Despite my ongoing problem with WordPress, I decided that I needed to replenish my stock of tea and therefore took time out to do so. I like my tea and it is my main tipple. Not just any old tea, you understand, but good stuff, tea with quality to it.
At the moment, my usual tea is a blend known as Russian Caravan, because it is supposed to have originated in the caravans of merchants carrying tea from China to Russia, the land of the samovar. As in most cases, however, the simple magic of the story is no longer reflected in the reality. If you buy ready blended Russian Caravan, you usually don’t know what you are getting as very few vendors specify what ingredients they include. When they do, you discover that every merchant sells something different and there is no consistency. For example, some add oil of bergamot (this is what gives Earl Grey tea its characteristic taste), something I greatly dislike.
The solution, then, is to buy the ingredients and mix them yourself. A good blend for Russian Caravan is the following: Formosa Oolong, 2 parts; Keemun, 1 part; and Lapsang Souchong, 1 part. The latter is a smoky tasting tea and is what gives Russian Caravan its tangy "lift".
There used to be a lot of specialist tea and coffee shops but they are becoming less common these days. Whenever I come across one on my travels I ask them whether they sell online and if so, note their details. Buying online incurs extra cost for postage and packing, though, and I therefore prefer to go to the shop myself if possible. There are a few specialist tea retailers in London but the one I visit most often is the Tea House in Neal Street, Covent Garden. It is a small shop but has a good range of teas, already conveniently packaged. I would prefer one of those shops where the tea is kept in big decorated canisters and poured out into the scales but these too are becoming harder to find.
Back home, I open the packets and tip out the tea into a convenient receptacle. Currently it happens to be a round tin that once held chocolates. The tea can then be stirred to mix it thoroughly. The teas I use are have fairly large leaves and you need to treat them gently so it’s best to stir with something narrow such as a rod or the handle of a serving spoon.
All three teas are classed as “black teas” and are fermented. Each has slightly different sized and different shaped leaves. The Oolong is quite “woody” with a lot of light-coloured stalk visible. It’s also the most expensive of the three and is often drunk on its own.
In the above photo, all three teas are in the chocolate tin and have been partly mixed, using the handle of the spoon. You can see the light-coloured “woody” bits in the Oolong.
Once the tea is mixed, it can be shovelled back into the packets it came in, and these can be closed by rolling their tops and securing them with sticky tape. The toffee tin makes a good storage bin where the tea can wait patiently to be used.
For daily use, I have a large tea caddy with an air-tight lid. It can be replenished from the chocolate tin as necessary.
I brew tea either in a tea pot or in a mug with a large filter basket. In both cases, the tea has plenty of room to move as it should. The tea pot has a wide unobstructed spout because large-leaf tea will simply clog up the silly filtering holes that some tea pots have. The tea can be poured from the pot through a strainer to catch any leaves. In the case of the mug, the finely meshed filter can be lifted out, taking the leaves with it.
All the different ways of making tea produce slightly different results and slightly differently tasting tea. It’s best to find the method your prefer and stick with it unless you are adventurous and like variety. The important thing is to make sure that the water is boiling before pouring it on the tea. Many cafes and even restaurants these days make tea with hot water from the espresso machine. This is disastrous because the water is kept just below boiling, as this is the right temperature for making coffee. It is, however, the wrong temperature for making tea and the poor result is only to be expected.