water just about 75 degrees hot. If you use boiling water, you will “cook” the tea and it will loose its characteristic taste. Warm your teapot and cups first. Pour a little amount of water on the leaves and rinse immediately to remove any dust and secure yourself a “clean tasting” cup. Then pour the water over the leaves in your teapot as usually and let it infuse for about 15 minutes. Several infusions are possible yet they’ll be much weaker.

White tea 2

What can I drink white tea with?

Light fish or lobster dishes go very well with this delicate tea. For dessert, pair your white tea with pastries featuring vanilla, white chocolate or yellow fruits such as peaches or apricots.  Flower scented sweets such as rice based jasmine desserts go very well too.

Happy tea time!

What is white tea and how to brew a perfect cup

Dan Cong Oolong tea with Osmanthus Flower Fragrance from master Lin Gui Hua Xiang

Dan cong oolong loose leaf tea from master Lin Gui Hua Xiang
Dan Cong Oolong loose leaf tea with Osmanthus Flower Fragrance from master Lin Gui Hua Xiang

Today I feel privileged – I just brewed a cup of 2014 Dan Cong Oolong which is hand made by master Lin Gui Hua Xiang from a single 200 year old tea tree from the Wudong mountains in China. There is so much history, tradition, craft and dedication in this one product. I can’t just simply make myself this cup of tea, I have to give it some consideration, sit down, take the time to contemplate, give a little thought to this very old tree and to the people behind the trade.

(…This is me contemplating now…)

This is a high end tea, with long leaves rolled quite thinly that smell of roast, dry bark and cocoa – very earthly.  The Osmanthus fragrance with its sweetness perfectly balances this robust earthiness. Let me paint you a picture: Imagine you are walking through an old forest on a summer’s day. The air is dry and you can smell the wood dust from old cracks of tree bark mixed with pollen and wild flower scent – that’s what this tea is all about!

The liquour is so gentle I almost feel disappointed that the smell carried itself so little in the taste. The palette is quite clear and the oolong “essential oils” spread evenly in your mouth and leave that trademark aftertaste. They usually say that Darjeeling is the champagne of teas, I would say that this Dan Cong Oolong with Osmanthus Flower Fragrance is the champagne of oolongs.

A cup of infused dan cong oolong tea from master Lin Gui Hua Xiang
A cup of Dan Cong Oolong loose leaf tea with Osmanthus Flower Fragrance . Infuse with 90º-100ºC water for 1-2 minutes

The packaging too does justice to its origin. You can find this gem at the Postcard tea merchants based in London or order from their online shop. If you do pass by, don’t hesitate to engage in some tea talk, the team is very welcoming and ready to share their knowledge and passion for teas. They also carry tea ware handmade by generations old craftsmen from Japan or China.

Dan Cong Oolong tea with Osmanthus Flower Fragrance from master Lin Gui Hua Xiang