Thursday 27 October 2016

Tea story

Years ago for work I had the opportunity to stay at a very posh private conference facility in Belgium, I’ve forgotten its name, but will remember this for ever. Being a non coffee drinker, come after dinner coffee time, I ask for the unoffered a cup of tea, expecting a bog standard tea bag dunked in and left in a cup of tepid water. To my surprise the waiter bought nice cup and saucer, milk, sugar, teapot and a large, quality, wooden box. Inside were an array of tea bags. It took a moment to register as they were all the same colour, that they were a. They were a tea merchants own label and as I started to read the labels I was amazed. The best selection of teas I had ever been presented with anywhere, much less in a restaurant. They were all from Betjaman and Barton, a Paris tea merchant. I picked a Ceylon Kenilworth, thinking I couldn’t go wrong with something fairly standard like an Orange Pekoe. As soon as I opened the wrapping and saw, then smelt, the tea bag I knew I was in for a treat. I tasted it first without milk. It was beautiful.

For non tea drinkers, Orange Pekoe is a mid strength black tea, golden brownish in colour, not dark. Kenilworth is a single estate tea, not a blend. Most teas people buy in supermarkets are blends of two or more different teas. The 700-acre Kenilworth Tea Estate is located in the western hills of Sri Lanka, 100km East of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo at an elevation of 4,000 feet. The estate was originally planted with tea at the turn of the 19th century by an English pioneer who named the estate after Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, England.  This estate holds the record for the highest price ever paid at auction for its orange pekoe grade tea. The tea is a medium sized leaf, quite full bodied, coppery brown in colour, with a clean taste.

For the few days I was at the conference I sampled as many of their teas as I could. I was hooked. I took one of the wrappers back home with me and found them on the web. In those days there were not many internet sites based in the UK which were selling quality teas. B&B’s site was only in French, so I plodded my way through their descriptions of teas, the checkout process which was complicated by the fact that it did not expect delivery addresses to be written British style – consequently when my package did arrive it had gone round the houses a bit and taken a lot longer than it should have. I also like the fact that their site gave away small samples of tea with each order, so I could try others.

That was in the early 2000s. I persevered and worked out more about how their site functioned. I had a break from using them when I was abroad, but last year I returned to them and bought more “nice” teas. Now the internet site has an EN page, and all the descriptions and ordering instructions are in English, and the shopping basket and order tracking systems are like what one expects from online shopping sites nowadays.

Yesterday I took delivery of my latest refill of my much loved Jasmine Chung Hao tea.  I still enjoy their Kenilworth, and another favourite is Grand Keemum. My sample this time is Dellawa, coincidently another Ceylon tea. I had my first cup of it this morning – without milk, clear, medium strength, brownish liquor – delightful. Dellawa Loose TeaDellawa infusion

Sadly no outlet here in the UK, but if you are in Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Canada, US or Malaysia you fair better. Without any inducements, I recommend them even at post BREXIT exchange rates, excellent favours, great quality teas.

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