I do like my tea. (I like my coffee too, but that’s another story – see The Little Man with the Moustache.) I drink my tea black and while I’ll take “English Breakfast” or “Yorkshire Tea”, if that’s what’s going, I prefer something a little more special. The sort of tea I like is not to be found in the supermarket – I have to go to one of the specialist tea importers.
My current favourite tipple is a blend called “Russian Caravan”. A good blend of Russian Caravan is strong and has a smoky flavour. At least, that’s the sort that I like. The problem is that I don’t think there is a specific recipe for this blend and tea retailers make up their own, often without being very specific about what they put in it. I suspect that they sometimes palm off their leftovers and less satisfactory teas by mixing it up as “Russian Caravan”.
I discovered Russian Caravan by accident. I had bought a lot of different teas to try and one day decided to mix the remnants all together to use them up. By a sheer stroke of luck, the result was wonderful. I decided to try to recreate it and by a process of trial and error came up with a blend of three teas: Keemun, Formosa Oolong and Lapsang Souchong. It’s the latter that confers the smoky taste to a good Russian Caravan blend.
Buying several packets of tea, mixing the contents together and then spooning the mixture back into the packets and resealing them is not difficult but if it can be avoided, well, why not avoid it? I have been ordering and trying the different “Russian Caravan” blends sold by a number of importers without finding one that satisfies me. So I have gone back to buying the ingredients and mixing them myself.
You can buy tea online, of course, and I have a list of firms that I have bought from. When you buy online, you usually have to pay postage on top of the price of the tea so it’s an advantage if there is a shop you can visit. The nearest one I know is the Tea House in Neal Street in Covent Garden. And that is where I went this morning.
I started out quite early, hoping to get the shopping done and leave the rest of the day free for other things I had to do. I took the Piccadilly Line from King’s Cross to Covent Garden station (see above). Even though I was in a hurry, I couldn’t visit to Covent Garden without having a little look around.
There is a slight sense of nostalgia because I worked in Covent Garden for a few years. I was a bookshop assistant for a chain called Books etc which occupied the premises on the corner of James Street and Floral Street which is now a branch of Dune. The chain was taken over by Borders, and this company collapsed a while ago so “my” bookshop no longer exists.
To fill in time until the Tea House opened, I went on an erratic tour of the area, often crossing back and forth over my own tracks. Here are some of the things I saw.
My walk filled the interval nicely and prevented me feeling that I was wasting my time while waiting. Inside the shop, they are still vacuum cleaning the carpet and tidying up. I step over the trailing cable of the cleaner and go to the corner where the packets of tea are kept. I make my choice, peer at the pretty tea sets and the exotic tea pots and then make once more for the tube station, safely provisioned with tea for the next few weeks.