We hear a lot about carbon footprints, and when we consider tea, we immediately think of transport, whether by sea or air. Yet when you drink your cup of tea, do you know the biggest factor in its carbon footprint? It is the energy required for heating the water. The use of your kettle has a much greater impact than the transportation of a few leaves that barely weigh anything. So, when you’re preparing your cuppa, if you want to reduce your carbon footprint, make sure you only heat the amount of water you actually need, and switch off the kettle at the required temperature. This is much more efficient than boiling twice as much water, or heating it too much and then leaving it to cool.
When you taste a large number of teas that are particularly tannic and astringent, you have to decide whether to swallow or not. In order to protect their palate, a taster will swill the liquor around in their mouth to analyse it, then spit it out. This allows them to remain neutral when assessing the next sample.
If you’re someone who thinks about the health of our planet and you want to reduce your use of packaging, you might consider what benefit there is in using a tea bag instead of loose-leaf tea next time you’re brewing a cuppa. It’s true that when we’re on a flight or staying in a hotel it’s nice to have our favourite tea to hand, and it wouldn’t be convenient to carry around a canister.
But at home or at work, it’s so easy to use a teapot or a mug with an infuser. Tea bags are practical, of course. But it’s not difficult to measure out tea leaves: a pinch between three fingers is about right for a 10cl cup. Then pour over the hot water. So simple. And it does away with one, two or even three layers of packaging.
Now the temperatures have dropped, we want to drink different types of teas from those we enjoyed in warmer weather. This season calls for rounder, fuller liquors; warm, woody notes; spicy and stewed fruit flavours. Here are some suggestions for teas to sip by the fire. Try a Jukro from South Korea for its cocoa notes, a Chinese Qimen Hong Cha Mao Feng for its leather notes, a Dianhong Jin Ya for its honey notes, a Dongyan Shan Tie Guan Yin from Taiwan for its stewed fruit notes, a Japanese Shiraore Kuki Hojicha for its toasted notes, and a Spirit of Smoke from Malawi for its smoky notes.
The Christmas logs designed by our leading pastry chefs are eagerly anticipated. We always look forward to the moment when the log is revealed, and we can admire its form and flavour. There is no limit on the imagination.
I’d like to present the Christmas log by Bryan Esposito, Head Pastry Chef at the Hôtel du Collectionneur in Paris. He was inspired by tea, and not just any tea either – No. 25 Black Tea by Palais des Thés. This exquisite creation has more than a touch of Alice’s Wonderland about it. A teapot to enjoy with family or friends and appreciate its gastronomic delights.
When you’re travelling, you sometimes have to boil water to purify it. For tea, that’s obviously not ideal, especially as some teas need to be infused at 50°, 70° or 80°C. Here is a simple method to reach the correct water temperature for your tea (this will be marked on the packaging of any decent tea merchant). When your water has boiled, pour it into a recipient. The water temperature will drop by 9°C. Then pour it into another; it will drop by 9°C again. And so on.
Drinking and tasting tea with people who specialise in a different product is fascinating. Whether your work revolves around tea, chocolate, olive oil, wine or any other fine ingredient, the tasting techniques are the same. But the experience differs in that each substance has its own range of aromas, textures and flavours. We’re like musicians who play different parts but all share a love of music.
I was lucky enough to receive a visit from Frédéric Bau. Frédéric is one of the great pastry chefs, as well as the founder of the Valrhona School and the Creative Director of Valrhona. Together, we tasted eight premium teas, infused at room temperature.
It was a wonderful opportunity to share our impressions and talk about our passions.
I’m often asked what my favourite tea is, and the question always makes me nervous. Each time I have to think about what to say. Someone who doesn’t know much about tea might say they like a certain type of tea, and someone else might name a different type. But when you have the incredible and very special opportunity to taste the best teas in the world throughout the year, like a top sommelier drinking wine, how is it possible to name just one?
When you’ve tasted so many teas of each type, they become part of you. You get to know them from every angle, you discover their unique characteristics, their point of equilibrium, their harmony. You’re the best placed to appreciate them. This applies whether it’s a lightly oxidised Taiwanese Oolong, a First-Flush Darjeeling, an Oriental Beauty, a Japanese Ichibancha, a new-season Chinese green tea, a hand-rolled Nepalese tea, a black Chinese tea such as a Qimen or a Yunnan, a Rock tea or a Phoenix tea, a dark tea from China, Africa or elsewhere, a Mao Cha plucked from hundred-year-old trees or a Gao Shan Cha, to name just a few. You’re the best placed to appreciate them and the worst placed to pick just one.
So if you meet me, please be kind and don’t ask me to name my favourite tea. Instead, ask me what I love about this tea, or that tea, ask me about the feelings they evoke. Talk to me about the great variety of sensory and emotional responses instead of restricting me to a few.
Tea isn’t only drunk, it can be eaten too. In Myanmar, for example, lahpet, or lahpet thoke, is a national dish. It’s a salad made from fermented tea leaves to which are added vegetables, fruit, meat or dried shrimps, for example, as well as spices. It’s delicious!
Smell is probably the richest sense in terms of tasting. Food and drink have a smell, or rather a number of smells, which we perceive while tasting, especially if we practise retronasal olfaction by breathing air out through the nose while the substance is in the mouth. In the case of tea, there are many aromas. As we’ve done since childhood with naming colours (red, blue, yellow, etc.), we can categorise aromas too: vegetal, fruity, floral, marine, spicy, woody, undergrowth, buttery/milky, mineral, burnt, animal, and so on.
So the next time you drink tea, ask yourself whether its dominant aromas are floral, fruity, animal or marine, etc. Happy tastings!