Monday, November 23, 2015

Tea Time with Taylor's

I recently discovered some old posts that were more or less finished drafts but never got posted. I celebration of Thanksgiving, this week will have some European leftovers. First up, a taste of England. Look forward to more European-inspired but neglected posts for the rest of the week!

I went to a presentation on tea presented by Victoria, a nice lady from Taylors of Harrogate, purveyor of tea and coffee, including the famous Yorkshire Tea. She presented some history and trivia about tea as well as providing several different brews to sample.

She said that Taylors produces around 40 types of teas, from black to red to green. She asked us what we thought the average tea consumption was for England. The answer was 60.2 billion cups a year. Then she asked about US consumption. The US consumes only 65 billion cups a year, which is surprising since the UK population is around 60 million and the US population 310 million.

Tea was first invented in China 5000 years ago. The emperor Feng Shun had been banished. In exile, he would only drink boiling water. One day a leaf fell into the water before it was served to him. It changed the flavor and eased his heart, hence it was called "Tai" which is Chinese for peace. Gunpowder tea is a closest to this original form. The tea is unfermented with a slightly sharp flavor. The tea gets its name from the shape of the leaves. When they are dried out they "ball up" into little nuggets that look like gunpowder.

The next advance in tea making also happened in China. As tea became popular, there was pressure to provide the dried leaves of the tree faster and faster. One fellow found that the leaves would not dry overnight, or sometimes would be damp with dew. To combat this, he set a fire in his tea drying room. He used bamboo and the smoke from the fire gave a distinctive flavor to the tea. Thus Lapsang Souchang came to be, a smoky black tea that is a personal favorite of mine.

In 1603 the Dutch received the first tea. They brought it back to Europe. The French never cottoned on to tea, but the British began to adopt it. Charles II's neice caused it to become quite popular when she started drinking tea with her breakfast rather than beer. You may blame or praise Queen Anne decision depending on your taste.

Earl Grey tea is named after the second earl, who was prime minister under William IV. The most reliable story goes that he was gifted by a Chinese ambassador with a tea infused with bergamot oil to offset the lime in the water of his country estate. Lady Grey would offer the blend in London and it wasn't long before a demand grew. The tea is often used in cooking to flavor rice or cakes.

Often teas have been blended with other oils or flowers to produce healing properties in the drinks. So occasionally flavors are associated with teas that don't come from the tea leaves. One example is Moroccan Mint, which adds mint extract to gunpowder tea leaves to create a distinctive flavor. 

Tea bushes grow in fifty countries. The bushes could grow to a height of forty to fifty feet but most growers keep them around four or five feet to make harvesting easier. Higher altitudes make better growing conditions (that emperor was exiled to the Himalayas, perhaps). India is a prime grower now. Darjeeling is the most expensive Indian tea. The robust flavor and the high price have made it the champagne of teas. More common is Assam which originated in a region 300 miles north of Calcutta.

As for Yorkshire tea, it is a blend of east African and Indian teas (and I thought they were grown in Yorkshire--whoops!). Charles Taylor started a business in 1866, importing teas. He had some kiosks in Leeds where they sold tea and coffee. He also opened the first Betty's Tea Room in Harrogate, which has subsequently turned into a chain of tea shops in Yorkshire.

At the end of her presentation, Victoria had a bag of different items that were related to tea. Here's some of the items:
  • Dust pan--because the finest tea is often little larger than dust particles. Having bought much loose-leaf tea in my life, I can attest to this.
  • Drum--teas are blended in large drums, though they only turn the drum twelve times at Taylors.
  • Trowel--used tea bags are good for gardens.
  • Silk--the first tea bags were made with silk!
  • Whiskey--often in the Victorian and pre-Victorian eras, if you ordered whiskey or beer, you really meant tea.
  • Face cream--green tea extracts are often used in cosmetics like face cream.
  • Sea shell--fancy tea spoons are often scallop-shaped, probably from sailors using shells to scoop out tea.

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