I’ve always known tea as the one universal ‘social’ beverage that can be had at any time of the year, with people of all ages and without having anyone judge you (you know what I mean!). Coming from India where most people like milky tea, I belong to the minority – those who don’t have Indian tea (or chai, as we call it) on a regular basis. Whenever I do need to give company to the tea-drinkers, I go for a cup of green tea or a fruit infusion.
Being a self-confessed ‘non-tea drinker’, I wondered whether a tea tasting experience would change my outlook towards one of the most popular beverages in the world. This session, conducted by Alison Appleton from Tea House in Liverpool triggered my interest towards the world of teas, enough to meet her again and learn more about what tea and how to appreciate it.
I was stunned by the beautiful range of teapots she designed herself and the wonderful selection of teas that are available on her website and are shipped to tea-lovers around the world. Selected pieces are also available on Amazon.
Alison shared with me a wealth of knowledge that sensitized me about to appreciate this humble cup that brings people together.
With Alison Appleton at the Tea House, Liverpool
What is tea
At first, I was baffled to learn that not all beverages available at the Tea House are actually Teas. As it turns out, tea comes from the leaves of a plant called Camellia Sinensis and these leaves contain caffeine. The different varieties of teas such as white, green, yellow, oolong and black tea get determined by the terrain, the climatic conditions, the picking time and the processing of this plant. The white tea with a light, perfume flavour is minimally processed, the green tea has a grassy, cabbage-like flavour, while the black tea is strong and completely oxidized.
Varieties such as Rooibos (which comes from Redbush in South Africa), and many fruit and ayurvedic infusions aren’t classified as ‘tea’ since the plant origin isn’t Camellia Sinensis. Also, these are quite popular since they don’t contain caffeine.
Tea preparations around the world
Tea is prepared in many different ways around the world.
In India, we put prepare tea (chai) on a cook stove, putting together water, milk, black tea leaves, ginger and spices bringing them to a boil and simmering enough till the tea releases its strong flavour and then strain the tea into a cup.
In England, on the other hand, the teas are infused in teapots. Traditionally, loose leaf teas are placed in the strainer of the teapot and left to infuse until the tea is ready to be served.
This is Marie Antoinette’s Tea – made with Chinese black tea which has a plummy and fruity undertone, blended with rose, cardamom, vanilla, ginger, and jasmine.
preparing a good cup of tea
Preparing a good cup of tea in a teapot is more than just adding the leaves to boiling water. I learned that the preparation time and methods can vary according to the type of tea.
In a teapot enough for two small cups of tea, we added two teaspoons of Jasmine Green Tea leaves in water heated at 70 degrees and brewed them for 3 minutes. This method of preparation would hold true for most Green Teas. Once brewed, we can take out the infuser and re-use the tea-leaves to infuse tea again. Good quality teas, like Dong Ding Tea from Taiwan can be infused up to four times over.
Adding boiling water or brewing for a longer time would alter the taste. If one prefers a stronger taste, Alison advises to add more tea leaves instead of brewing the tea for a longer period; increasing the brewing time would lead to a transformation of the delicate taste leading to bitterness. If additional spices or ginger needs to be added, that too can be added to the strainer in the teapot and left to infuse.
These days we also find tea in teabags, but after having loose leaf tea, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the teabags. Tea in a teabag gets brewed in just 30 seconds (because the grains are very fine), so it’s almost like instant tea. But as always, good things take a little extra time. I realized that loose leaf tea has more complexity of flavour (which is a good thing when it comes to tea). I know I’m never going back to having tea from teabags.
The lovely teapot designed by Alison
After tasting a variety of teas, here are some things I realized about appreciating our everyday cup of tea.
While selecting tea, be mindful that some tastes are worlds apart. Don’t be afraid to try out new blends. Alison said something that stuck with me – “if you only drink what you know, then you don’t know what you’re missing”. There’s a big world of tea that’s yet to be explored, and that’s something we wouldn’t want to miss out.
Brew your tea the right way, at the right temperature and for the right duration. I disliked Green Tea for a long time as I used to brew the teabag for almost 5 minutes in boiling water. It tasted bitter and I used to have it just because of its health benefits. Now, with this knowledge, we can save ourselves from this disaster, while taking in all the antioxidants!
I realized that appreciating tea is more than just good taste. It’s a multi-sensory experience. Smell the tea leaves when they’re dry and after you’ve poured it into your cup; notice if the smell is fruity, earthy or sweet. Having tea in a light coloured or transparent cup can help us appreciate the colour of the tea once prepared. Some tea blends have a light, fragrant undertone, while others can have ‘depth’ to the flavour. The warmth of the tea calms our senses, and being mindful of these little aspects of tea can help us appreciate them better.
The tea tasting experience and conversations with Alison have changed my perceptions about tea in a big way, and for the better. Now, my evening cup of tea is a ritual I follow not just to give company, but also to give myself a break from round-the-clock hustle. Can’t wait for my Jasmine Green Tea to be over, so that I can add something new into my me-time!
If you’re in Liverpool, or visiting here, you might want to have a cuppa at the Tea House. This little gem is a perfect place to catch up with friends or to have a cozy evening by yourself.
P.S. Alison gifted me the beautiful teapot she herself designed and the tea leaves so that I could appreciate tea the way it is meant to be. My opinions are honest and independent. Also, all the pictures are clicked by me. 🙂
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