Tasting tea at the Cookbook cafe

Tea leaves

Okay. Confession time. I’m a bit of a tea addict. And it’s long past the point where I will carefully pick choose the high grade stuff. When I need tea, I really need it. And more often than not, it’s the dirty, adulterated, “dust” you find in those little porous baggies. I don’t care. I need my hit.

At other times, when the raging need is quiescent, I happily rifle through my modest collection of ten or so teas picking and choosing to suit my mood. Feeling low? A cup of nutty Genmaicha to sooth and lift my mood. If I’m in a pondering mood, then silver tip white tea, so delicate and purifying, is the way to go.

And so, from my regular fix of builders tea, the colour of London brick, to a postprandial peppermint or jasmine green tea, I probably drink between six and ten cups a day. But y’know, I can stop any time I want. Honest.

With all this in mind, it was with some excitement that I scored an invite to a tea tasting in the Intercontinental’s Cookbook Cafe on poshest Park Lane. The the tasting itself was run by Tara Calcraft, founder of Tea Palace, who have created a a rather good tea list for the hotel.

There was a lot of interesting info about the provenance of the various teas as well as the processes involved in making black, green, oolong and white teas. To sum up, all teas come from the leaves of the same plant, camellia sinensis, which are dried and allowed to oxidise to various degrees. Black tea being the most oxidised, green and white teas the least. There’s more information on Tea Palace’s website, wikipedia and Fenandeznleluu’s blog.

Now what I knew was that tea bags were filled with tea dust, what I hadn’t realised was that the dust was an waste product from the processing of tea. It basically seems like my builders’ tea is made from sweepings off the floor. Still, I do love a good cuppa, even if it isn’t tip-top quality. As I said before, I am an addict.

The teas

On to the good stuff. I got to shove my nose right into some of the finest teas around,d ones I would not often come across. Darjeeling, yes I’ve had plenty. But first flush – the equivalent (I think) of a grand cru classe from Bordeaux? That I’ve never tried.

The first batch were the black teas: the aforementioned first flushand a regular Darjeeling, an Assam and a Ceylon. I thought the Darjeelings had been slightly over brewed as they came out a wee bit bitter, but I could taste the fine smooth flavour nonetheless.

But what surprised me was that I preferred the Assam. It was strong and supple, with a slight nutty spiciness . And while the flavour was strong, there was no bitter edge. Grade A stuff.

Next up was a batch of Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong. While it sounded like a torture device involving spikes, screws and razor sharp edges, it tasted appropriately divine. Gently nutty, it had a strong flavour without the maltiness of black tea or the grassy taste of greens. And a lingering sweet aftertaste.

The greens came from China and Japan. Again, a surprise for me. I thought I would go for the Japanese tea, but it was a Chinese sencha that really grabbed me. It was a full body massage in a cup. I could feel tendrils of sweet grassyness wending their way through my body after my first sip. And the taste lingered delightfully.

Other greens included a delicate White Monkey (so called as the tea merchant who first sold it claimed his monkey picked it and then sold it at a premium – did someone mention PG tips?), and a Japanese Bancha – crisp and tasty.

The white teas were heavily flavoured with rose and jasmine and were the only disappointment. They were interesting, but the aromatics completely overwhelmed the tea. I found the same with a pineapple and aloe vera green tea and a vanilla- laced black. But then again, as a hardcore addict, I don’t want my tea adulterated. I want to mainline the pure stuff (even its dirty dust) when I can.

The cakes
Afternoon tea

The hotel’s chef has been put a lot of work into matching sandwiches and cakes with the different teas. No easy task, particularly with the flavoured teas like Earl Grey or the pineapply greens. The kitchens mixed aloe vera and bergamot into alchemical concoctions, but to no avail. They all, in the words of the chef, tasted vile.

And so it was back to tweaking the traditional cucumber sarnies, scones and cakes. Duck mayo was tasty, as was the scone Рwhich instigated much chat over Cornish (jam then cream) vs Devonshire (cream then jam, those weird Devon folk) methods of eating your cream teas.

The cakes were tasty, but with teas this good, they were fighting a losing battle. The best of the food was a tea sorbet, refreshing and light, a good finish to an enlightening tasting.

14 Responses to “Tasting tea at the Cookbook cafe”

  1. The Grubworm

    @meemalee I am and it was. But I can’t get enough of the stuff. Mint, green, oolong, white, bagged, loose, iced, hot, lukewarm, nutty… Agh. My name is Grubworm. I am an addict.

  2. Mr Noodles

    Great post ! Iron goddess of mercy is one of my faves and an absolute must-order for tea when you’re eating dim sum. It’s known as tieguanyin in Mandarin but if you’re in a dim sum joint, you should ask for tit-gwun-yam in Cantonese. Depending on your pronounciation, you’ll either get a slap or a pot of tea. And yes I definitely need to get out more…..


    PS: Never realised cream teas could be such a controversial topic…..

  3. Thursday

    There is little better than opening a new tin of Assam, burying my face in it and inhaling deeply.

  4. Sasa

    Valhrona is good but sometimes a Twix will do, innit. I love tea too but I won’t turn my nose up at a cup of builder’s ^^

  5. The Grubworm

    @Mr Noodles – thanks! It was a fab tea, and I do love Oolong – it works really well hot, warm or iced. Thanks for the pointer re what to ask for while eating dim sum. Now you just need to be around to laugh when I attempt it. I tried something similar in a tapas joint once only to garner a confused look from the waiter who turned out to be Serbian not Spanish…

    As for the cream teas, it is a very important issue, particularly since Devon dried to get a DPO slapped on their cream tea (I ask you, everyone knows the Cornish were there first).

    @Thursday – I’m with you there, I also love burying my face in a bag of Jasmine green as well.

    @Sasa – I’m quite convinced that I have strong builders tea running through my veins…

  6. Becca Rothwell

    I don’t even know where to start with commenting on this post!

    This is so spooky, I’ve just got back from a tea and biscuit taste matching evening which meemalee kindly took me along to after see me describe myself as 70% tea on Twitter. I’m going to be honest though, it sounds like your’s was much fancier and with a much heavier emphasis on the tea (ours was for Fox’s so more about the biscuits).

    Also the beginning of this post is such a close paraphrase of a post I was writing in my head at work earlier today I’m a little freaked out. I too am a tea addict, I love tea, I have about 30 in a Tea Cupboard at home with loads of special teas for special times, but on a day to day basis I still reach for the bags o’ dust. I dread to think how much my habit would cost if I was trying to chain drink whole leaf first flush level tea all day every day!

    Amazing post, really enjoyable to read and made me properly jealous. It is so relieving to hear someone who loves high quality tea admit to drinking builders, I’ve seen far too much tea snobbery out there in the blogging world!

  7. The Grubworm

    @No Siany NO! That’s a Devonshire heresy…

  8. The Grubworm

    @Becca thanks! It’s always a pleasure to find another tea addict. All proper addicts know that the dust and dregs can be every bit as good as the grade A stuff. It’s all about the context. When I am low and knackered, it’s time to bring in a bucket of builder’s tea. It has all sorts of comforting overtones.

    I like that you’re 70% tea, i’m working up to that total, not sure what the wine-tea balance is at the moment… We’re so going to have get a tea addicts’ meeting together to slurp – the question is: smart tea room or builders’ caff?

  9. Kavey

    Oh I sooo wanted to attend this but I’m not an active enough Qyper to get on the list, am so envious!

    I adore tea, I drink a lot of it as I don’t drink alcohol much and coffee only very rarely.

    My favourite is probably tit koon yum (which I no doubt pronounce horrendously badly) but I love sooo many teas.

  10. The Grubworm

    @kavey – it was a good tasting, and i got to try some teas I had never tried before which was cool. What sort of a tea is tit koon yum?

  11. Leluu

    Great post! And thank you so much for the link! We will be doing a tea event at Camelia World Of Teas where you bought a gift for your mama – will make sure you attend! Not only do you eat and cook so well – you drink tea! Good tea and bad tea – just like me : )

  12. The Grubworm

    @Leluu – thanks! Looking forward to the event – I really liked Camelia, their tea pots were fab and what a range of teas!

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