English tea party

     Print Edition: May 13, 2012

In the 5th century, the south Indian prince Bodhidharma vowed to dedicate his life to Buddhist meditation. For hours, he would gaze at one of his cave walls and channel his thoughts and energy in a relentless search for self realisation. During this time, his phyical body struggled to keep up and he was soon overcome by fatigue. Helpless, he ran out and began chewing on a wild shrub furiously. To his delight, he soon felt refreshed and less sleepy. That magic plant, the legend holds, was nothing Camellia Sinensis, a tea shrub. Soon, word of this magic plant spread amongst the monks of India and China and tea was introduced as a warm drink to aid meditative practices in these schools.

Stephen Twining
Stephen Twining, Brand Ambassador, Twining's
Nature's source of rejuvenation, tea is an excellent detoxifier and has been noted for its medicinal benefits in oriental history and mythology. In 1706, another man's fury set tea pots brewing, this time in England. Thomas Twining was fed up with his country's habit of waking up to ginger ale and coffee so he began serving a range of hot teas in his London cafe. The change was welcomed by his customers. Thus, he managed to create a new breed of tea connoisseurs who included the writer Jane Austen and even King Charles II.

By the 1750s, tea has gained considerable ground with the English elite who took to hosting parties. Here, the beverage was paired it with scones and shortbreads. Within a few short years, the tradition of the English afternoon tea was born.

The English afternoon tea or high-tea is traditionally savoured with goodies fresh out of the patisserie, like creamfilled petit fours, tarts and scones. The tea should round off the flavours of the food and vice versa.

The flavour is deep yet mellow and has a musky spice to it. The gentle astringency of the tea complements mildly spiced tidbits like mushroom and corn vol-au-vents and mini lamb turnovers. You could also use it to wash down grilled trout and curried chicken puff. A scoop of melted cream cheese too blends in smoothly.

The sweet undertone in this dark brown tea complements scones filled with strawberry jam and clotted cream. Otherwise, just pair it with an apple frangipani tart or traditional treacle tart.

Despite its flowery notes, the rich antioxidant leave a bitter after-taste. Even this out with the strong flavours of custard profiteroles, fruit palmiers and peach jalousie. You could also savour it with creamy chunks of mozzarella.

This legacy that Twining's inherited carries the challenge of maintaining quality. We believe in employing a carefully monitored and expertise-driven tea making process.

Tea is like wine. The place where it grows lends it a unique taste and character. For example, a Chardonnay grape from Australia is quite different from one grown in France. Although Darjeeling and Assam are less than two hundred miles apart, even the slightest changes in soil and humidity lead to considerably different tastes.

Signature Twinings store
The first and only signature Twinings store has stood proudly on London's Strand since 1706.
Experts must look out for flavours that fit into existing blends. For instance, the first flush teas, which are from the first picking season of the year, are judged by their rich flavours. So, we look for a deep muscatel tone in the Darjeeling. The second flush ones like the black teas from Assam and Sri-Lanka are judged more on texture and colour.

Once the imports from India, Sri Lanka, China, Kenya and Indonesia, cross the English Channel, their samples are placed in our tea library. This houses more than 30,000 varieties of individual teas, which are mixed into blends by hand and sampled by our team of nine tasters.

A good taster is one who can tell apart two consecutive batches from the same estate and yield. Our team tries out 900 cups a week. That's enough to fill 20 bath tubs. The tea is first tried without milk. This helps in evaluating its consistency.

Black teas are allowed to oxidise, to produce their colour, whereas green teas are either steamed or pan fired to insure that oxidisation does not occur and they remain pale. In tea bags, quantity equals intensity. Brew in warm water for three minutes to extract the flavour.

Depending on the tea, serve either with creamed milk or zesty lemon. Whichever way you choose, the goodness of a cuppa is evident.

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