When you’re a bit of a flavour junkie, it’s always exciting to have that goosebump-enducing fresh hit from a new taste experience, and that’s just what happened to me last week.
I went to a tea tasting.
It was my very first one and a specialised one at that, as I only had three glasses lined up in front of me.
Riedel glasses to be precise, because London tea trading company Lalani & Co is so focussed on provenance and quality, they believe you need the perfect kind of drinking vessel to get the best out of the tea, and to them glasses made by Riedel fit the bill.
In fact, a bespoke Lalani/Riedel glass project is already underway I’m told. But until that time comes, Lalani uses the already-available Riedel O glasses (the stemless ones).
My dapper tea tasting host from Lalani & Co, Jameel Lalani, pointed out a few basics for me, the tea tasting novice.
Firstly, the tea/glass guidelines that works best for them…
Black tea: Riedel O Riesling/Sauvignon Blanc glass
Green tea: Riedel O Pinot/Nebbiolo glass
White tea: Riedel O oaked Chardonnay glass
Secondly, because boiling water burns tea leaves, a useful temperature guideline is as follows…
Black tea: 95C
Green tea: 75-85C
White tea: 65-70C
Thirdly, the steeping time, during which point I made a bit of a rookie error – I let the leaves steep for too long.
“I’ll take the hit on this,” Jameel kindly said as he swapped our individual teapots and glasses. I’d been nattering away to the potter and teapot creator Billy Lloyd (yes, Lalani is having bespoke teapots made too – see above photo) for so long at the tasting, my steeping time had overrun.
‘Course I could have still drunk it, but for Jameel the tea was already past its delicate best. I know such attention to detail will cause a bit of eye-rolling for some, but as a wine lover who has no qualms about speaking up if I think a wine’s temperature will affect the enjoyment of it, I totally got where Jameel was coming from.
To taste (again following Jameel’s example), I sat each O glass in the full palm of my hand and swirled the tea around in slow circular motions before taking a deep sniff. Now I was back in familiar territory. But the similarities between top tea and wine don’t end with sniffing.
Also of serious importance are: the terroir and altitude of tea gardens, the picking date within each of the year’s five harvests, not to mention the more revered reputation of boutique producers. And then on the tasting front, it was mind-blowing to see just how much flavour and diversity the teas had – even just among these three teas – as well as seeing just how much they changed as the temperature changed.
Summer Reserve, LaKyrsiew Tea Garden 2011 (from Meghakaya, India)
Apparently this is one of the finest black teas available, and here the summer provides the best leaves. As someone who doesn’t ’do’ black tea, I was stunned – and chuffed – at how little tannin this tea had. Instead it had a smooth, almost creamy texture, with a light nutty and caramel aroma which developed into an intense cocoa flavour as it opened up. This was described to me as more of an ‘aperitif’ tea.
First Flush ‘Wonder’, Godpaldhara Garden 2012 (from Darjeeling, India)
I was told this is Gopaldhara’s premier first flush (picking) which comes from the highest elevations in the garden. Light on tannin again but this one had a toally different flavour profile. This tea had more purity of fruit, tropical, exotic fruit to be precise, so papaya and pineapple ruled the day. But not in your fruit tea-sense but in a delicate, weirdly more authentic and genteel way. This was a real winner with my smoked salmon sandwich.
Himalayan Jade, Jun Chiyabari Garden 2012 (from Hile, Nepal)
Described as Nepal’s “foremost boutique family run garden”, this was a fascinating end to the tasting, because this tea had a savoury, damp, moss-like smell. It was far less intense in fruit at first, as the earthy aromas dominated but as the temperature dropped there was a subtle hint of peach and apricot to it. The most tannic of the three teas, I found this a very happy match with the lemon cupcake. I’m not sure if you’d call that a classic match, but it certainly worked for me…
Want to do it yourself?
Head down to London’s Brown’s Hotel next month where its Seasonal Tea Library with three Lalani & Co teas will be available for £7.50 per person.
Whether you’re into tea or just new flavour experiences in general, I definitely reckon it’s worth a visit there this summer.