Category: Types of Teas

History of Tea Types of Teas

Commemorating London’s Tea History

london-tea-history-men-in-front-of-plaque
Board members of The London Tea History Association, 22nd November 2016, at Commodity Quay, St. Katherine Dock, London.

Last November, I was invited by The London Tea History Association to the unveiling of their first  commemorative plaque on Commodity Quay, St. Katherine Docks.  to mark an important location in the history of the London tea trade.  The London Tea History Association was formed in 2014 with the purpose of marking important locations of the London tea trade  before they should disappear in the rapidly changing City landscape. The St. Katherine Dock warehouses  were completed in 1826, providing storage for many of the luxury commodities flooding into London such as tea, sugar, spices etc.

Imported by the East India Company, the China teas were offloaded further downstream at the East India Docks and then transported in wagons along the newly built Commercial Road to bonded near East India House, on the site of the present Lloyd’s building.  The tea was then sold in twice yearly auctions. Once purchased by London wholesalers and dealers, tea and other precious commodities would have been stored in warehouses such as those at Commodity Quay ready for distribution up and down the river and the rest of the UK.

The East offering its riches to Britannia, Roma Spiradone, 1778. This allegorical painting, now perceived as a typical eulogy of that era to British imperial domination, was commissioned by the East India Company for the Revenue Committee Room in the East India House in Leadenhall Street. Note the Chinese case of tea and porcelain jar in the right forefront of the painting.

During the 18th and early 19th Centuries,  the popularity of tea drinking owes much to its role  in the social arena of the domestic home. An excellent example of this can be found in Cranford, Elizabeth Gaitskell, 1853. Set around 1830, tea parties play a key role in the social interactions of the respectable ladies in this small country town and exemplify the codes of genteel behaviour employed in polite society. The description of Miss Betty Barker’s tea party in Chapter 7 is a joy.

By this time the drinking of tea had become a habit of the British.  I would suggest however it is not this tea that is regarded as “British or English tea” in the present day. We have the continued desire to make money and role of Empire to thank for that.

After the East India company lost its monopoly of the ‘East India trade’ in 1833, direct Chinese trade was open to all. Demand for tea in Great Britain continued to grow, proportionate to an increasing population, with an annual consumption per capita of 1lb/450gms around 1850. Trading relations with the Chinese, never easy, became increasingly difficult. Tea  plants (categorised as Camellia Sinensis, Sinensis meaning Chinese)  were brought out of China with reluctant teams of Chinese tea growers to grow in the areas of Assam and Darjeeling in northern India,  and under East India Company rule.  Those transplanted to the Darjeeling region were cultivated successfully, the topography being similar to the tea growing provinces in China. Darjeeling teas have their own distinctive muscatel character, and have become known as the Champagne of teas. Today you can expect to pay around £50 per ib/450g for a highly prized early-season picked darjeeling that is worthy of this title.

In Assam the cultivation of the imported tea plants was less successful. However a similar indigenous plant (Camellia Sinensis Var. Assamica)  was discovered growing wild and also put under cultivation. Indian teas started to appear in very small quantities on the London tea market in the 1830s, as much a novelty as anything else. In December 1838,  Queen Victoria recorded in her diary “ ….Talked of this Assam Tea which I had tasted and thought good; …..”.

Chart demonstrating the breakdown of teas imported from China, India and Ceylon from the mid 17th Century to the end of the 19th Century. Information taken from East India Company import ledger (Tsiology: A Discourse On Tea. Being An Account of that Exotic: etc, BY A TEA DEALER, 1824, The Making of theModern British Diet, Derek J Oddy and Derek S Miller, 1976
Chart demonstrating the breakdown of teas imported from China, India and Ceylon from the mid 17th Century to the end of the 19th Century. Information taken from Tsiology: A Discourse On Tea. Being An Account of that Exotic: etc, BY A TEA DEALER, 1824,  and The Making of the Modern British Diet, Derek J Oddy and Derek S Miller, 1976.

From 1865 to 1890 imports of Empire or “British” grown teas exploded onto the London tea market. By the end of the 19th century, annual consumption per capita increased to approx 6ib/ 3kg in the UK (4 cups per day). This demand was fulfilled by the teas put under cultivation in Assam, and other parts of mainland India and Ceylon. Despite the exhortations by William Corbett in his 1822 treatise Cottage Economy, decrying the evils of tea and applauding the benefits of home brewed ale, tea supplanted beer as the staple beverage of every British home, whether the grandest palace or the meanest hovel. In addition, the resiliant Assamica tea plants were robust enough to be planted for mass production in other countries under British rule such as present-day Kenya and Malawi. Each country lends its own regional character to the tea plant, however the general character is that of the Assam plant with its tannic aftertaste. These teas poured into London to be auctioned, purchased by the British companies and frequently repackaged for export.  A British tea was born.

Lipton's Tea; advertisement 1894
Lipton’s Tea; advertisement 1894

The 20th Century saw major upheavals throughout the world. Between the two wars, from 1926 to 1933, The Empire Marketing Board pursued a large scale aggressive advertisement campaign to increase consumer purchasing of Empire produced goods.  The messaging on the posters was tailored to men and women separately in order to support the old styled imagery connected to the Empire, often with men depicted as ‘Empire Builders’ and showing women buying empire products, especially food. The advertisements attempted to stir patriotic feelings amongst citizens of the Empire.

Empire Board Advertisement, borrowed from an excellent article about Empire Board Advertisements. Click on the picture to take you through to the blog.
Empire Board Advertisement, borrowed from an excellent article about Empire Board Advertisements. Click on the picture to take you through to the blog.

British colonial life is no more.  Ownership of the ‘British’ tea trade has been taken back by the countries in which tea is produced. Whilst there was a boom in demand for tea after the second world war, by the latter part of the 20th Century the tea broking industry no longer congregated on London as the main purchasing and trading point. Newer and more modern trading techniques have taken over. Glass and steel temples to mammon have been erected as the buildings that had stored and traded tea,  plus other ‘Colonial’ commodities, have been demolished or remodelled, frequently becoming luxury apartments overlooking the River Thames.

The London Tea History Association has identified at least three other suitable locations for further plaques: The Tea Building in Shoreditch that once housed the Liptons Tea Factory in the early 20th century, the newly built Plantation Place, located on the site of Plantation House where tea auctions took place from 1952 to 1971, and at Sir John Lyon House (on Upper Thames Street), heart of the London tea trade from 1971 to 2000.

If you would like to support the work of the London Tea History Association, you can do so here. I am sure  you will agree London’s tea history is worth preserving. Please do let me know of any places you think are worthy of consideration for a plaque.

Brewing Tea History of Tea Tools and Equipment Types of Teas

Captivated by Jean-Etienne Liotard’s ‘Still Life: Tea Set’

Tea making paraphernalia

Jean-Etienne Liotard - Still Life Tea Set
Still Life: Tea Set,  1781-1783,  Jean-Etienne Leotard (Swiss, 1702-1789), Oil on canvas mounted on board. J Paul Getty Museum, Getty Centre, Museum South Pavilion, Gallery S203.  

I have quite fallen in love with this painting, which I only discovered recently in my continual quest to clarify the question,  ‘How and why is tea regarded as an English drink?’ For me this picture oozes sensuality that embodies the mystery and magic of Cathay, the country from which the tea has travelled. I just want to touch the delicately decorated porcelain and know more about the tea party that has just taken place.

What is it that we see in this picture?

We have a painted tole tray placed on a table. On the tray, the porcelain is decorated in the Chinese style (chinoiserie). There is a round bellied tea pot, a tea caddy, a lidded jug (either for milk or hot water), a bowl containing lumps of sugar, a plate containing some bread and butter, six tea bowls and saucers, and a large slop bowl into which any spent leaves can be placed. Each tea bowl and saucer has its own silver spoon and and there is a pair of silver sugar tongs sitting on the sugar bowl  to serve sugar into each cup.

What can I tell, just from looking at what is on display?

The delicate porcelain is likely to be European made and painted with what was perceived as Chinese imagery and fuelling our image of Cathay, “..… a continent of immeasurable extent lying just beyond the eastern confines of the known world. Of this mysterious and charming land, poets are the only historians and porcelain painters the most reliable topographers. …..  Even if creating the delicate porcelain in ‘the known world’ , the magical exoticism of the East was still highly aspirational.

The delicate pale colour of the tea is worth noting; a delicate Chinese tea, possibly green or oolong. It looks a delicate elixir that I long to taste. The richly dark tea that is now regarded as being English tea is really Indian or Ceylon in origin and did not appear in Europe before the 1840s and only exceeded the  volume  of China tea sales by the 1890s.

The tea bowls have no handles and, as far I can see and would expect, the saucers have no indent shape for the cup. The European tea sets of this period were likely to be made in sets of twelve tea bowls (that later had a handle attached), twelve coffee cans and twelve saucers that could be used for either. It was not anticipated that tea and coffee would be served at the same time. **

The plate of bread and butter is another point of interest. I have found this bread and butter plate appearing in paintings relating to tea drinking as early as 1720 and, having read numerous Nineteenth Century housekeeping and cookery books, there is evidence that suggests that bread and butter was served alongside tea as to drink tea without any food might be injurious to health. I have found we English were slightly obsessed with bread and butter, serving this alongside sandwiches or toast, muffins or tea cakes! But that is a topic for a blog post all on its own.

Do we know anything about the tea party guests?

This picture depicts the end of the party – there is a general sense of disorder and mess however there is also a display of (English) tea drinking etiquette of the period. Some cups have been turned upside down or alternatively the spoons have been placed in the tea bowl. These actions both indicate that the guest no longer wish to be served any more tea – they know how to demonstrate this to their host without either person having to say anything. Even though no people are in the picture the owner of the picture would have known the messages being transmitted; sophistication, refinement and knowledge of polite behaviour.

How can we relate this to today’s drinking etiquette?

There are still echoes of this opaque behaviour today. You wait until your hostess offers you the tea (or the second cup of tea). If she forgets to serve you (people could sit, not saying a word until the hostess notices her error) it would almost be impolite to highlight her ‘impolite’ behaviour. Being direct is not the English way – rituals are played out with coded behaviour such as turning the cup upside down or putting the spoon within the cup. In the same way, if someone offers you something on the tea table such as the jam or some milk, make sure that you offer it back to them – their offer to you might be an indirect request.

What tea should you consider drinking to capture the magic of this picture?

Newby's 100g Gourmet Caddy - Prime DarjeelingMy modern day favourite would be a delicate darjeeling. I recommend Newby Teas Gourmet Darjeeling (pictured right). I like the fact this mainly a second flush Darjeeling which almost has more flavour than a first but if it is an early season picking then you get the very delicate Muscatel taste. Newby is what I call a risk taker in the world of tea in that they trust their judgement in finding you good teas rather than relying on the latest tea selling trends – most tea companies now are selling early season single estate first flush Darjeelings and sometimes these can be a little thin on flavour.

The Newby Prime Gourmet tea is not cheap at £48 for 100grams (at time of writing) however it is good value. It comes in a caddy and is vacuum packed sealed for freshness.

I brewed the Newby Prime Darjeeling tea using water off the boil, around 90 degrees (although technically this is classed as a black tea, and usually boiling water is recommend, this would just scorch the very delicate leaves). Just a glorious nectar-like flavour and I can visualise the taste of when looking at Jean-Etienne Liotard’s painting.

I  offer tours around the Victoria and Albert Museum to show how Chinoiserie and tea, the drink of Cathay became embedded in British life – I’d love you to join me if this is something you would like to learn more about.


Chinoiserie, The Vision of Cathay, Honour, Hugh, 1973, John Murray, London, p5.                                 ** A Cup of Tea, An Afternoon Anthology of Fine China and Tea Traditions, Geraldine Holt, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1991, p16.

Brewing Tea Reviews Tools and Equipment Types of Teas

Tea Review: The Tea Makers, London

Review of tea from The Tea Makers, LondonCaroline Hope Review of The Tea Makers

A few weeks ago I was sent a sample pack of teas to review from The Tea Makers of London. If you are thinking of buying anything tea-related for Christmas, their website is well worth a look – they have some beautifully presented products and a wide variety of teas. I asked my friend, Hugo to come and help me with the tasting as he is passionate about different teas, drinks and food. (He once presented me with a gift of smoked eel from his travels, for which I don’t think I was very grateful !). Here is our verdict…

Tea Tasting - The Tea Makers
My friend Hugo smelling the aroma of  the tealeaves

Tea Types

A box duly arrived containing three teas, along with an unusual Tea infuser in which to brew the tea.

The three teas and infuser were:

For all three teas, I used freshly boiled water (100 degrees) and water straight from the tap. All three teas were brewed for 4 minutes before separating the leaves from the liquor. Here are our thoughts…

The Tea Makers DarjeelingDarjeeling House Blend

We both liked this. It had a pale, lively looking liquor and the leaves had a grassy, lemony aroma. The tea was soft, or smooth on the tongue with a slightly astringent finish. It has the typical floral sweet aroma of a good Darjeeling. I have also given this to other people and they have commented how nice it is. I would anticipate it is a blend of first and second flushes and recommend drinking this tea without milk.

 

 

 

The Tea Makers English BreakfastEnglish Breakfast

I noted this was a blend of 100% Ceylon teas, which I found interesting. English Breakfast is traditionally a blend of Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan teas in varying proportions according to the tea merchant. I was interested to see if this tea would deliver a similar punch. I felt the dry leaf was very dark in colour, almost inky black and looked quite ‘skinny’. According to Hugo “….. the wet leaf was very dark and had an agricultural aroma”. The liquor had a caramel colour and, despite not being as heavy as some English breakfast blends, it still packed a good punch to get you going in the morning. I would suggest serving this with milk. It is typical of what is perceived today as a ‘British’ tea.

The Tea Maker's Luxury Ceylon PekoeLuxury Ceylon Pekoe

This was an interesting looking tea. The dry leaf had a greeny/grey hue and was rolled, presumably by hand, to almost look like some Oolong teas I have had. The brewed liquor was quite orange in colour, you could feel the tannins on the tongue, and it had a certain muddiness in taste – hints of puerh. For me, this was an unusual tea for Ceylon.

 

The Magic Infuser

The Magic Infuser from The Tea MakerYou can brew the tea in the infuser as you would a glass tea pot, and you gain a sense of theatre as you watch the leaves change colour.

Once the tea is brewed you then place it over a mug or small pot and the liquor is released into the receptacle, leaving the spent leaves behind in the receptacle. For me, this is a tad gimmicky and I don’t find it an attractive looking object. It is made of plastic, so could be subject to staining in time. I also feel it does really retain the heat well enough during the brewing process for a black tea. The volume at 500ml is really suitable for 2 mugs and switching from one mug to another takes a bit of practice. Possibly it is more suited to brewing green or oolong teas that don’t require boiling water. There is no reason also why you could not rebrew the (green/oolong) leaves.

Overall View

I think The Tea Makers are well worth a look to buy some unusual teas this Christmas – one of my students on the City Lit tea tasting course ordered a lot of their sampling packs and was very pleased with what she received. They also do the tea pyramids or Trianes, superior large tea bags in which you can see the large leaves unfurling.

Thank you to Tea Makers of London for the opportunity to write a review of their teas. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.

Brewing Tea Ingredients Types of Teas

Resources for your tea making, selection and enjoyment

Caroline Hope shares her tea sources

This is a list of resources that I normally share with anyone who comes along to any of my tea workshops, tastings, courses or demonstrations. You may find them helpful in your tea journey:

Places to buy good quality tea:

Screenshot 2015-11-23 14.23.53Probably the most well known tea merchant in London, Fortnum and Mason  have an excellent selection of high quality teas from a Puerh block of tea costing £3,000 down to the humble breakfast blend. All taste is catered for here. There is excellent advice from the staff about brewing techniques for each tea that is practical and not too faddy. They are happy to show you the different high grade leaves before you buy. I would recommend them for the special teas more than the every day ones.

Mariage Freres at SelfridgesMariage Freres at Selfridges (400 Oxford Street, London). This French company now have a concession in the basement in Selfridges. I found the tea buying experience quite different as all the staff are French and have very clear views on how all the teas should be brewed i.e. using water heated to 95 degrees for all their black teas which I found quite surprising. It is worth remembering that each nation has a different palate and how they enjoy their tea though. I did buy some excellent first flush Darjeeling here and again there is an opportunity to see and smell the leaves before you buy.

Newby Teas LondonNewby Teas (offices located at 105 St John Street, London EC1M 4AS;  Telephone 020 7251 8989). I worked for this company for some time and my appreciation of tea really came about during my time here. Excellent quality tea and very importantly the packaging of the tea is treated with equal respect. All their loose leaf tea is supplied in vacuum packed foil bags so it does not really age. It is possible to buy their loose leaf teas by mail order. A small selection of high quality loose leaf silken pyramid bags can be found in Waitrose. Really excellent superior ‘every day’ Darjeeling (first and second flush blend), and similar quality Assam, English Breakfast and Earl Grey. Excellent website for purchasing tea.

Postcard TeasPostcard Teas located  on Dering Street, (off Bond Street) London W1S 1AG (Tel: 020 7629 3654). Owned by an English husband and Japanese wife team, the focus in the shop is on very high quality delicate teas, early season Darjeelings, Chinese and Japanese teas. This shop has a far more oriental feel.

Rare Tea Company
The Rare Tea Company (tel: 020 7681 0115) have a small selection of very fine, mainly Chinese teas. Sold mainly by mail order and top end supermarkets. Henrietta Lovell owns the company – she calls herself the Tea Lady.

 

Canton Tea CompanyCanton Tea Company (tel: 0844 4176363) – another company specialising in high quality rare teas – many from China and Japan.

 

Twinings tea Twinings (on 216 Strand, London, WC2R 1AP) is the most ‘English’ of tea companies, their history can be recorded back to the early 18th century. They have a tiny little shop just off the Strand with a large selection of teas that are of a far higher quality than those found on the standard supermarket shelf. The quality varies from a selection of top end teas to a wide range of cheaper teabags – the shop is charming and has many teas to choose from.

Algerian Coffee ShopThe Algerian Coffee Store (address: 52 Old Compton St, London, W1D 4PB, tel: 020 7437 2480). This company has been strongly recommended to me by a student on a tea tasting course I gave at City Lit. It is always worth remembering that Coffee Houses traditionally sold tea along with a variety of other products including tea – however always known as coffee houses.

Remember you can also follow me

I have a Facebook Page and am on Twitter – so please do join me there and ask me any questions you may have. I blog about all sorts of subjects related to baking, preparing and hosting an Afternoon Tea as well as preparing the perfect cup of tea  – and contact me with any questions about English tea drinking customs.

Brewing Tea Types of Teas

My 10 Top Tips For Making a Perfectly Delicious Cup of Tea

Nowadays we are so inundated with choice and, in looking recently at the food halls in John Lewis, I thought “How on earth can anyone tell, when faced by a bank of beautifully packaged cartons which teas were going to taste good or not?”  It almost feels a bit like looking at endless rows of wine.

But, for me the answer to this question has two easy parts:

The first – just keep buying and tasting different teas until you find those that you like – ideally you will trust the brand you like.

The second – is to brew your tea with care.  A cheap tea made properly will taste far better than a high quality tea made badly.

I don’t know about you, but I do not have the patience to use kettles with thermometers and Caroline pouring teagetting things ‘just so’. However there are certain key rules to follow that will definitely make a difference to how your cup will taste. I honestly believe (and have tested) that the following points do indeed make the difference. (And yes in my tea lab (i.e. kitchen) I have tested both black and green teas using boiling hard and soft water and off-the-boil hard and soft water.)

So, here are my tips for Black Teas:

TIP 1: The tea will taste best using freshly boiled water with a  pH balance of 7 or above.

The ph balance increases the harder the water (with a higher calcium and magnesium content). (The famous Mrs Beeton even recommends putting a pinch of bicarbonate of soda in with the boiling water – at first I thought this most odd but realise it would make the water more alkaline.)

TIP 2: Ensure that you only boil your water once.

If you repeatedly boil water that sits in the kettle, then cools and is then reboiled, you will lose the oxygen.

TIP 3: Make sure that your water does reach boiling point (100 °C) and then pour straight into your (ideally) warmed cup or tea pot.

If you heat your pot prior to pouring in the boiling water the leaves will brew at a higher temperature than in a cold pot.

TIP 4: Don’t use continuous hot water taps or large urns.

The water is usually just below boiling otherwise it would be bubbling away. If your water is not boiling the tea will taste flat and lifeless.

TIP 5: Use a good quality tea or a good quality tea bag– it does make a difference.

If you like a strong robust cup of tea try a high quality Assam that has the malty richness that can be diluted with milk if appropriate but lacks the harsh tannic that leaves a ‘rough’ taste in the mouth.

TIP 6: Brew your tea long enough for the flavour to infuse into the boiling water (read this with Tip 7.)

TIP 7: Understand the type of tea you are drinking

If you like a delicate fragrant tea you are probably not going to like a strong punchy Assam but itTea Types would be worth trying a Darjeeling or Keemun. Don’t try and brew the Assam for less time as a compensation for strength of flavour. You don’t water down red wine to create a white wine – you buy a different bottle. Tea is the same.

TIP 8: Remove the tea leaves after infusing for three to four minutes.

This will stop the tea from stewing or going bitter. With a tea bag it is easy to remove from a pot or mug. If using loose leaves I would recommend either a special tea pot where the leaves can be blocked off from the water, a disposable tea filter(a fill-your-own-tea bag), or a tea brewing basket that can be removed after brewing.

The extra tips I would give you for Green teas:

TIP 9:  Leave your kettle to sit for about 5 minutes after boiling so it can cool down.

Then pour over the leaves. This makes an enormous difference to the roundness of flavour in the mouth. Boiling water makes the green tea taste bitter.

TIP 10: If you can, use water with a lower pH balance (I used some bottled water with a level of 6.2) this water is slightly more acidic.

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If you are interested in learning more about tea, I offer tutored tea tastings on scheduled dates. I am teaching a specialist tea tasting course spanning four weeks at City Lit in Spring 2014 and some single module classes in Summer 2014. Alternatively, if you would like to chat to me about some one-to-one time for a private class for you or a group of friends – please feel free to call me on 020 3730 3788, email me at caroline@carolinehope.co.uk or Tweet me on @Caroline__Hope.