Everything Stops for Tea
There is much to love about a cup of tea. Lisa Millard takes a coffee break to meet three tea experts championing the pleasures of the loose leaf
Cambridge Tea Consultancy
Spend just a short time in the company of tea enthusiast and founder of the Cambridge Tea Consultancy Joyce Maina and you will soon be converted to the wonders of a quality brew. With 30 years in the trade working in a number of roles for all the leading global brands (Yorkshire Tea, Twinings, Tetley and Lipton to name a few), Joyce has travelled the world increasing her knowledge and sustaining her passion for tea.
“Growing up in Kenya, I just had to like tea,” says Joyce, who has recently returned from Ethiopia where black tea is enjoyed with cinnamon. “I was given tea from a very young age and I loved the sweet milky hot drink. I must admit my tea repertoire has grown much more diverse over the years as I have discovered many more wonderful teas.”
Last year Joyce decided the time had come to put her vast experience to work in her own company and launched the Cambridge Tea Consultancy to offer business advisory services to all players in the industry – from start-ups to multinationals. “We create new blends, products and marketing strategies and provide sourcing guidance for those looking for interesting teas that are great quality and made where workers and the environment are well cared for,” says Joyce. As well as the consultancy Joyce runs The Cambridge Tea Academy that oversees a Tea Sommelier Certification programme as well as fun and educational tea classes for enthusiasts and professionals.
“Cambridge was an obvious choice for me to start out on my own. It is a vibrant, dynamic city with a lot of interest in food and drink, and tea sits beautifully in that space.”
Joyce thinks levels of consumer knowledge about tea has not gained the traction that wine, coffee and gin enjoys and hopes her work will help to engage people more in the complexities and charms of tea drinking. “Tea is one of those things which you can only learn from others – no amount of reading can teach you to taste and interact with tea.”
When Joyce started working in the industry in the 1990s tea was a man’s world. “I was a bit of a novelty going in as a manager in tea gardens and factories but I relished the opportunity and learned as much as I could throwing myself at all tasks with much gusto. I learned tasting, selling, quality control and the exhilarating job of auction buying. It felt amazing to sit in the buyer’s chair and bid on and buy millions of dollars-worth of tea in a day. Most days I would be the only woman in the auction room but I’m glad to say that is no longer the case.”
Blending tea is a creative process that takes many years of experience and Joyce loves making new blends and flavours. “It allows my creativity to come together with my tea skills in a most rewarding way. I have created quite a few products and blends with tea as well as herbal teas and it is always a great feeling of achievement. I particularly loved creating a special tea for drinking with non-dairy milk. I wanted to bring back the joy of a good cup of tea to those who want a plant-based diet and the blend does just that. I am working on a few more in this space.”
It is, Joyce thinks, an interesting time for tea with a number of different factors shaping the consumer market including a desire from young people for greater choice and increasing interest in authenticity, provenance and sustainability. When asked the flavour of her favourite brew Joyce is spoiled for choice. “I am currently rather enjoying a beautiful blend of Darjeeling and Assam top quality long leaf with the best bergamot flavour layered in to make a most exquisite Earl Grey. It is called Imperial Blend
and sold by Ahmad Tea. I am also drinking a vanilla and chai blend which is
rich and smooth and indulgent – this is my own home-made blend and it’s
divine. Next time we speak no doubt I will have discovered a new one.”
Planning a number of tea training and tasting courses this summer in London, Nairobi, Mombasa and Cambridge, Joyce is looking forward to enlightening more people to the pleasures of tea: “If you come to a tea tasting class you will never look at tea the same way again.”
Top tea tip
Always choose a good quality tea and allow it to brew….no rush…it is worth it.
Interesting tea fact
In the eighteenth century in England tea was so popular and valued that the general labourer spent 5-10 per cent of their income on tea and the accompanying sugar.
Joyce will be hosting The World Of Tea: A discovery of tea in May in Cambridge and London:
Taste teas from around the world: Black, green, oolong, white tea, purple tea and more. Food pairing and mixology tips – 90 mins, £40pp. Also, Tea Tasting Class and make your own blend: Taste different profile teas and learn to describe them like a Tea Master. Mix your own blend, name it and pack it – 90 mins, £45pp.
• See cambridgeteaconsultancy.com
Samovar Tea House
Enter Samovar Tea House in Ely and you are instantly transported to another world – this tea house would look at home in Moscow, Krakow, Istanbul or Riga. The window hosts a number of samovars, the rather curvaceous and sometimes ornate metal container traditionally used to heat and boil water in Russia, Eastern European countries, Kashmir and the Middle East. Rows of shelves are laden with jars of teas – there are more than 100 to choose from, all neatly labelled with names that catch the eye and invite the taste buds – Take Green Monkey, Madame Butterfly, Birdsong and Autumn Equinox. It is enchanting.
Sofia Ward and Lizzy Doe are the women behind the independent tea house which was founded by Sofia in 2011 following a few years building a taste for her teas on the local farmers’ markets. “I was always amazed at how as a nation of tea drinkers, the best you could often hope for when going to a cafe was just a tea bag in a teapot. Things have moved on a long way from then, but, having lived in and travelled quite a bit around different European countries, I thought it would be good to provide a really big selection of teas combined with a more continental cafe vibe to create something a little different from a traditional tea room. No scones here,” says Sofia. No scones but plenty of fabulous Sofia-home-made cake plus delicious brunch and lunch menu – coffee is served too.
Many of the loose leaf teas are blended by and exclusive to Samovar and there are plans to increase online availability as well as create a recipe book to showcase Sofia’s baking delights. The couple are well travelled visiting places far and wide to expand their tea knowledge and inspiration.
Sofia, who was born in Spain but grew up in St Ives, has been fascinated by all-things Russian for as long as she can remember and spent time learning the language during a spell in Latvia and working in Moscow. “I remember exactly where I was when I first tasted Gunpowder Green Tea and had my first cup of Russian Caravan. I’ve been to tea rooms that are nothing like European tea rooms. I went to the most beautiful places where tea houses are for ordinary people and about sitting with people you like and drinking as much tea as you can – and it’s OK to ask for more hot water to steep your tea, which is not done in England. But you can do that at Samovar.” Lizzy spent time abroad before returning to the Fens where she hails from. “We're also often inspired by food on our travels. We always get ideas for flavour combinations when we're in new environments, especially abroad.” Samovar is also a source of inspiration to others – the Farrow & Ball paint called Bancha was named in Samovar Tea House when one of the company’s paint-namers popped in and asked which of the green teas would be a suitable inspiration.
What, I wonder, do they choose from Samovar’s long list of teas to drink themselves? “It changes every day and is dependent on the weather and how I want to feel,” says Sofia. “One of our favourite teas is a complex herbal blend we have made called 'Wild Women'. It is a mixture of chamomile, cinnamon, basil, orange peel, lavender and peppermint and it seems to be perfect at any time of day.” Lizzy opts for a strong black tea, a light floral mix of rose, jasmine and orange blossom, or strong spicy cardamom, ginger, and cloves.
Sustainability is part of Samovar and customers are encouraged to bring their own tin to fill with loose tea straight from the glass jars to cut down on packaging. Sofia says her biggest challenge in running the business is resisting adding more and more teas to the menu. The challenge is a sign of Samovar’s success and suggests people do want more than a tea bag in a pot. Sofia says: “One of the best things about running Samovar is how many people we manage to convert to being loose leaf tea drinkers. People are definitely broadening their tea horizons.”
Top tea tip
Sofia: Always use freshly poured water, never re-boil it and definitely do not heat it in a microwave, please.
Lizzy: Try a new flavour you hadn't considered before – you might be pleasantly surprised.
Interesting tea fact
In Victorian Britain, women gathering to drink tea was something that was often met with a level of disdain during the 19th century and there were many slang terms given by suspicious men for the drink, including my personal favourite - Scandal Broth. As if the tea somehow encouraged these women to behave badly. Who know, maybe it did?
• Samovar Tea House is at 23 Fore Hill, Ely. See @samovarteahouse and Facebook
Pictures: Lizzy Doe
Tea plays a strong part in childhood memories for the founder of boutique tea and socially-responsible brand Jaitea. “I remember the Indian chai from my childhood. It was milky, aromatic, spicy, and sweet,” says Jasmine de Kotwara Taylor, who now lives in Cambridge with her family. “As a child, the sugar was a big plus. At the age of 8, I actually made my mum teach me how to make it from scratch. Of course, similarly to curry, there are an infinite number of chai recipes in India, and each one is correct. Mine involved not too many cloves, but lots and lots of cinnamon. I would often lose concentration and let the milk boil over the pan or would not strain out all of spices from the final drink. But I thought the final result was great.”
Sustainability and giving back are important to Jasmine; the Jaitea brand is plastic-free and the business model, which incorporates a subscription service, is designed to financially support a number of organisations including a school in India and the local social enterprise Burwell Print Centre which supports and trains adults with learning difficulties. Jasmine sells full-leaf black, green, white and oolong teas, rooibos, fruit and herbal infusions, as well as single-origin honey, artisan granola, drinking chocolate and hand-made chocolates – here are also special blends for children called Little Jaitea.
“As I learnt more about tea and its role in a part of my family history, and as I spoke to tea experts and producers during my times in India, it was clear to me that I should launch a tea brand.” The story of the inspiration behind Jaitea is quite a tale. “My grandfather was an Indian Rajah, which is equivalent to a king or ruler of a state in India. He was educated in the UK and also travelled widely in the east and west. He would bring back the tastes and flavours he had encountered on his travels and would provide instructions to his staff to reproduce them in the kitchen,” says Jasmine. “My grandfather was renowned for hosting the most incredible soirées at his palace, where he would share these new flavours and combinations, including his new tea blends. Notably, Earl Mountbatten was a friend of my grandfather’s and a guest at the palace. By the time I knew my grandfather palace life had quietened a lot, but he told great stories and, looking around me, I could vividly imagine the palace during one of these events, alive with people, food, drink, music.”
Jaitea is sourced from several countries around the world including India, Sri Lanka, and China. Jasmine works with partners registered with the Ethical Tea Partnership, a not-for-profit organisation creating a fairer, better and more sustainable tea industry for workers, farmers and the environment. Appreciative of her Cambridge surrounds – “with so many opportunities, alive with people from all backgrounds, innovative and academic, vibrant and pleasant” – Jasmine says she likes a wide variety of teas and enjoys the ritual of making tea drinking part of an occasion. “At the moment, my favourite flavour is Cherry Blossom Earl Grey, which is a gorgeous earl grey that is especially sweet and floral. But my preferences do change. I also love a fruit tea called No. 3 La Femme Supreme which is part of my Cirque du Soir range that showcases the most daring and creative Jaitea blends. This particular tea has a deep and comforting salted caramel flavour.”
Busy building the brand and retail profile, Jasmine hopes to one day open a chain of tea houses. “I would like these to create a wave that takes over from, or is equal to, the whole coffee shop thing that we have at the moment. In the meantime, I am happy to create new and interesting blends of teas and hope that people can taste the love that goes into each and every one of the products.”
Top tea tip
Taste the tea on the tip of your tongue first (but don’t burn your tongue). I find that this really activates your taste buds so that, when you take a sip, you really get the full flavour and effect of the tea.
Interesting tea fact
In the nineteenth century, we would have been calling tea ‘tay’.
• See jaitea.com
Read moreFood and Drink
More by this authorLisa Millard