The tea on which an Empire was built
I was reflecting the other day as I sat drinking a cup of traditional black loose leaf tea that we really have as a nation forgotten what great tea tastes like. The multi-national brands have been pumping out cheap tea for so long now that millions of us have long since given up on the stuff that once made Britain famous around the world.
How did we reach such a sorry state? I guess a lot of it is our obsession with speed. An increasingly time poor society demands that our favourite brews are made ever quicker to accommodate all the other stuff we apparently never had time to do in the past. As a result much like computer speeds, businesses have found ways to get that brewing time down, but it’s come at a price, flavour. The one reason we used to drink tea in such vast quantities.
I have a very personal interest in tea that goes back to my Grandfather’s time. He used to tell stories of tea coming into the port of London in the 1920’s when the Tea wharfs really were used for tea and not a playground for millionaires as they are today.
Back then in order to accommodate the huge demand for black tea the British developed a method of production called “cut, tear, curl” or CTC tea. This sped up the production process but retained the taste profile that was loved by all and became known as English Breakfast Tea the world over.
That need for speed and convenience resulted in the creation of the ubiquitous tea bag, however in order to get that flavour out of the bag and into the cup the tea leaves needed to be processed even more. As a result flavours never intended to reach the cup sit there in all their horrifying glory.
I’ve decided in our cafes that we need to kick back against this trend. We’ve been using loose leaf CTC tea for a number of years now. We use an “empty” tea bag which we fill with 4g or 5g of tea. We pour just off boiled water onto the “contained” leaves and leave to brew. It probably takes an extra minute for these leaves to infuse compared with a teabag equivalent, but in that minute magic happens. There is a roundness and depth of flavour that brings back the joy of drinking tea.
The purists may well challenge the use of CTC tea as opposed to large leaf sizes. My view is that if we want to get tea back in the premier league and appealing to the masses we have to promote the easy use of a British classic.