Tea and food

Tea can infuse directly in the glass

11 May 2012
Tea can infuse directly in the glass

In China, tea is often infused directly in the glass. As you drink your “cha”, your host tops it up with hot water. To stop the leaves going in your mouth, you bring your teeth together, which doesn’t prevent you from smiling at the same time.

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I taste about 50 teas a day

30 March 2012
I taste about 50 teas a day

This March I’ve tasted about 50 samples of tea a day. The first flush Darjeelings launch the season, followed swiftly by the Nepalese teas. A little later it’s the turn of the new-season China green teas. Then the Japanese Ichibancha. The teas are tasted blind, of course. The ritual is always the same: having smelt the infusion, you suck in the liquor and swish it around your mouth. You analyse the texture, the flavours, the aroma groups. You take your time. You taste and you taste again. You have to concentrate… Except for when a photographer bursts into the tasting room and captures the moment.

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New samples of tea have just been delivered

20 March 2012
New samples of tea have just been delivered

For the past two days samples of tea have been delivered in large numbers at my tasting room. As soon as they arrive I taste the contents of the little bags on which are marked the name of the garden, the lot number, the grade and the quantity of tea produced.

This is it! In Darjeeling, the season is now properly underway.

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First flush Darjeelings: the good way to infuse them

13 March 2012
First flush Darjeelings: the good way to infuse them

If there’s a group of teas that is particularly sensitive to the infusion time, it’s the Darjeelings. Thirty seconds too long and your tea will be bitter due to excessive astringency. First flush Darjeelings must be infused correctly: the water should be around 85 degrees and the infusion time should be between 3’30 and 3’45 maximum. With Darjeelings, the flavour and aroma balance is very delicate, so to appreciate them fully, you’d be wise to heed this friendly advice.

While you’re waiting for your tea to infuse, you can follow my example and have fun taking a picture of the timer. This rather rustic one reigns in the tasting room on the Barnesbeg Tea Estate (India).

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Preparing tea according to the Gong Fu method

28 February 2012
Preparing tea according to the Gong Fu method

In Taiwan and in some regions of China, tea is prepared according to the Gong Fu method. This requires a very small teapot, smelling cups, tasting cups and a tea boat, a hollow vessel into which you pour the water used to rinse the tea and the cups.

The Gong Fu method consists of infusing the same tea leaves repeatedly for just a few seconds at a time. Each infusion, known as “water”, releases new aromas, until there are no more.

This method is particularly appropriate for the preparation of certain Wu Long or Pu Er teas. On Sunday I tasted a 2008 Pu Er Xiao using this method: it was a real treat.

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How to warm up with tea

7 February 2012
How to warm up with tea

With the cold you are battling in France at the moment, you need to keep warm. Always have to hand a kettle filled with fresh water. A singing kettle, for example, whose song warms the soul and lifts the spirits.

A song calling you for tea.

Everywhere in India you see tea vendors in the streets and on the roadsides. With a kettle purring over what are sometimes simple wood fires, they are always busy. On the roads of the Himalayas, they might set up stall on the corner of a rock. You squat down next to the vendor and take your time sipping the scalding blend of tea, milk and spices. You simply take time to do yourself some good.

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An olfactory journey in the streets of Hong Kong

31 January 2012
An olfactory journey in the streets of Hong Kong

Walking through the streets of Hong Kong is an olfactory journey. In this city where street food is sold on every corner, the many stalls – there’s one every ten metres or so – give off copious, diverse and unusual smells: duck skin crackling over the heat, sizzling lumps of fat, garlicky vegetables frying in the wok, caramelised pork. There are fried noodles, fritters and dim sum of all kinds.

With all the greasy smoke, the stalls overflowing with delicious food, it’s a real wake-up for the senses. Whatever the time of day or night, it makes you want to dig into a big bowl of steaming noodles.

Nowhere as much as here, in Hong Kong, in this city that never stops and that dazzles with a thousand neon lights, have I ever had such a strong sense that man was put on this earth to eat.

Luckily, there are also tea houses where you can take a seat and follow the owner’s advice, and taste with him a few leaves of Pu Er, delicately broken off an old tea cake. Then you can take time to savour your tea, and think about this island and its hyperactive inhabitants who consume with such frenzy.

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Tasting tea is like tasting wine

16 December 2011
Tasting tea is like tasting wine

Tasting tea is a bit like tasting wine. You take some of the liquid in your mouth and swirl it around gently. Then comes what we call “retro olfaction”: you exhale air through your nose, directing the aromas towards your olfactory bulb. With your head slightly lowered, your cheeks sucked in, you hold the liquid around your tongue and inhale through your mouth several times. By exhaling this air out through your nose, you increase your olfactory capacity to its maximum.

We use this method to enhance our assessment of a tea. It’s necessary when you want to describe a tea’s aromatic profile, for example.

Here, with one of his assistants, is my friend Anil Jha in action. His Turzums and other Sungmas have acquired an excellent reputation.

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Tea tasting: a special moment

9 December 2011
Tea tasting: a special moment

Tea tasting is a special moment for me. While we wait for the teas to infuse, we talk, or we look at the dry leaves. Then, when the tea is ready, we exchange cups, without a sound. We inhale the aromas of the leaves, look at the liquor, and taste it. Then we compare it with the cup beside it. It is a moment of pleasure and of concentration. Hand movements are precise and slow. To me, this serenity is important in order to appreciate all the pleasures offered by a cup of tea.

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Length of infusion varies from one tea to another

25 November 2011
Length of infusion varies from one tea to another

Tea needs infusing for a specific length of time, and this can vary a great deal from one fine tea to another. A Japanese Gyokuro, for example, only needs infusing for a few seconds, while a white tea like Yin Zhen must steep for 10 minutes.

With some teas, like a Long Jing, for example, if you exceed the infusion time a little, it’s not a problem, and it won’t make much different to the final brew. However, if you leave a first flush Darjeeling for just a minute longer than you should, it’s quite simple: you’ll ruin it. It will become astringent and bitter.

So that’s why we need a timer when we prepare a good quality tea, and why we emphasise the importance of attention to detail with the infusion, to ensure you get the best from your tea.

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