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Friday, 22 November 2019

Let's Talk Tea: The Is This Mutton? Guide

Gail Hanlon from Is This Mutton? takes tea with her Royal Albert Old Country Roses tea set
“Under certain circumstances, there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” 
Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

Today I'm talking about one of the greatest pleasures in life: tea.

The British are well known for being a nation of tea drinkers. Many of life's most significant moments are marked with a cup of tea. Newly created millionaires, according to national lottery promoter Camelot, are more likely to toast themselves with tea than champagne.
You may be surprised to know that the Brits are not the most fanatical tea drinking nation. That distinction falls to Uzbekistan where 99.6% of the population drink tea. Coffee has hardly encroached at all. In the UK, coffee is kicking tea's ass and tea consumption has fallen 19% since 2010.

I start the day with two mugs of what we call builder's tea, which is black tea served strong with just a splash of milk. I have a coffee later in the morning. After lunch, I have an Earl Grey tea.

Since Adagio Teas got in touch, and provided some amazing samples, I am now enjoying a cup of a different tea when I get home every day, using my tea diffuser mug. I've been enjoying chocolate chai tea and, getting into the Christmas spirit, the Yuletide Toddy blend.
There's even a tea Advent Calendar! I'll be fascinated to see what's behind the windows in December.

I'm Very Fussy With Tea 

I rarely drink tea when I'm not in the UK. To me, the water has to be at a rolling boil; the milk has to fresh, and to your preference  (mine is semi-skimmed), and the cup or mug should preferably be made of porcelain. 

In hotels abroad you usually get given a mug with a Lipton's tea bag, a separate pot of not quite hot enough water, and very rarely any milk. When the milk does arrive, it's UHT. It's such a grim experience I prefer to go without, although for long holidays I occasionally take a travel kettle and teabags.

A few years ago, on a holiday to Sri Lanka, I went to a tea plantation where it was all taken very seriously and we had a proper tea tasting. They were very dismissive of Britain's most popular teas, saying they are nothing more than shavings. I still have one of the little wooden canisters of tea, "BOP."  Tea has a complicated grading system and BOP stands for "Broken Orange Pekoe."

Tea bags have become the norm because of their convenience, but did you know that a lot of the popular brands of teabag contain plastic?

I enjoy the ritual of making tea with tea leaves - it's no more complicated or time consuming than grinding coffee beans or using a cafetiere. The teas I'm enjoying from Adagio are in leaf form but they sell tea bags as well, pyramid shaped and individually wrapped for freshness.
Selection of teas from Adagio Teas for the autumn/fall and winter seasons including Yuletide Toddy

Tea Types

All tea comes from the same plant – camellia sinensis – it is how it’s grown, harvested and crafted that produces the different types.

White tea is the least processed. It is the lightest, most delicate tea, retaining the highest levels of antioxidants. The best are sweet and grassy with no bitterness at all. A cup of this is best drunk on its own to savour the subtle taste.

Green tea is fired or steamed at high temperatures shortly after picking. The flavour varies as widely as types of white wine. The very best cost £1,000 a kilo and are wonderfully smooth and rich. The cheapest leaves tend to be bitter and seaweedy. Green teas go well with savoury dishes.

Oolong lies artfully between green and black tea, being partially oxidized. The lighter are green and fruity whereas the darker are roasted and nutty. Oolongs are the most versatile to enjoy with food – anything from cheesecake to steak.

Black tea is fully oxidized to bring out the deepest flavours. The best hand-crafted leaf is highly prized and can taste of chocolate and caramel or highly floral, while cheaper versions tend to be more bitter and one dimensional. Black tea is best enjoyed with sweet dishes.

Who was Earl Grey?


My brother is very suspicious when offered a brew and always says "it's not that scenty tea is it?"

Earl Grey tea is named after Prime Minister Charles Grey. It's basically a flavoured tea, made from a blend of Keemun tea with Bergamot oil.

Try a Different Brew

I had never heard of Adagio Teas but my word! These teas are high quality. You can see (and discern) the different ingredients in their special blends - this is a close-up of the leaves in one of the infusions.
It's a small, family owned US business, and the range of teas supplied is astonishing. They even have a loyalty programme for the tea devotee. Global shipping is naturally on offer.

I have never been a fan of green or fruit teas, and I have tried many. The difference between those I have tried, and those from Adagio, is like light and day. All the teas come direct from farmers.  In the UK, a cup of tea is synonymous with having a short rest or break.  "Adagio" is a musical term meaning "slow," or "at ease." The word perfectly captured tea helping us unwind, slow down and relax. And on that subject, they sent me a tea called "40 Winks" which is a perfect pre-sleep brew.


Make It Special


I particularly enjoy the tea ritual when I use a bone china cup and saucer or mug. In the top picture, you can see my Royal Albert Old Country Roses tea set. The tea pot, with cute teddies, was bought at Cardew Teapottery near Newton Abbot in Devon, which closed a few years ago. They had an amazing range of novelty tea pots, beautifully crafted, in bone china.

You may think the tea set is very kitsch and twee, or possibly cool and retro.  I adore it, even though I normally like more abstract or plain designs.  My mum bought the starter tea set years ago and eventually gave it to me.  The more I looked at it, the more I admired the gold edging and the intricate rose design. I started collecting pieces on eBay (only those made in England, not the later stuff mass produced in Indonesia) and now have a full dinner service with tureens, serving dishes and cheese knives,  the works!  And it all comes out at Christmas, although it gives me a lot of hard work in washing up. None of it can go in the dishwasher.

Tell me in the comments your favourite teas, if you ever went to Cardew Teapots, and if you have a prized tea set.

Disclosure: I was gifted with a selection of teas from Adagio Teas. Copy approval was not sought nor given, and my editorial opinions are always my own.

Sharing this post with Blogger Club UK at My Random Musings,  #ShareAllLinkUp at Not Dressed as Lamb, #LinkupOnTheEdge at Shelbee on the Edge and #WeeklyLinkUp at Claire Justine.


Find Your Own Tea Style



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