Tea and food

In New York : my tea tasting lesson

22 November 2011
In New York : my tea tasting lesson

I’ve just returned from New York, where I gave a tea tasting lesson to 35 journalists, bloggers and students from the prestigious French Culinary Institute. Cyrille and Aurélie Bessière, who moved to New York to foster a taste for fine teas among Americans, also took part in the exercise.

Having talked about the different colours of tea, and explained how to prepare them, we all tasted five different teas, taking time to consider their aromas, flavours and textures. Then, in the company of chef Mélanie Franks, who is well known for her use of tea in cooking, we set about tasting some interesting pairings of tea and cheese.

On the subject, I recommend you try a fresh goat’s cheese with a Dong Ding. You’ll find the creaminess of the former goes very well with the roundness of the latter. And if you want a different way of experiencing your Butterfly of Taiwan, serve it with an Ossau Iraty. A pure delight!

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I have just tasted the very first teas of the season

4 November 2011
I have just tasted the very first teas of the season

In Darjeeling, October marks the start of the autumn tea harvest. Once the Diwali and Dussehra festivals are over, the workers start plucking the leaves, of which there are now too many after the holidays. A week later, they carry out a more delicate plucking which will serve to produce a high quality tea.

Here, with Abishek Dev, grower at the Teesta Valley Tea Estate, I am tasting the very first teas of the season.

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On my way to Darjeeling, I often stop at Longview

11 October 2011
On my way to Darjeeling, I often stop at Longview

I’m on my way to Darjeeling. On my journey, I sometimes stop at Longview Tea Estate, the first tea plantation in this appellation. It doesn’t always produce great teas, as not all of its various plots get enough sun, but at certain times of the year, on the highest part of the plantation, Longview produces some very good teas, earlier than other gardens. Here, under the watchful eye of the grower, I’m assessing the aromas of the different lots I’m going to taste.

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A tea organ to introduce people to aromas

30 September 2011
A tea organ to introduce people to aromas

We don’t get many opportunities to develop our sense of smell in today’s world. This sense is rather neglected, and while children learn about colours at school, the same cannot be said about different types of aroma.

Yet we all have the ability to memorise a great number of smells. But you do need a method of remembering them, and the easiest way is to give them a name. By naming a smell, as we have done with each of the colours we are familiar with, we can remember it easily. Then you simply move on to the next one.

This “tea organ”, which featured at the recent Maison & Objet fair, is a fun way of introducing people to aromas and helping them learn to recognise some of the key fragrance groups.

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Tasting rooms have windows to let in the sunlight

6 September 2011
Tasting rooms have windows to let in the sunlight

When tasting tea, it is good to have a source of natural light in which to judge the leaves and the infusion, as well as the liquor. It means you can assess the tea not just on its taste and aroma, but also on its appearance.

This is why, on most plantations, the tasting room has windows right down one side, to let in the sunlight. The cups of tea are placed along the windows, and while the tea is infusing, I can spread the dry leaves on a card in order to get a good look at them and judge the quality of the plucking. Or, while waiting for the timer to tell me when the infusion is ready, I can take my camera, as I did here in Darjeeling, and find the best angle to immortalise this beautiful morning light.

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Smelling the wet tea leaves : an essential step

26 August 2011
Smelling the wet tea leaves : an essential step

When you taste tea, the first thing you do is look at the dry tea leaf, of course. Then you bring the liquor to your lips and analyse the flavours, aromas and texture. But assessing the qualities of a tea includes another important step: smelling the wet leaves that have just been infused. For this, we can follow the example of Peter Orchard, manager of Kuwapani Tea Estate, who you see here, plunging his nose into the leaves while they’re still warm. Peter is looking at me but he is elsewhere, concentrating intently on the smell of the infusion, a smell which says a great deal about the quality of the lot he has just tasted.

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Hot tea is more refreshing than cold tea

18 August 2011
Hot tea is more refreshing than cold tea

The summer is upon us in France, and with it comes the heat. Many people like iced tea at this time of year, simply because they want a refreshing drink. But it’s funny that in regions where it is very hot – like the Sahara, but there are many other examples – people tend to drink their tea hot. In fact, hot tea is considered more refreshing than cold tea. This is because the closer the liquid’s temperature is to body temperature, the less it will provoke a temperature change. And this temperature change is one of the reasons we sweat.

Our love of iced drinks comes from the other side of the Atlantic, and when a food-related fashion arrives from that region, we are not necessary wrong to question it. My suggestion for fans of iced tea is to shun the overly sweetened – in my opinion – commercial varieties and instead to make your own delicious teas using water at room temperature, and to drink them chilled.

Or, as I am here to tell you about the different customs relating to tea, you can also celebrate the arrival of the warm season by drinking a hot tea with mint leaves, like this one, served on the banks of the river Nile.

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Tea tasting with Dilan and Vidusha

9 August 2011
Tea tasting with Dilan and Vidusha

Last week, in the company of Dilan Wijeyesekera and Vidusha Wakista, I tasted teas from the regions of Dimbula, Uva and Nuwara Eliya, side by side.

Dilan and Vidusha work for the company Mabroc and supply some of our teas from Sri Lanka, which come either from their own plantations or the Colombo auctions.

We also discussed “low growns”, teas from the south of the country that grow at a low altitude, and which have steadily improved in quality over the years. Most low tea plantations don’t use the rotorvane, a machine widely used on high grown plantations, which handles the leaves more roughly than the orthodox procedure.

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Preparing tea requires precision

26 July 2011
Preparing tea requires precision

Preparing tea requires a certain amount of precision when it comes to professional tasting. If you are preparing to taste and compare a number of teas, it is essential that the infusion takes place in exactly the same conditions for them all.

So everything is done with attention: the water must be at the correct temperature, the recipients must be clean and of the same colour. The exact same quantity of leaves is placed into each pot, to the nearest tenth of a gram. Then the infusion can begin – timed, of course.

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The art of tasting tea with or without milk

28 June 2011
The art of tasting tea with or without milk

At the Amgoorie Tea Estate, tea is tasted both with and without milk. This is because some of the tea produced by this plantation is particularly full-bodied, and is appreciated by British consumers. So by lightening each cup with a cloud of milk, we are tasting the tea in the same way as the customer.

While adding milk is sacrilege for the finest teas, it is natural for more powerful brews. The milk reduces the astringency and sensation of bitterness.

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