It is a truth universally acknowledged (in Britain at least) that a good cup of tea can solve any problem.
Okay, it won’t pay your bills, stand up to your bitchy colleague or take your driving test for you. But it can calm you down, help you bond with somebody, lose weight and even get rid of under eye circles One high court judge even said it could save a divorce.
I love coffee but it just isn’t as healthy as tea, with the Health Council of the Netherlands giving official advice to drink between three and five cups a day. And coffee didn’t inspire George Orwell to write an essay about it, where he confirms what we all knew – that milk is added after the tea.
I’ve sampled all kinds of teas – from a brown builder’s brew in a dirty cup for an interview in Bootle to luxury loose leaf served in diamond encrusted caddies – and, if I’m honest, I still stick to a box of Yorkshire Tea and Sainsbury’s own-brand peppermint tea bags at home.
So, when I went to a tea tasting at LEAF on Portland Street, I discovered why loose leaf tea could open a smorgasbord of new flavours.
Making the perfect cuppa
The case for loose leaf:
You see that tea bag you’re dunking repeatedly in your mug? The leaves used in it are actually the “dust and fannings” from broken tea leaves. This means the quality is compromised as the leaves have lost most of their essential oils and aroma.
Depending on the size and material, most tea bags restrict the tea leaves, preventing them from expanding to their full flavour. Furthermore, the bags are often bleached, which means your tea is too.
Another important factor is the temperature of the water.
White and Green teas have more delicate flavours and leaves, they cannot be exposed to too much heat as they will burn with a bitter taste. Brew these between 77 and 85 degrees celsius.
For Oolong teas, you can brew between 82 and 88 degrees celsius, and for Black and herbal teas, you can crank up the heat to 140 degrees celsius.
Depending on the type of tea, you leave it to brew for 2-7 minutes. Leave it brewing for too long, and it will taste bitter.
We recommend that you allow a teabag to brew for two and a half to three minutes. This allows the flavour to fully develop. Then add milk or lemon or enjoy it black, whatever your preference.
We recommend that you allow loose tea to brew in a teapot for up to seven minutes. The general rule is: the larger the leaf, the longer the brewing time. Earl Grey and Lady Grey need five minutes, while a smaller leaf tea will only need about four minutes.
- from Twinings
After the tea was brewed, we sipped at the different teas in glasses (sadly not teacups), learning how each tea is made (see here to find out).
Here’s a low down of the teas I tried at LEAF which can all be bought on their website here.
White tea is the least processed and has the highest level of antioxidants. It is perfect for cleansing the palette after eating and is low in caffeine.
White Peony – Light and sweet, White Peony (Pai Mu Tan) is delicately flavoured with whole blueberries and natural blueberry flavouring. The bright blue petals of the cornflower bring this tea to life.
Silver Needle – this is one of the finest and most acclaimed teas in the world. These fuzzy, silvery buds produce a sweet, luxurious drink packed full of health boosting anti-oxidants.
Green tea is processed slightly further than white and oxidised. However, it is only allowed to react with oxygen for a short period of time, retaining its green colour. Green tea is full of antioxidants and nutrients, and many say it is a perfect diet-aid – burning fat by boosting your metabolic rate.
Jasmine Pearls – Jasmine is my favourite type of tea. It is green tea scented with Jasmine, sometimes black or white tea is also used.
LEAF’s is hand rolled pearls of the finest green and white tips have been scented with Jasmine flowers. The flowers are picked in the summer when Jasmine is in full bloom and they need to be picked in the morning when the buds are tightly closed, then kept cool until nightfall. The Jasmine flower only opens during the evening when the temperature drops and this is when the scenting takes place.
Black tea is what our normal English Breakfast tea and Earl Grey falls under and is the most processed.
Darjeeling – Considered the champagne of tea, Darjeeling is a black tea named after the province in West Bengal, India. When Darjeeling teas are sold, they are graded by size and quality. The grades fall into four basic groups: whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings and dust.
LEAF’s Darjeeling is graded (don’t laugh) Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (SFTGFOP). In terms of tea grading, this is top of the class. It is hand-picked in order to not bruise the leaves, this delicate, well-rounded brew is a great afternoon tea.
And a mix…
Secret Garden – This is a ‘mixology’ tea. It combines ingredients found in secret gardens all over the world, including rosehip, peppermint, strawberry leaves, verbena, chamomile, rose petals and spearmint. It is a refreshing and soothing blend, that is caffeine free.
Yes, I would rather be wine tasting, but LEAF’s events are free, fun and you actually learn a lot. And, according to this website, you can even get drunk on tea… hmmm.
It has opened my eyes to the different flavours around and made me reach for the teapot, rather than the bottle, more often.
Thanks for reading, I’m off to make a brew.