Taking a tea break can be beautifully simple. Here in the Egyptian desert, during the mint harvest, the workers gather a few sticks of fig wood and heat the water in a basic kettle that also serves as a teapot. A few minutes later, everyone savours the pleasure of being together.
When buying tea, it’s important to have information that allows you to prepare it in the best possible way in order to obtain the most flavourful and balanced tea to drink. So the recommended water temperature and brewing times marked on each pack are very useful. However, they aren’t definitive. Someone new to tea won’t prepare it in the same way as a connoisseur. For the first-time tea drinker, it’s a good idea to brew it a little longer, to really bring out the characteristics of that particular tea. And the more you know about a tea, the shorter the brewing time, even if it means using more leaves. So the water temperature and brewing times are not to be followed to the letter; rather, they indicate the maximum water temperature and maximum brewing time. Once you know that, you can do as you please and experiment with the preparation to get the tea just as you like it.
So, it’s January, it’s cold outside, what tea should you be drinking? I recommend a dark tea (not to be confused with black tea), especially after that holiday period when the chances are you’ve overindulged. Because this deep, rich tea has been reputed for centuries for its digestive properties. Note, however, that this type of tea, also known as pu’er or pu-erh, undergoes post-fermentation. As such, expect your cup to develop aromas of moss, mushrooms, undergrowth, wet straw, along with notes of vanilla and liquorice as well as leather and other musky flavours. This incredible tea is simply perfect for this time of year and is good for us too. Let me know what you think!
Just a few days ago, Léo and I had the pleasure of tasting a sensational tea sourced from southwest China. In fact, the variety was one of the famous ‘Yunnan buds’ that is going down a treat with tea lovers all over.
I thought it would be interesting to share with you the different stages of selecting a batch of tea.
Once the quantity we want has been decided, an order is placed. Because this is a small batch tea, it will be shipped by air. No sooner will the wheels touch the ground than a sample will be whizzed over to an independent lab for testing. Although not legally required to, Palais des Thés has made it policy to test any tea that has not been awarded French agriculture biologique certification, proof that is has been organically farmed. We are looking for over a hundred different molecules to confirm that the batch complies with European standards, known for being the most stringent in the world. Only if the tea passes muster will the leaves be distributed to our boutiques. It takes on average 4-6 weeks from when the tea is sampled to it being available to buy in store. A relatively long timeframe that Palais des Thés stands by because we understand the importance of guaranteeing food safety for the good of our customers’ health.
During lockdown, it can be easy to let ourselves go a bit. We might exercise less and put on weight. Could this be a good time to turn to tea? According to traditional Chinese medicine, one of the many properties attributed to our beloved Camellia sinensis is fat-burning. This remarkable quality is particularly true of dark teas, called Pu Erhs, with their powerful notes of undergrowth and humus. If you can’t take a walk in the woods, you can at least enjoy all the associated aromas in your cup – alongside those other supposed benefits.
Travelling around the world is not one of life’s essentials, even when you have a job like mine. Despite the world health crisis, we’re receiving samples of tea produced on the other side of the world by farmers we know. We taste them straight away in our tasting room and choose the ones we want. In other words, the world of a tea researcher continues on its course even during these times of Covid-19. It’s a strange world though, one that has stopped us from moving around. So, when we grow nostalgic for travel, for those wonderful landscapes, those mountains and changing skies, there is nothing to stop us, after all, from transporting ourselves through the power of the image. Here, we’re in northern Thailand, not far from the Golden Triangle.
At some point, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself what tea to serve an obsessive coffee drinker. Some people can’t envisage an alternative to their single-origin pour-over or flat white. From my experience in such situations, I suggest you offer teas with burnt notes (toasted or roasted). These aromas are foregrounded in three famous Japanese teas: Bancha Hojicha, Shiraore Kuki Hojicha and Genmaicha. All three are accessible and easy-drinking thanks to their roasted flavours. They are an ideal bridge between coffee and tea.
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.