Tag Archives: tea

Sending myself a get well tea-mail from Piacha…

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I’ve been sick, on and off, for a month. What started out as simply the world’s most disgusting head cold has ambled on as a strength-sapping virus-chest-infection combo. I’ve been working pretty much throughout (thank God I have an employer that is set up to support working from home) but this week the ongoing lurgy cost me a business trip. Things are… irritating. And that’s where tea comes in.

Tea. So much tea. You guys know I love tea, right? And write about my tea love. And you know that I visited Piacha in Islington and loved that too, and then Pia sent me a lovely email saying ‘hey, wanna try our tea subscription service?’ and basically this is the best possible way I can think of to deal with feeling so utterly grotty.

The way it works is that you pick a tea from the website as usual. Then you choose the subscription option instead of a one-off purchase. You’re asked to choose a delivery interval: 1, 2, 3 or 4 weeks. You set up payment. Then, on schedule, a foil sachet of tea arrives through your door. That’s it.

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Being an absolute gem, Pia let me try my first delivery free. I opted for the Shui Xian oolong I tried in our tasting as it’s a lovely rich, nutty, black oolong. There was no question I was ending the subscription there – I’ve now drunk my way through two deliveries of Shui Xian in a bid to sort out my raw throat. I then fancied a change so I have switched the most recent delivery to 40g of beautiful pine needles white tea which is incredibly delicate and fragrant. Cake is now a very occasional treat for me, but my shelf of tea canisters sees me through each day in which I’m apt to drink anything from 2 to 12 cups of teas of varying colour, flavour and caffeine content. My tea shelf is packed with gems from my favourite tea shops (and one weird Disney World Alice in Wonderland weird strawberry flavoured weird tea). Knowing I’ve got a regular delivery coming from one of my most trusted sources is not only reassuring in terms of keeping my tins topped up, but being able to switch around my options means that my tea promiscuity is well catered for – I can be getting hot and heavy with one blend while flirting unsubtly with another.

The small print, as it turns out, is as uncomplicated as the principle. Price varies per tea though all have free UK delivery (with EU and international options) – plus it’s 10% cheaper than buying one off. The cheapest by volume is £5.31 for 75g of loose leaf English Breakfast and the most expensive is £10.62 for a generous 75g bag of Iron Goddess of Mercy Oolong – with most at the lower end of the scale. My current delivery is just £4.95 per sachet (albeit a 40g pack). Plus of course many loose leaf teas, including oolong, can stand up to multiple brewings. You can log in and change tea type and delivery interval, or skip deliveries, at any point. I know I’ll be away at Christmas, so have already arranged to skip the relevant deliveries.

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One tip from me: if you are going to go for it, then do make one further investment if you haven’t already – tea tins. Piacha teas come in lovely foil sealed packs which preserve freshness, but once you’ve torn a pack open, you’ll want to transfer the contents into an airtight tin to keep them smelling and tasting perfect. Should you be able to resist inhaling it all, tea can stay in decent nick in a tin for up to two years.

In a long, frustrating, exhausting month that culminated in the GP announcing “you don’t look well” before I even described the problem (me: “…”) it’s been a massive source of comfort to have black tea and dark chocolate to hand at all times. I’ve always believed in treating myself, but as tempted as I’ve desperately been to sign up to all manner of beauty boxes and nerd subscriptions, I’ve resisted it due to worries that I wouldn’t really want everything I was getting, or it wouldn’t be fair to have a regular delivery that was just for me. But tea… tea I’d definitely drink. And it’s tea I’ve chosen myself, and want to drink. And I can share it with other people! It’s useful. And delicious. And one of my favourite things in the world. Self-justification made easy, my friends.

And with that, I raise my mug to you and hope that the next time you see a post from me it will be with a clean bill of health. I can guarantee there’ll be a fresh cuppa, too.

Disclosure: The lovely Pia of Piacha kicked off my subscription with one entirely free delivery for review, but all deliveries since then have been paid for by me. All thoughts, opinions and words are my own; the pics are courtesy of Piacha.

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Review: 6teas Liquid Tea Concentrate

The 6teas bottle from each sideMy sister gives marvellously good presents. From Barbican and BFI membership (for reals, she’s great) to random infusions of goodies, she is a thoughtful soul. On her last visit to London, she bore with her this curious drink – a loose leaf tea liquid concentrate in a bottle.

The 6teas premise is simple. They brew, blend and bottle loose leaf teas in, well, six varieties from vanilla roiboos to green. The flavour K chose for me (knowing me well) was an Assam and Darjeeling blend known as the ‘Big Daddy House Blend’. Each bottle has six servings, and serving sizes are marked in a scale down the side. The tea looks pretty cloudy at this stage – like that horrible tea with a drop of milk some people insist on slurping (make a commitment – milk or no milk).

IMG_4916Now, I do love me some loose leaf tea, and I’ve become a really ridiculous tea snob, it’s true. Once you’ve got in the habit of properly brewing and drinking it, you realise that most teabags do actually taste of stewed powder and paper, and if you drink black tea – both type and milk status, as I often do – it’s simply not appealing from a bag. I’ve taken to only drinking roiboos in the office as the teabags are less grim (yes, yes, privileged problems, I think we’ve established that).  Still, I thought it was possible that liquid tea concentrate might be taking my tea hipster credentials just a tad far and – I admit – I thought it might taste a bit peculiar.

So, in with the serving into a mug, giving it a quick sniff (really rather nice). I went with a whole serving to begin with, although many of my mugs and teacups are quite small and K had said she goes for a weaker tea and can usually get seven or eight servings from a bottle. In it went. In went freshly boiled water. The cloudiness vanished, and there was a dark amber cup of tea with a strong, natural scent.

IMG_4875You know what? It’s lovely. Delicious and fresh. In fact, it tastes like a genuinely lovely cup of home-brewed proper tea. And unlike making Darjeeling at home it can’t be overbrewed (it’s such a bloody hard one not to tip into bitterness and since sugar in tea is an abomination unto Nuggan I am not going there). I’ve taken the rest of the bottle to work where I am, indeed, having slightly smaller servings for a lighter cup, and enjoying the taste of proper tea while it lasts. It does need to be refrigerated once opened, but as I sit in an open-plan office around 15 feet from a fridge, this isn’t a problem.

And yet… here comes the sticky bit. The cost. 6teas sells the tea in 3-packs, so 18 servings for £15.00. Even if you’re going to extract more like 22 servings, you’re still looking at, essentially, at least a 70p cup of tea. Now, knowing the costs of loose leaf and taking into account packaging, marketing, staff and expertise, I don’t think they’re overcharging in the slightest. From that perspective, I think it’s actually phenomenal value. But from my budget perspective, my 100g boxes of leaves can extract around 30 cups for around £10 (or 33p per cup). This is still way more expensive than a teabag, obvs, but we’re all a bit stupid about what we do with any disposable income we’re lucky enought to have, and that’s my indulgence. So what I need is tea fanatics with more money than me to spend lots and lots at 6teas until it brings the cost down a bit for all the rest of us.

IMG_4917All that said, I think it’s something I could be persuaded to get now and again, and if I attend the market in Yorkshire where my sister picked up her bottles I would buy some in person to support a local business I think has come up with a great-tasting, interesting, different product. Personally I’m not a fan of fruit infusions or floral blends – jasmine yes, Earl Grey yech – plus I don’t like vanilla flavouring in tea so I’d stick to BD or the green variety, but I hope they’ll be able to branch out to look at an oolong blend with a bit of success and encouragement.

The six blends are:

Big Daddy House Blend (Assam & Darjeeling)
Golden Green Tea (A fruity blend with Osmanthus blossom)
Pina Colada (flavoured black tea – not my cuppa, for sure!)
Rooibos & Vanilla (with a bunch of other flavourings, including strawberries
Red Fruit Dream (possibly my nightmare)
Russian Earl Grey (oh wait… but it is an interesting blend of Earl Grey and Russian Caravan if you like that kind of thing)

Or you can mix and match three together, or buy a gift card for a tea-obsessed friend. All available to buy online.

Disclosure: None needed as this was a gift and a voluntary review. I also blog with a friend about tea at Oolongingly.

Afternoon tea at the Buddha Bar, Knightsbridge

IMG_4667In case it’s not obvious, I really, really, REALLY love tea.

So, when it came time to choose a fun thing to do with my friend K to belatedly celebrate her birthday, afternoon tea ticked the box. She’d mentioned that she’d enjoyed an Asian-inspired tea at the Buddha Bar before, and wanted to go back, so when a Time Out offer dropped on our laps it seemed serendipitous.

What was rather nice was that during the booking process the very helpful woman I was emailing spotted my blog link in my signature and, just for the hell of it, added an extra glass of champagne to our booking on the house. Which was very sweet (the gesture, not the bubbles) and much appreciated. Even after I managed to knock the second glass on the floor… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

IMG_4659The tea itself is four savoury and four sweet bites each. The fusion flavours are unusual for afternoon tea, but not so brave that they’ll put off the conservative-minded. Savouries were a hoisin duck bun, a deep-fried seafood wonton, tuna tartare on crisp crostini and a crunchy vegetable summer roll, with a couple of dipping sauces. I launched in with the summer roll first, and really enjoyed the tuna, which had a welcome hint of spice; the bun was lovely but the real star for me was the wonton. I could frankly have just gone for a bowl of those then and there…

The sweet half was a rare sugary departure from my usual diet these days; as such the pistachio macaron seemed insanely sweet to me, but with a lovely gooey texture. The dense chocolate mouse was more like a rich truffle cake; this was balanced out to some extent by the light, fruity passion fruit tarts with pastry cases so crisp we gave up on spoons and used our fingers to avoid the inevitably flying bits of dessert hitting anyone else in the room. The winner for me though was the green tea cheesecake; a light whipped topping on a just-held-together crumbly biscuit base. And not achingly sweet (or at least it didn’t seem so after my tongue had been numbed by the other three).

IMG_4671Canton Tea Co. jasmine pearl tea (loose leaf in pyramids) made for a lovely fragrant accompaniment, too. The two glasses of champagne were delicious… right up until an enthusiastic Greek gesticulation from me sent one flying. My appreciation for the incredibly attentive and sweet staff extends to the waiter who was at my elbow in seconds, towels in hand, being generally pretty charming about the whole thing. Luckily, it’s also pretty dark in there…

Speaking of dark, the way to the loos caused considerable hilarity, including one moment where the mood lighting was so… moody… we couldn’t see the door handle to let our way out of the bathrooms. The rest of then space is, as you might be able to tell from the lighting, a fairly exotic surrounding – an unrestrained yet pleasing mashup of Far East, Christmas lights and an incense-laced North African souk.

Would I go again? Yes, though it would, I think, be for an entirely savoury meal. This is in part because of the sugar thing; I found the savoury the part of the tea that I really wished there was more of. The balance was naturally in favour of cake – and large servings of it, at that – whereas my preferences increasingly lie in the other direction. It’s also I think because with a traditional afternoon tea there’s the sort of transitional point of the scones – they lead you from sandwiches to pastries via the gateway drugs of jam and raisins – but here it was a pretty sharp jump from chilli-flecked tuna to chewy meringue.

With that balance restored and a slightly more varied tea menu, I’d sing its praises anywhere; if you’ve more of a sweet tooth than I do and you’re tired of the usual, this is definitely somewhere to try.

Ten Things About Tea

I thought I loved tea, and then two of my best friends came to stay. And now not only do I love tea, but I’ve radically evolved the way I drink it, with an ever-increasing list of favourites for different occasions, moods and times of day, and the ever-decreasing use of milk. I was always pretty straightforward – dash of milk, no sugar, because sugar in tea is an abomination unto Nuggan – and happy with a teabag. I still find myself able to drink this at work (though the teabag should barely be introduced to the water because that powdery, papery shizzle stews so easily), but at home the teabags have been banished to a sealed pot for insistent visitors, and the shelves are heaving with tins of loose leaf glory (always airtight tins, because tea will lose its freshness in no time without them).

So, because tea is really such a wondrous thing, here are ten things about tea; a random collection of fag-ends of knowledge and recommendations of Stuff I Like, because if I don’t share this kind of thing on my blog what, indeed, is the point of having a blog?

1. Although tea comes in different colours, it’s not necessarily a different tea plant. Black tea and white tea, for example, could be the same tea – the latter the new, furry, young tips and the former a fully fermented version. Oolong tea, with its distinctive delightfully musty scent, is part-fermented, and tends to produce a yellow-gold tea. Also, camomile is not tea; it’s an infusion, but no worse for it. Try the real stuff – freshly steeped flowers – for the best, sweetest, no-sugar-needed taste.

2. If you’ve tried Oolong teas and kind of like them but they seem a bit strong, Whittard does a very light afternoon blend that’s quite hard to over-brew.

3. I have a tea Tumblr. The posts from Australia aren’t me, but I shall leave my tea-swilling partner to be an International Person of Mystery.

4. Tea should genuinely be made at different temperatures. You want around 70 degrees (the point the kettle reaches about half an hour after it’s boiled) for white tea, and varying points in between that and 100 degrees for everything up to black. To be honest, this is getting a bit precious but you will taste the difference if you go for it. Or you could just switch the type of tea you’re having if you boiled the kettle and then forgot about it. In related news, if someone ever wants to send me one of these beauties, I wouldn’t cry. Well, I would, but not the sad tears.

5. Gen mai tea / genmaicha is a form of Japanese tea that includes roasted brown rice, which adds a sweet taste and a disorientating scent. It’s worth trying but is definitely quite odd to those of us raised on the milky black ‘English Breakfast’ version of tea.

6. Try drinking your tea black. The flavours are immense, and some black teas – Assam and Darjeeling for example – are really killed dead by the addition of cow juice brimming with sugary lactose. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a milky cuppa, but you’ll find a whole new appreciation for the flavours of tea if you ditch the dairy now and again. You could also try a flavoured black tea like T2’s delicious Brisbane Breakfast (I did not believe tea with a hint of mango could be nice, but apparently…). They also do a glorious London Breakfast blend which has no additional flavourings, but uses a dash of Lapsang Souchong for a hint of smoke without the slap in the face you get from pure Lapsang.

7. I really bloody hate fruit tea. It’s just hot, faintly sweet, disappointingly flavourless water in deceptively interesting colours.

8. Ditto floral teas, which just taste like dishwater flavoured with perfume. I am not a fan of Earl Grey, Lady Grey or any of the other ennobled Greys. Bleh.

9. Wanting low-caffeine tea late in the day doesn’t have to mean switching to green or white (unless you want to – and there are plenty of good reasons to drink both). T2’s Daintree blend is lovely, as is the Panyang Congou, for getting the flavour of a stronger tea without the caffeine kick.

10. My favourite places to shop for tea are Australian outfit T2*, Whittard, Camellia’s Tea House, JING and any number of random outfits in Chinatown. (*now all over London thanks to investment from Unilever; nothing to do with any of my clients, though, and I loved them before I knew that, so there is no client conflict / sponsorship here).

And as a bonus – and because, as the members of Spinal Tap know, it’s better if you go up to 11 – here are links to two rather different afternoon tea reviews I’ve done: London’s The Pelham and Bath’s Bea’s Vintage Tea Rooms.

And now… anyone for a cuppa?

Bea’s Vintage Tea Rooms, Bath

photo 3Back in mid-February, I was lucky enough to have a few days off to go and do Fun Things, like spend an extended period of time with a good friend I usually only get a few hours out and about with. As I had tickets to a signing with one of my favourite authors which also happened to be within striking distance of an old friend who is also a supremely talented author (and to whom, as teens, it turns out I recommended the first author’s books), we squeezed in a fab two night stay in Bath.

I’ll likely blog some other thoughts about why Bath is a must visit another time, but one of the highlights for both of us – teatime obsessives the pair – was fitting in a visit to Bea’s Vintage Tea Rooms. My friend K found the place online, and we were immediately keen, what with it being a lovely theme and by far one of the most reasonably priced teas we’d seen.

We ambled over around 4pm on a Tuesday afternoon, ducking in just as the weather was looking a bit suspicious, and being seated at one of the window tables for two. “Vintage” at Bea’s is wartime – WWII to be specific – and the decor is heavy on the tchotchkes and bric-a-brac, but with particularly themed areas, such as a small arrangement of utility fashion, furniture and crockery placed near the air raid shelter themed loos downstairs. The stairwell is papered with posters; Keep Calm does make an appearance, but feels welcome in this setting, if no other (alright, maybe not the cheesy cupcake one) and the tea sets are charmingly mismatched.

The staff are incredibly helpful and friendly, and we quickly ordered. I couldn’t resist trying the oolong tea – I’m a bit obsessed as my Tumblr suggests – and K had the traditional English Breakfast. All teas are loose leaf and, if the enormous gold canisters behind the counter are any indication, come from JING. I’ve bought gorgeous silver needle from JING before, and tea-loving friends often recommend it, so this, I felt was a good sign. My tea arrived with a little hourglass for accurate brewing.

The standard afternoon tea includes a round of finger sandwiches (salmon, egg and cucumber if I remember rightly – two of each), a scone with cream and jam and two generous slabs of freshly homemade cake in two flavours. The assortment changes daily, and we got chocolate cherry and lemon drizzle. There is always one option available with no gluten based ingredients, though I don’t know if the kitchen can be classed gluten-free, and there are some savoury options that can be modified or swapped out, but if you need a totally GF menu it’s best to call at least a day in advance and they can make appropriate arrangements – though they don’t generally take reservations except for private parties of 10-20 guests.

The sandwiches were made up at the counter after we ordered, so were fresh, soft and buttery; the scones were lovely and light. The chocolate cake was lovely and crumbly, but the lemon was the absolute winner for me – a gorgeous balance of sweet and tart with a dusting of cute sugar shapes and a particularly good texture.

There is a function room downstairs for parties, and a trip to the loo – while disquieting for anyone verging on the claustrophobic – is worthwhile if for no other reason than to poke (figuratively) around the little displays.

Afternoon tea is £9.95 for one or £19.95 for two – not including the price of the tea, if I remember rightly – but to stop in for a cup of tea and a cake will cost from around £6 per person if that’s all you fancy. The menu is also heaving with delicious sounding breakfast and lunch dishes, which I will definitely try on any future occasion that I’m lucky enough to be in the area.

And though I did wear a tea themed cardigan and a slick of 40s pillarbox red lipstick, next time I might even fully dress for the occasion just for the fun of it!

Note: This was an entirely personal trip, paid for by us, and is not a sponsored or requested review. I just think you should go there, because I liked it.