Tea at Christmas

shutterstock_223147579 tea by fireWhich teas should I choose?

No Christmas would be complete without a good cup of tea no matter how many glasses of wine, champagne or liqueurs are drunk. In fact, several cups could quite conceivably be enjoyed so which should you choose at the various stages of this special day?

Waking up to a stocking

Whether we are opening one ourselves or looking at children opening theirs is essential to have an early morning cup of tea – even if Father Christmas isn’t able to bring you one personally. I like a good cup of Russian Caravan as it has a satisfying complexity and sufficient body for first thing in the morning without being too strong. As an alternative, I like Ceylon Dimbula which has sufficient body but a certain floral lightness.

A good English breakfast

If you have time before going to Church or are still recovering from the pub after mid-night mass the previous evening a hearty English breakfast is essential. Today of all days should not be one for guilt! I like a full bodied malty Assam from northern India to cut through my fry-up. It is an immensely satisfying cup that will have you gasping for more by the time you have mopped up the mushrooms with your fried bread! Our English Breakfast Blend is hugely popular but is for those who like a tea which is slightly lighter than a builders brew – having a little Darjeeling, together with Assam and Ceylon. Perfect if the fry-up is not to tempt you!

To accompany a light lunch?

We have our Christmas dinner in the evening so lunch is a light affair (particularly after that breakfast!). So what would you have with such foods as smoked mackerel pate, freshly carved gammon or salmon with salad? For the committed green tea drinker and for those who have no such persuasions I would stay with green. What could be better than good quality Jasmine Pearls in which the floral aroma is wonderfully encapsulated? The highly acclaimed Mao Feng in green form is a brilliant alternative, having a robust quality that will take food well. Of course, for smoked foods such as the pate or salmon a glass of smoky Lapsang Souchong would go down a treat. Yes, tea can look good in a glass – with a stem!

Christmas tea-time

By definition this is the best time for tea and provides the perfect accompaniment to Christmas cake. So what to choose? To accompany the rich fruit of this cake one of my favourites is China Keemun as it has that beautiful burgundy wine character – it’s not called the ‘Burgundy of teas’ for nothing! If not this, then the other classic afternoon tea is Darjeeling. Perhaps a first or second flush. The former is crisp, refreshing and uniquely light and muscatel. The latter is a little less brisk and has a fuller, smoother body. Neither of these teas should be drunk with milk. If you are a green tea lover then green Darjeeling is increasingly admired or you could go for a China green such as Tian Mu Quing Ding – one of our organic teas – or the famous Lung Ching (Dragon Well) which is perfect with toasted tea-cakes.

Christmas Dinner

If you have already over-indulged in the gin and tonic and wine by this stage of the day then what could go with turkey – or beef if that is your preference. I would choose a medium bodied and fragrant Nilgiri or Ceylon – perhaps a Nuwara Eliya high-grown which has a great floral quality. After dinner, as an alternative to coffee I would choose a flavoured tea such as Winter Warmer with cloves, cardamom and cinnamon or Masala Chai.  I know that we in this country have an undying passion for all things spicy – however ours is aromatic rather than spicy, as it has no ginger. Orange with spices is another that warms the cockles as it has a lovely heartiness, having the addition of cloves.


To unwind, tea offers many fabulous alternatives to alcohol. Have you tried white tea? Baihao Zinzhen (White Needle) has a well-known buttery character. Alternatively, try Snow Bud which has a slightly more pronounced floral quality and nuttiness. Like all white teas they are very delicate and light so evening is the perfect time to drink them.

Oolongs are best drunk in the evening and make an excellent digestif. Try our unusual Happy Valley Darjilong Organic which has great complexity whilst being unmistakably a Darjeeling. Formosa Toppest Oolong Silver Tip is a delight to savour and like most oolongs from Taiwan is slightly blacker than China oolongs. Of the latter the wonderfully named Monkey Picked Oolong is a favourite being light and floral. The famous Da Hong Pao (China Royal Red Robe) is a great tea to be experienced at the end of a long day having been aged to give a distinct and complex character.

I hope you are not feeling too exhausted by this romp through an eclectic assortment of teas that will complement and almost certainly enhance your experience of Christmas day. One thing is for certain, tea need not just be drunk first thing in the morning and at tea-time, even on such a day of celebration!

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Black tea or coffee? The great debate.

Chests of Ceylon Nuwara Eliya Court Lodge. However we offer a superior OP1 grade!

Black tea is the most popular tea on the market in the West so when someone asks if you prefer tea or coffee, it’s probably black tea that they are referring to. As your traditional English breakfast tea is amongst the black teas, it’s probably the one you’re most familiar with.

The ongoing debate of tea vs coffee has found its way into breakfast table and office conversation time and time again – and everyone seems to prefer one over the other. As a tea drinker myself, I’ve always been firmly on the side of the leaves over the beans. But how do they stack up in a head to head comparison?

First of all, coffee is clearly the better choice if it’s a caffeine boost you’re after. Estimates of caffeine in coffee are generally much higher than black tea – with coffee containing up to 200mg caffeine/ 8 oz. cup compared to up to 70mg caffeine/ 8oz. cup of black tea. However, it ought to be said that caffeine is not a particularly good way of reducing how tired you are in the long run. Although it does provide the initial boost you’re craving, you’ll soon find that you need more to ‘top up’ as its affects wear off. Additionally, drinking coffee has been shown to have a detrimental effect on your sleeping if drank up to 6 hours before bed time. It might be better, therefore, to try and get some more sleep instead – and not enter into a vicious cycle of drinking coffee because you’re tired, and being tired because you’re drinking coffee. You might also consider drinking black tea instead, as it will provide you with a smaller caffeine boost that will affect your sleeping patterns less.

Second of all, tea seems to be the best choice if it’s weight loss you’re after. Whilst most studies focus on green tea as an aid for weight loss due to the chemical catechins, black tea has also been shown to help with the process. Although it is debatable whether either tea or coffee have a real effect on weight loss, it’s fairly safe to say that you’re at least less likely to add more calories to your tea. Coffee drinkers across the world often have the options of additional creams, syrups and even chocolate – adding to the calories already present. Tea, on the other hand, tends to be drunk with only the possibility of extra milk or sugar – still bad, but not as bad.

Finally, many studies also suggest that tea has more health benefits than coffee – for example, it has been suggested that tea improves your immune system. Since tea can reduce stress levels (and coffee can raise them), tea is – in that respect – kinder to your body. Additionally, the reduced chance of disrupted sleep from choosing tea over coffee will also no doubt aid in your body’s natural defences.

There are many advantages and disadvantages to drinking both coffee and black tea, but overall it seems that tea might be the winner. At least until more research is done.

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Black, green or a Tea Blend for the Perfect Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea in the garden

Afternoon Tea: What could be more English?

Afternoon tea is one of those occasions that we all look forward to even if you are not an ardent tea lover. Is it the time to relax and have a soothing cup of tea that lifts you a little towards the end of the afternoon? Is it the opportunity to eat and drink in a different room such as the sitting room and unwind in comfortable seats or even to relax outside? It’s still warm enough at the end of October!

Whatever Afternoon tea is to you it is definitely an institution where only tea can be drunk. Even my children are asking for it at this time of day. I just need to work on them having it without sugar – not just for the sake of their teeth! Food to go with tea at this time of day instantly brings to mind cake, biscuits, sandwiches and scones with jam but I think these are more typical of a Sunday afternoon rather than every day. Furthermore, there are many savoury foods beyond what the Earl of Sandwich suggests that equally or better go with tea – just ask the Chinese! Think of pork dim sum, deep fried fish or spicy Szechuan food.

Traditional flavoured teas whether green or black

Tea that can accompany these foods can go well beyond the typical pot of jasmine which is often served in a British Chinese restaurant. Not to knock it: fragrant, light jasmine used to flavour fresh green tea can be a real delight. There are several grades available and the better ones can be exquisite. Remember to make any green tea with water that has come off the boil for a couple of minutes to avoid bitterness and do not infuse for more than three minutes. There are several other pure green teas to try at tea-time such as Chun Mee, Tian Mu Quing Ding or our new, subtle Jin Zhu Mao Jian. Beyond jasmine, there are other traditional Chinese flavoured green teas such as magnolia and rose, the latter more commonly made with black tea, known as Rose Congou.

Tea in the afternoon would not be fully explored without mentioning Earl Grey. Our traditional blend, based upon light Keemun and Darjeeling teas flavoured with natural oil of bergamot and named after my ancestor has long been popular. Drink it without milk. We offer one based on green tea too which has a loyal following. There are many other teas with added natural flavours. Orange with spices, lemon, mango, blackcurrant or traditional Indian Masala Chai . Explore them to your heart’s desire!

Smoky or complex?

So which black teas should be drunk with afternoon tea? Of course there is an afternoon blend – our ‘Good afternoon’ contains a little of that moreish and smoky lapsang souchong which goes so well with marmite on toast or toasted teacakes. Or there is the attractive complexity of Russian Caravan which has a little oolong. It is based on China teas and will successfully accompany many cakes. Pure lapsang ouchongs can vary in smokiness and complexity. We have a good example from Taiwan (Formosa) as well as those from China’s Fujian Province. Drink them without milk and try them if you haven’t. They are perfect with smoked salmon sandwiches!

Winey or fragrant?

If you like fruit cakes then China Keemun teas have that lovely winey character that explains why they are known as the ‘Burgundy of teas’. Perfect with Christmas cake! Better still, there are several grades to choose from with varying depths of body such as Hoa Ya A and B to the fuller bodied Mao Feng, the beautifully smooth Jhin Hao and the less expensive Keemun Peony.

Ceylon teas have long been appreciated at tea-time for their floral quality. They can vary considerably from light Uvas to full bodied Dimbulas such as Kenilworth which may be drunk with milk. Nuwara Eliyas are noted for their intense flavour are less well known but are greatly admired by those who love Ceylon teas. Some people appreciate a strong malty cup of tea, even in the afternoon, and therefore I would recommend a good second flush Assam. These are noted for their malty character but they need not have excessive body. Indeed, we have an Assam first flush, Sree Sibbari, which is best drunk without milk.

Champagne anyone?

Darjeeling is the quintessential afternoon tea and its light, muscatel character explains why it is known as the ‘Champagne of teas’. From brisk first flushes to smoother, more full bodied second flushes, Darjeeling teas should be drunk without milk and are less well suited to accompany any but the lightest of foods such as homemade biscuits. As an alternative, you could try Nepalese teas which are produced close to the more famous Darjeeling gardens. Many are a real delight in the afternoon.

Oolong teas are better suited to an evening meal due to their complexity. White teas are best late at night as they are so subtle and are best without food.

As you can now see, there are several types of tea, whether black tea or green tea that are ideal for drinking in the afternoon. Some are well suited to particular foods, or no food at all, and just savoured for their individuality. What is certain is that there are many teas which suit food, so much so that tea is increasingly used as an ingredient whether in cakes or sauces for savoury foods not intended to be eaten in the afternoon! Afternoon tea does however give you an ideal excuse to try a new tea whether it’s a traditional black tea, healthy green tea or blended tea.

Read the descriptions of each category of tea in our Tea Store.

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Tea Tasting

black teas
Tasting black teas

How to taste tea – and why the professionals do so much of it.

Tasting tea is fundamental to the discipline of creating and buying good tea. How do professional tea tasters taste tea and what are the benefits?

Ensuring high quality

Tea tasters taste all types and grades of tea to ensure that each meets the expectations of the customer – whether that be a tea blending house or the consumer for a self-drinker. It is important to check that the tea was produced to a good standard that means that there have been no contaminants or aspects of the manufacturing process that have led to the tea becoming tainted in any way.

Creating Blends

For blended teas tea tasters are employed to source the appropriate teas to give a blend its notable character. Once created this needs to remain consistent from month to month and year to year. Customers buy blends for their recognisable flavour and this needs to be maintained no matter what changes there are in the taste of the constituent teas from one harvest to the next. Of course market prices for these teas can vary too and the tea taster must aim to keep not only the taste but the cost of the tea to a satisfactory level.

Teas are grown in many countries of the world, especially in Asia so some teas can be substituted from one garden to another, one region to another or even to a different country of origin. By skillful blending the final taste of the blend can be maintained despite changes in the quality of harvests and prices demanded for these teas.

Single Origin Teas

Many teas are sold for consumption as a self-drinker in that they are not blended. Consumers buy these teas for their individual characteristics but they will still require the services of an experienced tea taster to ensure that it is a good example of the tea the consumer is buying. Sometimes the tea may be better or worse than these expectations and this will be reflected in the price that the tea producer can ask for his tea.

Not all single origin teas will have the same taste as time of picking will have a bearing on the character of the tea. Compare the light and brisk qualities of a first flush Darjeeling compared with the smoother, fuller bodied and fuller flavour that can be expected form a Darjeeling second flush.

Tasting the tea

Tea tasters are highly trained people that have a finely tuned sense of taste. They may have to taste two to four hundred teas each day and have to distinguish between two thousand different teas. These abilities can take four years to acquire.

When tasting a tea they are looking for the presence of positive virtues for which that tea is known as well as negative signs that may be indicative of poorer quality. Appearance and aroma of the dry leaf will be important but fundamentally it is the taste of the infused leaf which will be the acid test for that tea.

To achieve objective comparisons between teas they are tasted according to strict standard weights of loose tea, volume of boiling water and length of infusion. Generally 6 grams is infused for five minutes, depending upon the type of tea. Tasting porcelain is in three parts: a ceramic cup, a fitted lid, and the liquor is then poured into special broad tasting vessel.

First when tasting tea observe the leaf – its colour, form, size and the presence of any tip. Smell the dry leaf, next smell the infused leaf. Examine the colour of the infusion in the cup and try to describe the aroma by taking repeated sniffs of the tea. The infusion is then taken as a sharp slurp which allows the tea to swill around the whole mouth to let the tea contact those parts of the tongue best able to detect the different flavor components of the tea. The tip of the tongue detects sweetness, the front sides: saltiness, back sides: acidity and the back: bitterness. Taste itself is detected towards the back of the centre of the tongue. The tea is then spat out.

To appreciate tea at home, whilst some attention is worth paying to tea you have bought we can relax and enjoy our tea in the knowledge that experts have been involved at every stage of production and sale to ensure we have an excellent cup of tea.

Read the descriptions of each category of tea in our Tea Store

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New Tea Growing Areas of the World

Tea Indonesia
Tea picking in Indonesia

Here we review teas from those parts of the world less well known as producers of good tea – whether it’s black, green or oolong.

Tea is famously grown in China, Japan, India and Sri Lanka, but what of all those other countries which grow tea, especially in the Far East – are they any good? Essentially tea requires warmth, high humidity, high rainfall and acidic, well-drained soils. Plus, of course, a culture of producing good tea.

As you will see below, many of these teas are CTC (Cut Tear Curl), rather than traditional orthodox teas so we would not consider stocking these as their flavours are less distinct. However, there are some interesting ones here and we aim to continue to identify the best, especially where they are of notable character, and offer them to our customers.


They have been growing Assam varieties since the late nineteenth century, mainly in the south around Mulanje. Now over 40,000 tonnes are exported each year. These strong teas are extensively used in blends. Malawi is second to Kenya in African tea production volumes.


Zimbabwe relies on irrigation for the successful growing of its teas. Again, mainly used for blends.


Whilst green teas have been grown here for centuries black tea was only first made in the 1950’s and the war of the 1970s disrupted production significantly. Much foreign investment has helped restore tea production. Teas are grown in the central tropical areas to the northern mountains. More oolongs are now also being grown in the south. We offer a good oolong from Vietnam.


Tea has been produced here since 1900 and especially since the 1920s but by the 1950s tea had become Uganda’s fourth largest export. The quality tends to be poor with lack of consistency and lack of investment. Most teas are CTC and are sold at auction through Mombasa.


Most tea is produced in the southern highlands, again CTC. Tea production dates back to 1905.

South Africa

Since 1877 teas have been grown in the Transkei, Natal and the Eastern Transvaal. Some single-origin CTC tea is grown at the Ntingwe Tea Estate.


Tea has been grown here for two centuries since the Dutch first planted it in Java, followed by Sumatra and more recently in Sulawesi. It is light and popular in its domestic market although much is exported. CTC teas are now produced alongside orthodox and comprises green, black and jasmine teas. Initially China stock, they are now Assam varieties which thrive better.


Black orthodox teas are grown on the Boh Estate in The Cameroon Highlands. Smooth and light, the teas compare with some Ceylons.


Some gardens date back to the 1850s when neighbouring Darjeeling was also planted although many date only from the 1970s. The best quality teas are high-grown orthodox. CTC teas are also produced on the lowland Terai, bordering the plains of northern India. We stock several high-grown orthodox teas from Nepal. They tend to share some of the muscatel properties of Darjeeling yet tend to be rather smoother.


Tea was first grown here in 1903 and now Kenya is the world’s third largest tea producer. Tea is produced high in the Kenya Highlands above Lake Victoria at altitudes of 5000-9000ft where there is sufficient rainfall. Marinyn is one of the most famous orthodox tea gardens which is represented in our selection of Kenyan teas.


Teas from this very low lying area are akin to the Nilgiris of southern India and have good colour and a slight spiciness. The vast majority of teas grown are black CTC.

In addition to these countries several South American countries also produce a little tea in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru. They are primarily used for blending and instant teas.

Do explore teas from these lesser known tea producing countries. You may well discover some beautiful teas full of character and at remarkably good value. Be adventurous!

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The Health Benefits of Japanese Green Tea

Health properties of green teaJapan has a formidable reputation for its tea – all of which is green. From the late nineteenth until the mid twentieth centuries Japan did produce some black tea but this ceased in the face of competition from new tea producing areas of the world. Originally, its tea making techniques and philosophy came from China but this has evolved over the centuries to become a distinct culture of its own as epitomized by Chanoyu, the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

Japanese teas tend to be grassy, smooth and vegetal and hence are distinct from the Chinese style of green tea. This is often achieved having been at least partially grown in the shade. This increases their chlorophyll content making them smooth and low in tannin.


Japan puts much emphasis on the quality of manufacture of its teas and less importance is attached to where the tea is grown or the style of its leaf – both important aspects of Chinese tea appreciation.
Japan can trace its tea drinking expertise back to the eighth century when it sent diplomats to China to learn about the cultivation and making of tea. Tea seeds may have been brought to Japan from China by monks Kukai and Saicho who had lived in China for several years. In the Kamakura period (1192-1333) Myoan Eisai, founder of the Buddhist Rinsai sect, encouraged tea drinking for general good health. In the first Japanese book on tea ‘Tea Drinking Good for the Health’ he wrote that tea would remedy all disorders. Tea in Japan for centuries has however been promoted for its beauty and simplicity and the pleasure of the drinking rather than purely for health purposes.

How Japanese Tea is made

Almost all tea in Japan is steamed although a little is pan-fired. Steaming helps retain the flavour of green tea and enhances its distinct green colour. The characteristically straight, needle like leaf is produced by rolling the leaf over gently heated ridges.
Teas such as Sencha Gyokuro (Jade Dew) and Tencha, ground for the manufacture of Matcha, are grown in the shade for several weeks prior to harvesting. This increases the chlorophyll content of the leaf which results in a smoother drink with an obvious vegetal sweetness.

Which Japanese teas are best for Health?

The first picking of the new spring season throughout all tea producing areas in Japan is known as Shincha and is renowned for having the highest polyphenol content of any tea. This is concentrated in the tiny buds and leaves picked for Shincha, picked in April to early May, before the first flush teas are available. This exquisite tea is produced in small quantities and is correspondingly expensive and usually sells out by July.

The shaded teas such as Sencha Gyokuro, have experienced less photo-synthesis. This enhances the presence of the natural amino acid theanine. This is believed to have the benefit of making these teas more relaxing. The most famous area for producing Gyokuro is Uji, followed by Okabe and Yame.

Health Properties of Japanese Green Teas

In addition to Theanine green tea contains an abundance of antioxidants, specifically polyphenols, over half of which are flavonoids; vitamins B1, B2 and C, fluoride, minerals and proteins. Flavonols, a polyphenol, is rich in four catechins, especially EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) which is the most bioactive catechin in green tea. This is particularly rich in the vivid green teas for which Japan is famous. This is evident in the golden green colours of the infused teas and their vegetal flavour characters. EGCG is known to combat cholesterol and is considered to be anti-carcinogenic.

If you have yet to experience Japanese tea and love green teas start your journey of appreciating their fabulous tastes, aromas and special smoothness. It might well do your health some good too!

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What is Black Tea?

Darjeeling Margaret's Hope 2nd Flush
A good examples of the ‘Champagne of teas': Margaret’s Hope 2nd Flush, a highly respected black tea from Darjeeling.

In the 17 century in England, tea was imported from China by sea. As the leaves were stored below the water line, the atmosphere was humid, black and warm. After several months of travel, the tea leaves had fermented and became black. That’s how black tea was born! It appeared that British people would prefer black teas than green. Now it’s the most popular tea in all Europe in contrast to China where green tea is the national beverage.

Black tea is a tea that undergoes a complete oxidation. It is commonly called red tea in China as over there black teas refer to semi-fermented ones (not to be confused with the red rooibos of South Africa). Outside China black teas are made according to one of two manufacturing processes: orthodox or CTC (Crush, Tear and Curl). Could you tell the difference between them?

The steps for making black orthodox teas

First of all the tea leaves are withered for up to one day in order to remove the humidity contained in them. Then producers roll them so as to break the leaf cells and release all the enzymes to ease the fermentation process. Fermentation consists of storing the tea leaves in a humid and warm room for approximately 3 hours. To stop the fermentation, the leaves are dried at up to 90° C, this is the firing process. Lastly, the leaves are then sorted with sieves into different grades and packed.


After withering, the tea leaves are torn and rolled in a rotating cylinder. In most of these cases, those teas are blended with others to obtain a regular flavour and they are then used for tea bags as they have a small leaf. This method was introduced by British producers in the 1950s. It is aimed at maximising output and reducing labour.  These teas are mostly mass-market teas sold in supermarkets.

It’s important to note that orthodox methods differ between the tea producing areas. That’s why it’s easier to differentiate teas between two tea growing areas or even gardens (estates) as they will have local characteristics. There may also be subtle differences in the manner in which gardens make their teas.

Which black tea do I choose? Here is an overview of the various types.

China Black teas are found mainly in the south of China in the provinces of Yunnan, Anhui and Fujian. Green teas are mostly produced in China. Having said that, China black teas are stylish, fragrant and the quality is second to none.

The province of Anhui produces the Keemun teas in the growing areas of Huang Shan Mountains. The Keemun leaves are generally small, thin and slightly twisted giving a naturally sweet and refreshing character. The two highest grades of Keemun are Hao Ya A and Hao Ya B. Keemun Mao Feng has larger leaves and it is a special picking of two leaves and a bud that yields a rich flavour.

The province of Fujian produces the smoky black teas known as Lapsang Souchong. Its strong and substantial flavour goes well with hot and spicy food. However the Fujian Lapsang Souchong teas are softer than Taiwanese ones.

Yunnan province, grows much of the Camelia Assamica variety orinnating from nearby Assam in India. It produces lush, full bodied and refreshing black teas. The highest tea in terms of quality is the Yunnan Golden Needles composed of longs tips which create a creamy, malty but sweet- liquoring tea.

India is the world’s largest producer of tea and offers a superb diversity of tea-growing areas. The main ones are Brahmaputra and Barak valleys in Assam and Darjeeling in the north. The Nilgiri mountains provide the major tea-producing region in the South.

At the foothills of the eastern Himalaya, the Camelia Sinensis var. Assamica grows in the lush and dense jungles of Assam. This region produces both orthodox tea and CTC as it’s the biggest producing region in India. Assam has a humid, lowland climate with heavy rainfalls which produce a full-bodied malty teas.

Nilgiri teas grow in the lush forest and jungles of the Blue Mountains in southern India. Nilgiri benefits from a tropical climate similar to that of neighbouring Sri Lanka (Ceylon teas). As Nilgiri teas are plucked all year-round, most of them are produced through the CTC process. But some orthodox teas from Nilgiri have superb quality. Nilgiri teas are known as “the fragrant ones”. Our Nilgiri Thiashola is a good example of a high quality orthodox and organic Nilgiri tea. As a customer remarked:  “This Nilgiri tea is one of the best teas I have ever tasted. Quite strong, and a very good alternative to Assam or English breakfast”.

Darjeeling Namring Upper
Darjeeling Namring Upper Garden in the Himalayan foothills

Darjeeling black teas are known as the Champagne of teas. Contrary to Assam, Darjeeling teas grow at high altitude, from 2,000 to 7,000 feet. Thus, there is a great variation of climate and forest which give to Darjeeling its distinctive muscatel character. It has a worldwide reputation of an exclusive tea. In cup it is golden amber in colour, with a delicate flowery flavour and sweetness reminiscent of peaches and apricots.

Teas from Nepal

Nepalese teas account among the best quality teas in the world. Mainly produced close to the Himalayan foothills they offer an incomparable aromatic richness. Nepal is a young tea producing country as tea production has been developed only since 1980. Today there are five tea districts with 85 tea plantations. Located close to Darjeeling, Nepalese teas has a similar muscatel character. However they are smoother with woody, floral and fruity characteristics.

Ceylon Teas

Sri Lanka was called Ceylon before 1972. Nowadays the term Ceylon is used to describe a tea from Sri Lanka. Ceylon is known to be the island of teas, famous for their floral character. The island used to produce coffee before the introduction of tea by the British in 1870. Coffee plantations were affected by a parasite in 1869 and then were replaced by tea plantations. Sri Lanka is now the world’s third major producer of tea and offer exquisite orthodox loose leaf teas, especially having enhanced the quality of their teas in recent decades. There are three distinctive types of Ceylon tea production: high, medium and low grown. Here are examples of each.

The Nuwara Eliya district produces teas at an altitude of over 6, 000 feet close to the highest mountain in Sri Lanka: the Pidurutalagala. High grown are thought to be the best quality teas of Sri Lanka. These teas are recognisable by their bronze colour. In cup it gives a bright and amber infusion. The taste is reminiscent of jasmine. Some say that Ceylon High Grown are the most exquisite teas comparable with Darjeelings.

Teas in the Uva district grow at medium altitude (2,800 to 6,000 feet) characterised by a season of dry winds from June to September. Thus these teas are rounded, sweet as well as aromatic. In cup they give a coppery red colour.

Kandy is a region of low altitude which produces good quality teas; more full bodied and astringent than other Ceylon teas. Kandy teas have large and dark tea leaves with exceptional fragrance and complex flavours.

Kenyan Teas

Kenya benefits from an ideal climate for producing teas: tropical, volcanic red soils and well distributed rainfall with long sunny days. The main tea growing areas in Kenya are situated in and around the highland areas on both sides of the Great Rift Valley. Here are two superb teas from Kenya:

Marinyn is a well-known orthodox tea from Kenya. It grows at the foot of the Kilimanjaro and gives a full bodied, tangy, subtle nutmeg flavour akin to Assam tea.

Royal Tajiri is a rare and wonderful orthodox tea: it was planted over fifty years ago on naturally fertile soils at an altitude of 6700 ft in Gatundu District, amongst the foothills of Mount Kenya, alongside the Rundu and Mukengeria rivers. This gorgeous, orthodox, large leaf tea is neatly twisted and has a lovely appley and caramel aroma. In the cup it is deep bronze. It is full bodied, rich and smooth.

And you, which black tea would you recommend?

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What is Oolong tea ?

Oolong image 250Oolong or Wulong means Black Dragon in Chinese.

It has been said that it refers to the shape of oolong teas which resemble the silhouette of the mystical Chinese Dragon. They are mainly manufactured in China and Taiwan provinces. The latter is known as Formosa in tea terminology. Those teas are generally referred to as semi-fermented teas: they are partially oxidized between 20 and 80%. Oolongs teas have a fresh and smoother taste than black teas and less grassy than green teas.  The leaves must not be picked too soon and the production process must begin immediately after plucking. Leaves are first wilted in sunlight and shaken in bamboo baskets to softly bruise the edge of the leaves. Then they are spread out to dry until the surface of the leaves turns lightly yellow. This fermentation last 1-2 hours and it is stopped by firing.

Chinese Oolong

Wulong teas have been highly revered in China for centuries. Fujian is the home of most of Chinese Oolong which grown in the Wuyi Shan region in north-western Fujian. It is an area of rocky limestone peaks, winding rivers and lush vegetation. The tea bushes are grown at high altitude and they are shaded by clouds and mist. The best known Chinese Oolong include Ti Kuan Yin and Da Hong Pao (Royal Red Robe). The last is known as a “rock-oolong tea” as it grows in the rocky crags of the Wuyi Shan area.

Da Hong Pao is formerly known as tribute tea as it is picked  from bushes around 360 years old from the Wuyi Sha region. This tea is oxidized 80% making it one of the darkest oolong teas of Fujian province. It is then charcoal-fired to give the tea a sweet aroma with a slight smoky flavour. Royal Red Robe refers to a sick Ming dynasty official who after drinking the tea recovered and in gratitude placed his cloak over the tea bushes.

Ti Kuan Yin is originated from Fujian province but it is also manufactured in Taiwan. It is translated as Iron Goddess of Mercy. The legend tell that “Guanyin” was an unmaintained temple of a goddess represented by an iron statue. A man was really desolate for the temple’s bad state and wanted to restore it. Once made, the Goddess give him a tea seed which would give him a lot of wealth. He planted the seed and the Ti Kuan Yin has grown. This tea has a floral aroma and a delicious buttery, nutty character and good body.

Chinese Monkey is a most celebrated tea and a most delectable oolong. Behind this curious name, there is an astonishing story. Many centuries ago, a Buddhist monk was picking tea leaves. His monkey saw his master picking leaves. Then, he climbed the tea tree and started plucking leaves too. The leaves collected by monkey brewed a unique flavour that those handpicked by monk himself. He was so impressed that he got his monkey to pick tea for him from the high mountains of Fujian province, unreachable by humans.  Soon the practice was adopted by others. In cup this tea gives a deep amber infusion wonderfully peachy, smooth and satisfying with a glorious floral aroma.

Formosa Oolong

Formosa Oolongs undergo a longer fermentation time, thus they are generally blacker than Chinese Oolongs. The best known Formosa oolongs include Pouchong, Dong Ding and Jade. They are harvested five time a year and the July and August crops generally receive the highest grades.

Dong Ding tea is grown in the high Formosa Tung Ting mountain of Nantou county. Its quality has been attributed to a continuous fog. It undergoes less fermentation than others Formosa oolongs. Leaves are roasted under charcoal during 40 minutes, that gives its special flavour with nutty and fruity elements.

Pouchong teas are lightly fermented between oolong and green tea. Once the leaves plucked, they dry in a paper wrapping and the term Pouchong refers to this manufacturing method. Those teas are usually not roasted and gives a delicious floral aroma.

Jade Oolong is a blue-green tea. The leaves are rolled into tight balls to yield a delicate golden infusion with floral aroma.

In oolong teas there is much variety within these fabulous Black Dragon teas. Whether a blacker or a greener style, you will find one to suit you.


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White Tea: the sublime tea drinking experience.

Bai Yinzhen (White Needle)
Baihao Yinzhen (White Needle)

In the China Dynasty of Song (960-1279), white tea was revered. Chinese people used to ground the white leaves into a silvery powder. This was an inspiration for the Japanese tea ceremony “Cha No Yu” with Matcha. This method had been abandoned in China for several years now.

White tea comes from Camelia Sinensis and grows primarily in the Fujian and Zehjian provinces of China. The main categories of White tea in China are the Bai Hao Yin Zhen and Bai Mu Dan. They are lightly oxidized. After being picked, white loose leaves are withered and drying in the sunlight. The name “white tea” derives from the fine silvery-white hairs on the unopened buds of the tea plant, which gives the plant a whitish appearance. In the cup it gives a yellow pale liquor and a smooth floral flavour. It must brew for 5 or 10 minutes in spring water boiled at 85°.  Water too hot could ruin all the vitamins contained in white tea. This tea contains a lot of anti-oxidants and it’s renowned in China to cure cardio-vascular diseases, diabetes and arthrosis. White teas also help with weight management and hydration to the body.

Bai Hao Yin Zhen named as White Hair Silver Needle is acknowledged to be the best white tea in the world as he contains only top buds (a traditional budset white tea). This tea is low produced because of a manufacture process difficult to manage. To get only 1 kg of White Needles, producers have to pick 120 000 buds. They are generally picked in early April during the first flush of young buds. Then they are laid into shallow basket to wilt under the sun or in a warm chamber. Once lightly oxidized, the buds are given a low temperature bake-dry.

Bai Mu Dan (Pai Mu Tan), literally White Peony is a type of white tea which contains buds picked with two young leaves. It gives generally a more full-bodied character than other white teas. Bai Mu Dan gives a pale green or golden brew and has a floral aroma which remain the peony fragrance. You also will notice fruity and grassy flavours. It tastes fresh and mellow.

White teas’ production has also extended to Anhui, Zhejiang and Yunnan provinces of China. Famous growing areas of India such as Assam and Darjeeling have also developed considerable skills in the production of superb white teas.


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An Insight into Japanese tea

Japanese tea ceremonyThe main Japanese tea producing regions are Shizuoka and Kagoshima in the south. Most Japanese teas are produced there: Sencha, Bancha, Gyokuro, Kabusecha as well as Kamairicha. Kyoto also called Uji is the region known for growing high-quality teas including Matcha and Gyuokuro. The Mie region produce mainly Kabusecha and Sencha varieties. Finally, the less famous teas of the Nara region including Sencha, Bancha and Kabusecha grow at an altitude between 650 and 1,650 feet on the Yamato plateau. Because the sea is only 75 miles away from the Japanese islands it gives iodized notes and a marine aroma to the tea leaves. The climate is cooler in tea Japanese producing regions, 50°F to 65°F and annual precipitation can be up to 60 inches.

In the 8th  Century, under the reign of the emperor Saga, the tea culture in Japan became important. The Japanese began to make powdered tea in the 12th century under the guidance of the monk Elisai. The famous Matcha is produced in the Uji and Shizuoka regions. The soft leaves are steamed, dried and powdered using a small millstone. The first tea master in Japan was Sen No Rikyû, he introduced the Japanese tea ceremony called  Cha No Yu inspired from Zen Buddhism. This ceremony is aimed at revealing the magnificance of the tea and also the importance of gestures we can all do daily. During the Cha No Yu, the tea master who wears a kimono uses a bowl, a boiler and a whip. He cleans his utensils in presence of his guests before preparing tea with a precise gesture. Then the host gives a bowl of tea to the guest of honour who will share it with all the other guests. Thus, each guest must drink only a few sips of the beverage.

Gyokuro means “precious rose” and is known as the highest grade of tea in Japan. It is made only with the first flush leaf and its special processing results in a tea with a sweet, mild flavour and fresh, flowery-green aroma. It contains less tannins and it’s rich in theanine which gives a smooth and umami taste. Gyokuro is a shaded tea, it means that the tea bushes are deprived of light during 3 weeks prior to harvest. This method confers to the Gyokuro its unique flavour and colour and its seaweed scent. Traditionally, the bushes are shaded by straw. This method would produce a better quality of Gyokuro.

Sencha is the most common variety of tea in Japan. “Sencha” could be translated as roasted tea, it refers to an older style of processing green tea inspired by Chinese methods. Today, Sencha is steamed instead of being pan-roasted to avoid oxidation. This tea is noted for its delicate sweetness, grassiness and flowery-green aroma. The first picking of the tea bush in April and May (known as ichi-ban cha), are considered to produce the highest quality Sencha. It produces a bright, luminescent green colour, strong aroma and pronounced sweetness.

Kabusecha is a type of Sencha shaded like Gyokuro during 2 weeks before picking. The Kabusecha tend to have a mellower flavour and subtler colour than sencha grown in direct sunlight.

Bancha could be translated as common tea. It is picked later in October from the same bushes as Sencha teas. Bancha is a lower grade of Sencha, it usually contains larger leaves and upper stems, which are discarded during the production of Sencha.  It’s unique flavour is distinguished by a straw scent and it’s much appreciate for it’s more robust flavour. This tea must not be infused over 2 minutes.

Genmaicha is  the Japanese name for green tea combined with roasted brown rice. It is sometimes referred to colloquially as “popcorn tea”. It gives a light and yellow brew and it combines the fresh vegetal flavour of the tea leaves and the nutty taste of the rice.

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